Swiss canton becomes second to ban burqas in public

Voters in the northeastern canton demanded tightening the law to punish those who cover their faces in public. (Reuters)
Updated 23 September 2018
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Swiss canton becomes second to ban burqas in public

  • Full-face coverings such as niqabs and burqas are a polarizing issue across Europe
  • The clothing has already been banned in France and Denmark

ZURICH: Voters in St. Gallen on Sunday approved by a two-thirds majority a ban on facial coverings such as the burqa, becoming the second Swiss canton to do so.
Full-face coverings such as niqabs and burqas are a polarizing issue across Europe, with some arguing that they symbolize discrimination against women and should be outlawed. The clothing has already been banned in France and Denmark.
Under the Swiss system of direct democracy, voters in the northeastern canton demanded tightening the law to punish those who cover their faces in public and thus “threaten or endanger public security or religious or social peace.”
The regional government, which had opposed the measure, now has to implement the result of the vote, which drew turnout of around 36 percent.
Switzerland’s largest Islamic organization, the Islamic Central Council, recommended women continue to cover their faces. It said it would closely monitor the implementation of the ban and consider legal action if necessary.
The Swiss federal government in June opposed a grassroots campaign for a nationwide ban on facial coverings.
The Swiss cabinet said individual cantons should decide on the matter, but it will nevertheless go to a nationwide vote after activists last year collected more than the required 100,000 signatures to trigger a referendum.
Two-thirds of Switzerland’s 8.5 million residents identify as Christians. But its Muslim population has risen to 5 percent, largely because of immigrants from former Yugoslavia.
One Swiss canton, Italian-speaking Ticino, already has a similar ban, while two others have rejected it.


‘Key issues unresolved’, UN chief warns climate talks

Updated 24 min 37 sec ago
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‘Key issues unresolved’, UN chief warns climate talks

KATOWICE, Poland: “Key political issues” deadlocking UN climate talks “remain unresolved,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday after an unscheduled stop at the troubled negotiations in Poland.
The fight against climate change is a “matter of life and death today,” he told ministers and delegates at the 195-nation UN forum tasked with beating back the threat of global warming, barely 48 hours before the meet in the coal town of Katowice was set to adjourn.
The two-week talks are tasked with breathing life into the 2015 Paris Agreement, which vows to cap global warming at “well under” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and funnel hundreds of billions of dollars to poor countries already feeling the sting of deadly storms, heatwaves and droughts made worse by climate change.
But efforts to elaborate a “rule book” for the Paris pact and to boost the carbon-cutting pledges of all nations have run aground, even as a barrage of scientific reports have warned that only immediate and radical measures can avert catastrophic climate impacts.
“The eyes of the world are upon us,” said Guterres, who had not planned to return to the talks after addressing the opening plenary 10 days ago.
“To waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change,” he said.
“It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal.”
A major report called for by the UN climate body concluded in October that Earth’s rise in temperature must be capped even lower — at 1.5C — to avoid the danger of runaway warming.
But several countries at the talks, led by the United States and Saudi Arabia, have blocked efforts to endorse the report, which many developing countries see as essential.
“The IPCC report on 1.5C is the basis for all future action, on what we need to do,” Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu told AFP.
Endorsing the report’s findings at the conclusion of the UN forum “is a red line issue for us.”