Vegan allowed to serve in Swiss army in landmark case

Man will pay for his own synthetic boots instead of wearing leather

Charlotte England
Tuesday 25 October 2016 17:35 BST
(AFP/Getty Images)

The Swiss military have reversed a decision not to allow a strict vegan to join the army.

Antoni Da Campo was keen to undertake military service, which is mandatory for able-bodied male citizens in Switzerland, and passed all the medical and physical tests required by the army last December.

But because the 24-year-old, who is a member of Swiss animal rights organisation PEA, refused to eat animal products or wear leather the army said it was unable to accommodate him. They would not relent, even when Mr Da Campo offered to pay for his own synthetic boots.

Mr Da Campo told The Local soon after he was barred from the army: “They declared me doubly unacceptable, meaning that I can't do civil service either. It's for that reason that I find their decision discriminatory and arbitrary”.

Because military service is obligatory in Switzerland, Mr Da Campo would have been penalised for not serving any time in the army. Like people who are declared unfit for conscription, he would have had to pay a three per cent tax on his income until the age of 30. Only those with a disability are exempt from charge.

Mr Da Campo, who described himself as "very motivated" to join the army, took his case to Lausanne appeal court in March. He lost, and appealed again, this time to the country's Federal Administrative Court, where he argued the army's decision went against his human right to maintain his personal convictions.

Mr Da Campo told The Local he argued in court that there was no legal basis for declaring a person unfit for military service simply because they followed a vegan diet.

Because he had passed all the physical and mental tests, being kept out of the army and made to pay an additional tax as a result would constitute discrimination on the basis of his philosophical beliefs, he said. This would violate the principle of proportionality, part of EU law which says individuals should not have their freedom of action limited beyond the degree necessary in the public interest.

The court ordered the two parties to discuss the matter further between themselves. Early on in the discussions, the army changed its mind and declared Mr Da Campo “fit” for service.

”There are more and more vegans in our society and I am happy to see that the army, like all public institutions, chooses to adapt itself to this reality” Mr Da Campo said.

“Vegans should enjoy the same rights and duties as other citizens and not be forced to pay a tax just because they refuse to put [on] boots that involved the killing of animals.“

Negotiations over specific details are ongoing, but Mr Da Campo told 24 Heures he would buy his own vegan boots. “As for food, maybe it will be possible to get a small sum to make my own purchases,” he said.

Around 20% of conscripts are found unfit for military or civilian service in Switzerland, with a higher rate in urban than rural area.

In 2013, a referendum was held that aimed to abolish conscription in Switzerland. Over 73 per cent of the electorate voted against it, showing strong support for conscription in Switzerland.

In March Da Campo told The Local military service was not fundamentally incompatible with his views on animal rights.

“I consider it unfair to kill animals for unnecessary practices for humans,” he added on Wednesday.

“However, defending democracy and my fellow citizens in case of an aggression by another country seems perfectly legitimate.”

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