Conscientious objection:


The Swiss Constitution was modified by introducing the following phrase in Art. 59 lit. 1: “Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.” [1]





262 days



390 days






Voluntary enlistment:





Towards the end of 2019 both chambers of the Swiss Parliament had decided on seven adaptions to the civilian alternative service (Zivildienst) law in order to massively worsen access and the conditions for the civilian alternative service. The declared intention was to prevent young men from accessing their rights and opting for the alternative to military service. Civiva (the Swiss Civilian Service Federation) launched a referendum and a campaign against the parliament’s decision. 50,000 signatures are needed to have a national referendum vote in Switzerland. Before the legal time for the collection of signatures started, Civiva received over 50,000 signature commitments. The new legislation was withdrawn by the Parliament in summer 2020.

Conscription: In Switzerland, all male citizens are obliged to military service. The Constitution provides for a Zivildienst since 1996. For Swiss women, military service is voluntary. Service is possible from the age of 18. All young males are tested by the military and around 50% are declared not fit for service due to health or mental health reasons.

Military Service: Compulsory military service generally lasts from the age of 20 to 34 (for crew ranks, non-commissioned officers and officers up to first lieutenant). Service is spread over several years. Initial Basic Training is approximately 4 months, thereafter soldiers are called up for annual refresher courses (usually 3 weeks per year) until a number of days is reached which is related to the rank. For the lower ranks a maximum of 262 days (9 months). In addition, there is an obligation to fulfill single days yearly for shooting practice. Any member of the army can be forced to become an officer and there is no fixed upper limit of days for grades from captain upwards. In principle, they perform all services of their divisional formation. Captains are dismissed at the age of 42, staff officers (major, lieutenant colonel) at the age of 50.

Sanctions: Failure to perform military service is punishable under Article 8 of the Military Criminal Code. It is only since 1996 that those liable for military service have the option of fulfilling their military service obligation within a discriminatory framework of a civilian alternative service (Zivildienst).

Total Objection: Conscientious objectors refusing all forms of service are tried and sentenced by military courts to jail sentences of 8 to 14 months. Objection during or toward the end of military or civilian alternative service can be punished with 1 to 8 months in prison. Approximately 40 young men are sentenced to prison terms every year.

Civilian Alternative Service: Anyone liable to and apt for military service can apply for civilian alternative service. The application is processed by a civilian authority and subject to dissuasive formalities. Civilian service lasts 390 days (13 months), which is 150% of military service. Approximately 12% of the men that are declared apt for military service object and apply for alternative civilian service.

According to the reply of the Federal Office of Civilian Service of Switzerland to the Questionnaire about EBCO’s Annual Report 2020 (e-mail on 26/01/2021):

Military forces

Liability for compulsory military service is an integral part of universal conscription. It begins with recruitment. All male Swiss citizens are obliged to serve in the Swiss Armed Forces. The compulsory service encompasses all types of services (training service, assistance service and active service as well as some parts of the voluntary peace-keeping services) as well as off-duty obligations. Women may voluntarily apply for military service.

Recruitment procedures are defined in the Federal Council Ordinance on Military Service Liability (SR 512.21) of 22 November, 2017. The minimum age to be recruited is 18 years. Recruitment is the responsibility of the Chief of the Swiss Armed Forces. The Swiss Armed Forces Personnel division, inside the Training and Education Command (TEC), is responsible for recruitment and determines the number of recruits required for the various functions and branches. The Medical Services division is subordinated to the Swiss Armed Forces Staff and is responsible for medical doctrine and the medical guidelines for recruitment.

Since 2003, conscription begins with the registration of conscripts at the age of eighteen. Prior to recruitment, all conscripts are called-up for an information day and interested women are also invited. Recruitment also includes a written orientation to all future conscripts and women at the age of sixteen. The actual recruitment, starting at the age of nineteen, is organised at a federal level at 6 permanent recruitment centres under the supervision of the Recruitment Command. Recruitment takes place between 12 months at the earliest and 3 months at the latest before the intended start of basic training and lasts up to 3 days. These recruitment days count towards the number of days that an able conscript must complete. The main purpose of this recruitment is to register the physical, psychological, intellectual and professional potential in a performance profile. For the assignment to the Swiss Armed Forces, the performance profile is compared with the requirement profile. At this stage, it is determined whether the conscript may serve as a single-term conscript or not (as opposed to a conscript that completes recruit school and subsequently attends annual refresher courses). Moreover, the potential for, and the interest in a cadre function as an officer or a non-commissioned officer (NCO) is also evaluated. On the same occasion, it is determined whether conscripts who are not fit for military service can serve within the framework of civil protection, which does not count as liability to military service. As part of the next development step of the Swiss Armed Forces in 2018, these procedures will be analysed, overhauled and adapted to current requirements and needs.

The Recruitment Command:

- manages recruitment at Swiss Armed Forces level at 6 permanent recruitment centres;

- evaluates the requirement profile for the roughly 270 functions in the Swiss Armed Forces;

- supervises the conduct of the roughly 5,000 aptitude tests and about 500 technical examinations;

- conducts the evaluation of the potential candidates for a cadre function for the following levels:

- cadre level I: for NCOs

- cadre level II: for senior NCOs or subaltern officers

- cadre level III: for unit commanders (captains)

- cadre level IV: for battalion commanders (LTC) and GS officers

- cadre level Z: for contracted military personnel (conscript officers and NCOs contracted for a limited time period);

- co-operates with 26 cantonal military authorities;

- deals with requests for military service without weapons for conscientious objectors.

For the organisation of recruitment, the Recruitment Command has the following offices:

- Six permanent recruitment centres.

- The military authorities of the cantons and the regional command in charge are responsible for registering, enrolling and informing the conscripts prior to recruitment. They are also responsible for the organisation of the information day prior to recruitment and for the call-up for recruitment.

- The Medical Services division in the Swiss Armed Forces Staff is responsible for military medical examinations. It nominates the chief physician in charge, his deputy and the medical personnel supporting the Recruitment Command and the recruitment centres.

- The Federal Office of Sport (FOSPO) conducts physical performance tests within the framework of the recruitment days.

Male recruits who are fit for military service are usually called up at the age of 20 for basic military training (recruit school) according to the directives of the Swiss Armed Forces Personnel in the Training and Education Command. Call-up is given via a personal marching order, which contains information on the date, time and location. According to the Federal Council Ordinance on Military Service Liability (SR 512.21) recruit school lasts 18 weeks for the conscripts over all branches and 23 weeks for land forces grenadiers and parachute reconnaissance. Recruit schools have 2 starting dates: January and June. All conscripts may request additional leave days for professional purposes (e.g. job interviews, university applications, etc.). In exceptional cases, students can complete the recruit school in 2 parts.

According to the Federal Council Ordinance on Military Service Liability, some of the conscript soldiers (maximum 15% of all conscripts per year) have the opportunity to fulfill their entire compulsory service of 300 days (for sergeants 507 days, for senior NCOs as well as for subaltern officers 668 days) in one single term (single-term conscripts). In principle, the number of service days for conscripts in refresher courses and for single-term conscripts is equal. The additional days to be accomplished by single-term conscripts compensate for their advantages of supplementary leave days. After the completion of the compulsory service days, single-term conscripts normally remain in units of the Swiss Armed Forces for another 4 years. After these 4 years they are discharged from Swiss Armed Forces but still remain for another 3 years in compulsory military service before being permanently discharged.

The Swiss Armed Forces Personnel section is authorised to grant postponement of recruit school on request, for family, professional or educational reasons.

At the end of the recruit school, the newly trained soldiers are assigned to units of the Swiss Armed Forces. They are then called up by personal marching order for refresher courses until they have completed their total number of compulsory service days.

Since 1 January, 2018, an alarm can be sent to several specifically selected units by electronic means. This allows a quick call up in the case of a major event or catastrophe.

As a rule, the marching order has to be sent to the person liable for military service at least 6 weeks before service starts. In addition, the refresher courses’ agenda for the forthcoming year is always published by means of a poster on the public information board in every town and village in Switzerland in autumn every year. For persons liable for military service, this public poster is in itself equivalent to a marching order and obliges them (and their employers) to adjust their civilian activities. Since 2006, each person liable for military service receives an announcement 20 weeks before service. Anyone who fails to respond to a public call-up or marching order without being excused is reported to the military justice authorities for prosecution.

Dismissal from civilian employment is null and void during a period of military service. If the term of service exceeds 11 days, dismissal within 4 weeks before and after service is also null and void. In addition, service personnel have a legal claim to a compensatory payment for loss of income.


The following groups are exempt from military service for the duration of their tenure or employment (in 2019 a total of 5'177 people):

- members of Parliament and of the Federal Council;

- the clergy, unless they serve voluntarily as chaplains in the Swiss Armed Forces;

- essential personnel in the health services;

- professional personnel in the rescue services, fire brigades and police;

- border guards;

- postal staff and staff of transport companies with a federal concession;

- persons employed in those parts of the administration that are in extraordinary situations making them responsible for general defence.

Exemptions are only possible after basic military training has been completed.

Alternatives to compulsory military service

Service duties are fulfilled by completing compulsory military service, civil defence or alternative civilian service. Male conscripts who do neither military nor civilian service have to carry out civil protection duties and are required to pay a contribution (compensatory military contribution) as compensation for the military service which they have not performed.

Since 1996, conscientious objector conscripts who feel unable to serve in the Swiss Armed Forces may be assigned to alternative civilian service. This service is performed outside the Swiss Armed Forces in civilian institutions. The conscientious objectors serve civilian purposes and are assigned to duties of public interest. They are mainly employed in the following fields: health and social services, nature conservation and environmental protection, forestry and agriculture, development cooperation and humanitarian aid. The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) is responsible for civilian service issues; its Federal Office for Civilian Service decides whether a candidate is to be accepted or not.

Civilian service duty lasts 50% longer than regular military service.

In 2019, 8'342 applications for assignment to civilian service were submitted (2018: 8'248, 2017: 8'651, 2016: 8'032, 2015: 7'519). In 2019, 6'088 applications were approved and 2'123 rejected (in 2018: 6'205, 2'060 rejected; in 2017: 6'785, 1,954 rejected; in 2016: 6'169; 1'580 rejected; in 2015: 5'836, rejected 1'609). In 2019, 19'315 persons liable to military service performed civilian service (2018: 19'989; 2017: 20'144; 2016: 19'939; 2015: 18'223). As of the end of 2019, a total of 52'983 people were liable to perform civilian service (2018: 50'878; 2017: 47'978; 2016: 44'069; 2015: 40'807). 0.1% of these were women (52).

Since 1 April 2009, there are new regulations in the admission procedure for civilian service: those wishing to perform civilian service are no longer required to submit detailed evidence of their conscientious objection to military service. Readiness to undertake civilian service, which lasts one and a half times as long as military service is regarded as sufficient proof for conscientious objection. Due to the new rules, the number of candidates for civilian service has risen considerably. On 1 February, 2011, new regulations were introduced at ordinance level. A delay of reflection and confirmation of the application before the admission was established. In July 2016, new regulations about the procedure for admission were introduced at act and ordinance level. Candidates for civilian service can submit their application online on the website of the Federal Office for Civilian Service and have to visit an introductory course before admission.

Legal status, rights of appeal, remuneration, grounds for exemption and penalties for breaches of duty largely correspond to those that apply to persons performing military service. Only the civilian criminal courts have jurisdiction, and not the military courts. There is a right of appeal to the Federal Administrative Court against all decisions made by the Federal Office for Civilian Service. Persons performing civilian service may contact the Federal Office for Civilian Service at any time if they have a grievance against the employing enterprises. The Federal Office for Civilian Service conducts inspections of the employing enterprises to ensure that the civilian service projects are being carried out properly.

Laws or other relevant documents regulating exemptions or alternatives to compulsory military service:

- The Federal Act on the Armed Forces and the Military Administration (Act on the Armed Forces, AOA, SR 510.10), particularly articles 2, 17, 18, 26 and 145;

- The Federal Act on Alternative Civilian Service (SR 824.0).

In 1992, the Swiss Constitution was modified by introducing the following phrase in Art. 59 lit. 1: “Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

All the conscripts are officially informed about the human right to conscientious objection to military service. Further information are available in French on the website: Ma journée d'information (admin.ch): https://www.vtg.admin.ch/fr/mon-service-militaire/conscrits/orientierungstag.html.

Persons liable for military service are enlisted at the beginning of the year in which they turn 18. This minimum legal age applies to all categories (conscription, voluntary enlistment in peace time, in case of general/partial compulsory mobilization, and in war time).

All conscientious objector conscripts who feel unable to serve in the Swiss Armed Forces can be assigned to alternative civilian service.