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Government blasts right-wing plan for Swiss-first approach on law

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ZURICH (Reuters) – The Swiss government urged voters on Tuesday to reject a right-wing proposal to cement Swiss sovereignty on legal matters over international law, saying the plan would force it to cancel treaties, weaken human rights protections and hurt the economy.

The “Swiss Law, Not Foreign Judges” drive, which goes to a vote on Nov. 25 under the Swiss system of direct democracy, sees a need to anchor the supremacy of domestic law so that regular citizens can wrest back control from the political elite.

But the government dismissed the plan championed by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) — the biggest in parliament and with two seats in the seven-member cabinet — as too woolly and bound to undermine the Swiss reputation for stability and reliability.

“We should spare ourselves this dangerous experiment,” Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told reporters in Bern. She said it would force Switzerland to abrogate existing treaties and cast a shadow over future agreements it reached.

Other critics, including the main business lobby, have said a vote in favour of the plan would undermine participation in the European Convention on Human Rights and harm the economy by making it harder or impossible to uphold trade pacts.

The SVP has often championed a Swiss-first approach, such as a successful 2014 referendum that demanded quotas on immigration, including from the European Union.

In implementing that vote, parliament in 2016 avoided quotas that would violate bilateral accords on the free movement of people between Switzerland the EU, its biggest trading partner.

Angry SVP officials cried foul. The SVP often criticises what it sees as efforts by politicians and courts to frustrate Swiss voters’ wishes by citing international law.

“The intent is clear: direct democracy, a Swiss speciality in which the citizens are sovereign, should be curtailed or even cut off,” the SVP has said.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has indeed issued decisions that trumped Swiss court rulings.

In 2015, for instance, it ruled that a Swiss court had violated a Turkish politician’s free speech rights when it fined him for denying that Armenians in Turkey had been victims of genocide a century ago. The politician, Dogu Perincek, made the comments during appearances in Switzerland.

Swiss anti-racism laws, the European court ruled, infringed on Perincek’s right to voice his opinion.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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