Switzerland's Federal Council wants to pass a law banning Swiss-based private armies offering military services to war zones.

"/> Switzerland's Federal Council wants to pass a law banning Swiss-based private armies offering military services to war zones.

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Switzerland clamps down on mercenary services

Switzerland's Federal Council wants to pass a law banning Swiss-based private armies offering military services to war zones.

The Swiss government said on Tuesday that the move would preserve the country’s neutrality and guarantee its “respected international law”.

“This not only refers to prohibiting the direct participation in hostilities in the context of an armed conflict, but also to prevent private security companies from exercising in a foreign country activities that contravened Swiss interests,” said the Federal Council in a statement on Tuesday  morning.

Moreover, a draft put forward for consultation that will be discussed in parliament before January 31st 2012, would force all companies involved in such businesses to disclose their activities abroad.

According to the draft, these security firms would also be made to adhere to an international code of conduct signed on November 9th 2010 which includes limits on the use of force and an assurance that staff cannot invoke contractual obligations or “superior orders” in a conflict zone to justify crimes, killings, torture, kidnappings, detentions.

If the Federal Council believes these companies go too far, it would be able to forbid their activities, impose administrative sanctions and even punish the responsible people with up three years in prison.  

“The companies will only provide services abroad that are not a problem [for Switzerland],” read the Federal Council’s statement.

In recent years, a total of 20 private security companies have settled in Switzerland. The companies, whose profits are thriving, are taking advantage of a loophole that allows them to conduct activities abroad without being disturbed by the Swiss authorities.

The controversy erupted last year when the British company Aegis Group Holding SA set up headquarters in Basel. The presence of one of the world’s largest private military contractors operating in war zones led some politicians to speak up. They said the company’s activities were noit acceptable in a country that cherishes its neutrality and has strict regulations on weapons exports.

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Spain drops probe into ex-military WhatsApp ‘kill squad’

Spanish prosecutors have dropped an investigation into messages posted in a WhatsApp group of retired military officers that denounced Spain's left-wing government and discussed shooting political adversaries.

Spain drops probe into ex-military WhatsApp 'kill squad'

The group was made up of high-ranking retired members of the air force with some of the messages leaked in December to the Infolibre news website, sparking public outrage.

The messages focused on the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose Socialists rule alongside the hard-left Podemos in Spain’s first coalition government since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

“I don’t want these scoundrels to lose the elections. No. I want them and all of their offspring to die,” wrote one.

“For them to die, they must be shot and 26 million bullets are needed,” wrote another, referring to the number of people who cast their ballots in favour.

Prosecutors opened their investigation in mid-December after finding the statements were “totally contrary to the constitutional order with veiled references to a military coup”.

But they dropped the probe after concluding the content of the chat did not constitute a hate crime by virtue of the fact it was a private communication.

“Its members ‘freely’ expressed their opinions to the others ‘being confident they were among friends’ without the desire to share the views elsewhere,” the Madrid prosecutors office said.

The remarks constituted “harsh” criticism that fell “within the framework of freedom of expression and opinion,” it said.

The decision is likely to inflame protests that erupted in mid-February over the jailing of a Spanish rapper for tweets found to be glorifying terrorism, a case that has raised concerns over freedom of speech in Spain.

According to Infolibre, some of the chat group also signed a letter by more than 70 former officers blaming the Sanchez government for the “breakdown of national unity” that was sent to Spain’s King Felipe VI in November.

Such remarks echo criticism voiced by Spain’s rightwing and far-right opposition that has denounced the government for courting separatist parties in order to push legislation through parliament where it only holds a minority.