The people have spoken: Swiss voters upheld the legalisation of heroin for long-term addicts in a November referendum, but rejected a proposal that would have decriminalised the use of marijuana. Reporter Tom Armitage presents the details surrounding this, and other prominent referendum package decisions.

Author:Armitage, Tom

This seemingly mixed message on drug use was in fact expected of the sovereign Swiss, who have shown a progressive attitude to supervised drug distribution in the past. Just 37 per cent of Swiss voters voiced support for the cannabis legalisation plan, while a resounding 68 per cent of Swiss backed the heroin programme.

The vote in favour of making current heroin therapy legal may also point the way forward for other European countries seeking a way to support addicts, reduce crime and cut the spread of diseases from sharing infected needles.

The vote, held on November 30, did bring one surprise, however: a motion to suspend the statute of limitations on pornographic crimes against children was accepted, against the government's (Federal Council's) recommendations.

The highly emotional issue had been brought into the spotlight in recent months by widely publicised cases of child abuse both at home and abroad.

Paedophiles in court

Now, paedophiles in Switzerland can, in theory, be tried for their crimes until the day that they die, no matter how far in the past they may have committed the crime. Opponents said the government's counterproposal, that paedophiles could be tried only until the victim turned 33, did not go far enough. The government maintained its proposal was in line with law in other European Union countries.

In the end, 52 per cent of Swiss voted in favour of the initiative. The women's wing of the Swiss People's Party supported the proposal as well.

Christine Bussat, president of Marche Blanche, the organisation that launched the initiative to suspend the statute of limitations for child sex abusers, admitted that the proposed wording of the new law was not complete and said it was "unbelievable" that the proposal had been accepted by Swiss voters.

One of the problems that experts have pointed out with the initiative is its wording. It states: "The prosecution of sexual or pornographic infractions against prepubescent children, as well as the penalty for such infractions, [should not be] subject to the statute of limitations."

In particular is the use of the word "prepubescent" as the condition on which a judge must decide whether the crime was child abuse or not. If a case were to come to court 40 years after it actually happened, it would be hard to pinpoint exactly when puberty had occurred in the victim.

"It will not be easy," said Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, regarding this new condition judges must...

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