France Slammed for Burqa Ban Law by UN Human Rights Committee
The UN body has urged France to revise its “burqa ban” legislation, and compensate two women sentenced under it back in 2012.
France’s law forbidding full-face veils, more popularly known as the “burqa ban”, has been criticized as harming religious rights by the UN Human Rights Committee in the body’s first ever consideration of laws banning face veils.
France is one of a total of six member states of the European Union to have instituted full or partial “burqa bans”, i.e. bans on Islamic full-face veils – the others being Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, and Germany. The first burqa ban fine in Denmark was issued in August.
The French “burqa ban” law was adopted in 2010, and in 2012 two women were convicted and fined under it for wearing the niqab, an Islamic veil with an opening for the eyes only.
According to the UN Human Rights Committee, however, the law and the ensuing sentence in violated the religious rights of the two women.
The UN body further urged France to compensate them, and to revise the 2010 burqa ban legislation.
“The French law disproportionately harmed the petitioners’ right to manifest their religious beliefs,” the committee said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The ban, rather than protecting fully veiled women, could have the opposite effect of confining them to their homes, impeding their access to public services and marginalising them,” the UN body added.
It made it clear it was not convinced the burqa ban was necessary based on the security and social justifications offered by the French government.
“The Committee acknowledged that States could require that individuals show their faces in specific circumstances for identification purposes, but considered that a general ban on the niqab was too sweeping for this purpose,” it said.
The UN Human Rights Committee also pointed out that was the first time it had ever considered the question of laws with the effect of banning the full Islamic veil.
France’s 2010 law was adopted under then President Nicolas Sarkozy with strong public support but the burqa ban has remained a contentious issue ever since.
With the EU’s largest Muslim population estimated at about 5 million, France thus became the first EU member state to introduce a burqa ban. Women who ignore the ban can be fined up to EUR 150 euros (USD 170).
“The vast majority of cases where people have been stopped for checks and have been condemned to fines… have been women wearing the niqab,” committee member Ilze Brands-Kehris told AFP, as cited by France24.
“In the context of fewer than 2,000 women wearing the full-face veil in France… (the law has) a vast disproportionate effect on those women,” she argued.
The UN Human Rights Committee is made up of independent experts and has no enforcement powers although it has given France 180 days to report on how it has implemented its decision.
Back in 2014, the European Court of Human Rights, a body of the Council of Europe under the European Convention on Human Rights, upheld France’s burqa ban.
In August, the UN Human Rights Committee also criticized France for a 2008 case, known as the Baby Loup case, in which a nursery worker was fired after refusing to remove her veil at work.
Earlier this month it was revealed that French gangster Redoine Faid, who escaped from jail by helicopter in July and was recaptured three months later, had worn a burqa as a disguise a number of times.
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