French ban on full-face veil violates human rights, says UN panel


GENEVA (Reuters) – The UN Human Rights Committee said on Tuesday that France’s ban on the niqab, the full Islamic veil, was a violation of human rights and called on it to review the legislation.

FILE PHOTO: French police and gendarmes check the identity cards of two women wearing full veils, or niqabs, as they arrived to demonstrate after internet calls from Islamic groups protesting an anti-Islam video , in Lille on September 22. 2012. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

France failed to justify its ban, the committee said, and gave Paris 180 days to report to say what action it had taken.

“In particular, the Committee was not persuaded by France’s assertion that a ban on face coverings was necessary and proportionate from a security perspective or to achieve the objective of ‘living together’. in society,” he said.

The panel of 18 independent experts monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Implementation of its decisions is not mandatory, but under an optional protocol to the treaty, France has an international legal obligation to comply with them “in good faith”.

A French Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the law was legitimate, necessary and respected religious freedom. The ban applies to face coverings, not any type of religious clothing that leaves the face uncovered, he told reporters.


The French spokesperson also pointed out that the French Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights, whose decisions are binding, had upheld the full veil ban, saying it did not violate religious freedom.

The UN Human Rights Committee disagreed with that in its statement on Tuesday, saying the ban disproportionately undermines women’s right to manifest their religious beliefs and could lead them to be housebound and marginalized.

The commission’s findings follow complaints from two French women convicted in 2012 under a 2010 law stipulating that “No one may, in public space, wear clothing intended to conceal the face”.

In its conclusions, the panel asked France to pay compensation to the two women.

Under the ban, anyone wearing the full veil in public faces a fine of 150 euros ($170) or lessons in French citizenship. According to Metronews, 223 fines were imposed in 2015 for wearing the full veil in public.

Other countries in Europe have introduced Islamic dress legislation. The Danish parliament banned the wearing of the veil in public in May. Belgium, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and the German state of Bavaria have also imposed some restrictions on the full veil in public places.

France has the largest Muslim minority in Europe, estimated at 5 million or more out of a population of 67 million. The place of religion and religious symbols worn in public can be a controversial topic in this staunchly secular country.

The UN Human Rights Committee came to similar conclusions in the 2008 case of a woman fired from a nursery school for wearing the veil. In September, a senior French judge was quoted by Le Monde newspaper as saying that although not binding, the panel’s decisions could still influence French case law.

Additional rehearsal by Ingrid Melander Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and David Stamp


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