GENEVA (Reuters) – The UN Human Rights Committee on Tuesday declared France’s ban on the niqab, the full Islamic veil, a human rights violation and called on it to review the legislation.
France had not advocated for its ban, the committee said, and gave Paris 180 days to report and say what action it had taken.
“In particular, the Committee was not convinced by France’s assertion that a ban on covering the face was necessary and proportionate from a security point of view or to achieve the objective of ‘living together’ in society, “he said.
The panel of 18 independent experts ensures compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The execution of its decisions is not compulsory, but under an optional protocol to the treaty, France has an international legal obligation to comply with it “in good faith”.
A spokesperson for the French Foreign Ministry said the law was legitimate, necessary and respected religious freedom. The ban applies to hiding the face, not any type of religious clothing that leaves the face uncovered, he told reporters.
RISK OF MARGINALIZATION
The French spokesperson also stressed that the French Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights, whose decisions are binding, had upheld the ban on the full veil, saying it did not violate religious freedom.
The UN Human Rights Committee disagreed with this in its Tuesday statement, saying the ban disproportionately undermined women’s right to manifest their religious beliefs and could lead them to to be homebound and marginalized.
The conclusions of the commission follow the complaints of two French women convicted in 2012 under a law of 2010 stipulating that “No one may, in a 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 is liable to a fine of 150 euros ($ 170) or French citizenship courses. According to Metronews media outlet, 223 fines were imposed in 2015 for wearing the full face veil in public.
Other countries in Europe have introduced legislation on Islamic dress. The Danish parliament enacted a ban on 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 full face veils 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 subject of controversy in the decidedly secular country.
The UN Human Rights Committee has reached similar conclusions in the 2008 case of a woman fired from a nursery for wearing a veil. In September, a senior French judge was quoted by Le Monde 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