Sunday, 18 November, 2018

France's niqab ban violates human rights, United Nations committee says

UN says France’s ban on full face Islamic covering violates human rights UN declares France's niqab ban is illegal
Jeannette Daniel | 24 October, 2018, 01:50

The UN has ruled that France's ban on the niqab - the Islamic veil that covers the face - is in breach of human rights and has ordered the country to review its legislation. The panel also wants the country to compensate the two French Muslim women who brought the case to the committee in 2016 after they were prosecuted and convicted in 2012 for wearing face veils in public.

The UN Human Rights Committee said France, which has banned the Islamic traditional dress since 2011, failed to provide valid reasons for its legislation.

In its statement, the committee said it was "not persuaded by France's claim that a ban on face covering was necessary and proportionate from a security standpoint or for attaining the goal of "living together" in society".

"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 statement added. "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 objective".

A panel of independent experts who oversee countries´ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, said France had 180 days to report back to say what actions it had taken.

"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.

France, which has ratified United Nations rights treaties, is "under obligation" to comply with the committee's recommendations and act in good faith, Brands-Kehris said.

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A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said the law was legitimate, necessary and respected religious freedom.

The so-called Baby Loup case, named after the nursery, had already faced multiple legal battles in the French courts.

In 2004, the French parliament banned all religious symbols from state schools, including the face veil.

The French spokesman also pointed out that both France's constitutional court and the European Court of Human Rights, whose rulings are binding, had upheld the full-face veil ban, saying it did not violate religious freedom.

In its findings, the panel said the ban had violated the two women's human rights and called on France to pay them compensation.

Meanwhile, Yuval Shany, committee chairman, stressed that "the decisions are not directed against the notion of secularity, nor are they an endorsement of a custom which many on the Committee, including myself, regard as a form of oppression of women". Several European countries have also implemented some restrictions on Islamic face veils, including Denmark, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands and Bulgaria.

According to French media Metronews, some 223 fines were handed out in 2015 for wearing a full veil in public.

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