UN body condemns French niqab ban

The UN Human Rights Committee has ruled that France’s 2010 ban on the niqab or Islamic veil violates human rights and has called on Paris to review the law.

France failed to make a proper case for the ban, the committee said, and gave the government 180 days to report back on its action.

Paris has an international legal obligation to comply “in good faith” but the UN body has no power to enforce the ruling.

The committee’s findings come after complaints by two French women convicted in 2012 under the controversial law which states: “No one may, in a public space, wear any article of clothing intended to conceal the face.”

The panel ruled that the ban violated the women’s human rights and called on the French authorities to pay them compensation.

Under the ban, anyone wearing the full-face veil in public is liable to a fine of €150 and instructions on French citizenship.

The committee’s chair Yuval Shany said he considered the ban a form of oppression.

Several countries in Europe have introduced similar legislation. Denmark’s parliament enacted a ban on using face veils in public in May and Belgium, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and the German southern state of Bavaria have also imposed restrictions on veils in public places.

“The committee 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 committee, which meets in New York and Geneva.

The 18-member body oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

A French foreign ministry spokesman replied that the law was legitimate, necessary and respectful of religious freedom.

He said the ban applied to facial concealment, not to any type of religious clothing, adding that the French constitutional court and European Court of Human Rights had upheld the ban on full-face veils, saying it did not violate religious freedoms.

France’s Metronews reported that 223 fines were handed out in 2015 for wearing a full veil in public.

The UN committee said the ban disproportionately harmed the right of Muslim women and could lead to them being confined to their homes and marginalised.

France has Europe’s largest Muslim minority, with around 5 million citizens out of a 67-million population.

Religion and religious symbols worn in public have long been controversial in the secular state.



The aftermath of the 2016 Nice attack. The rights of French Muslims is a divisive issue. Picture credit: Wikimedia 


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