France ban on face veil 'violates' women's rights — United Nations panel

Blanche Robertson
October 23, 2018

The UN Human Rights Committee says France's ban on the niqab, the full-face Islamic veil, is a violation of human rights and has called on it to review the legislation.

The committee's findings come after complaints by two French women convicted in 2012 under a 2010 law stipulating that "No one may, in a public space, wear any article of clothing meant to hide the face".

"The Committee found that the general criminal ban on the wearing of the niqab in public introduced by the French law disproportionately harmed the petitioners' right to manifest their religious beliefs, and that France had not adequately explained why it was necessary to prohibit this clothing", the United Nations experts said in a statement.

It added that it was not convinced by France's claim that the ban was necessary for security and social reasons.

"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".

The debate has regularly pitted supporters of the country's secular constitution against those who argue for religious freedoms.

The 2010 law had strong public support when brought in under former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

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France has the largest Muslim minority in Europe, estimated at 5 million or more out of a population of 67 million.

Under the ban, anyone wearing the full-face veil in public is liable to a fine of 150 euros ($240) or lessons in French citizenship.

"In the context of fewer than 2,000 women wearing the full-face veil in France". Implementation of its decisions is not mandatory, but under an optional protocol of the treaty, France has an global legal obligation to comply "in good faith".

France was the first European country to ban the veil in public places with a law that took effect in 2011 and was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014.

The committee's chair Yuval Shany said that he and several others on the 18-member panel considered it a form of oppression.

Instead, he said, the ruling reflected whether a balance was struck between personal rights and the public interest.

The ban continues to be a bone of contention in France, with riots breaking out in April this year after a woman was arrested for refusing to remove her veil in the district of Toulouse, Bellefontaine.

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