France’s ban on full-face Islamic veils is a violation of human rights, the United Nations has ruled, a decision that could have wide-ranging global implications.
In what The Daily Mail described as a “landmark ruling”, the UN moved to support wearers of the face-covering garment known as a niqab and ordered France to repay two French women penalised for wearing niqabs in 2012.
The UN Human Rights Committee has found that France had failed to make the case for its ban, part of a 2010 law stipulating “no one may, in a public space, wear any article of clothing intended to conceal the face.”
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Anyone caught wearing a full-face veil in public is liable for a fine of 150€ (£132.50) or lessons in French citizenship. According to French media Metronews, 223 fines were handed out in 2015.
However, a UN panel of 18 independent experts, ruled this represented a form of oppression, adding: “In particular, 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 verdict is at odds with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which has previously upheld the legitimacy of the French ban, arguing it did not violate religious freedom.
Unlike the ECHR, Reuters reports that the panel’s findings “are not legally binding but could influence French courts” nonetheless, France has an international legal obligation to comply “in good faith” under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The French government now has 180 days to report back detailing what actions it has taken to review and amend controversial legislation.
France24 says the committee's decision “reignites a debate that has raged in France for years over Muslim headwear and other religious clothing”.
“Condemned by critics for pandering to far-right voters but backed by many women rights activists,” says the Mail, “the debate has regularly pitted supporters of the country's secular constitution against those who argue for religious freedoms”.
The UN ruling could also have implications for other European countries, including Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and the German state of Bavaria, all of whom have imposed some form of restriction on the wearing of full-face veils in public.
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