Anti-Veil Laws Spread Across Europe In Violation of Human Rights

A blog post by Kendall Pipitone, Junior Associate.

 

In 2004, France passed a law making it illegal to wear ostentatious signs of religious affiliation in public schools.[1] In 2010, France passed a law prohibiting wearing an outfit intending to hide one’s face in public spaces.[2] These acts of legislation have been widely criticized, although they have not yet been struck down or altered by any legal authority. The urgent need to protect citizens in the interest of national security—one of the reasons cited for passing these laws—seems to fall within the acceptable justifications for such bans under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).[3]

In fact, similar anti-veil laws have been enacted across Europe. Countries like Denmark, Austria, Belgium, and Bulgaria have passed national bans in all public spaces.[4] Countries such as Norway, the Netherlands, Kosovo, and Bosnia have placed national bans in limited locations.[5] Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Italy have enacted regional bans.[6]

More recently, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled in two cases that France’s 2010 law imposing a fine for anyone caught wearing a face-covering garment in public was contrary to human rights law.[7] The Committee found that a broad, sweeping ban on the niqab in public was not adequately supported by a sufficient need as required by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which allows such restrictions on religious freedom only if it is “necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”[8]

According to the Human Rights Committee, following these rulings France is required to provide “an effective remedy for Covenant violations.”[9] Remedies may include payment, release, and/or repeal of the legislation.[10]

It remains to be seen how countries with these or similar bans in place will react and adapt to these rulings.

[1] Loi n° 2004-228 du 15 mars 2004 encadrant, en application du principe de laïcité, le port de signes ou de tenues manifestant une appartenance religieuse dans les écoles, collèges et lycées publics [Law 2004-228 of March 15, 2004 on the Application of the Principle of Secularism, the Wearing of Signs or Outfits Showing a Religious Affiliation in Public Schools, Colleges and High Schools], Journal Officiel de la République Française[J.O.] [Official Gazette of France], Mar. 17, 2004, p. 5190.

[2] Loi n° 2010-1192 du 11 octobre 2010 interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public [Law 2010-1192 of October 11, 2010 on Prohibiting the Concealment of the Face in Public Space], Journal Officiel de la République Française [J.O.] [Official Gazette of France], Oct. 12, 2010, p. 18344.

[3] Assemblée Nationale Rapport Fait Au Nom de la Commission des lois constitutionnelles, de la législation et de l’administration générale de la République sur le project de loi (N° 1378) relatif à l’application du principe de laïcité dans les écoles, collèges et lycées publics [National Assembly Report on Behalf of the Committee on Constitutional Laws, Legislation, and the General Administration of the Republic on the Draft Law (No. 1378) relative to the application of the principle of secularism in public schools, colleges and high schools], Jan 28, 2004, p. 9; Assemblée Nationale Rapport Fait au nom de la Commission des loi constitutionelles, de la législation et de l’administration générale de la République sur le project de loi (n° 2520), interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public [National Assembly Report on Behalf of the Committee on Constitutional Laws, Legislation, and the General Administration of the Republic on the Draft Law (No. 2520) prohibiting the concealment of the face in public space], Jun. 23, 2010, p. 7; European Convention on Human Rights, art. 9–10, Nov. 4, 1950, 213 U.N.T.S. 221; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 18–19, Dec. 16, 1966, S. Exec. Doc. No. E, 95-2, 999 U.N.T.S. 171.

[4] Burqa bans have proliferated in Western Europe, The Economist (Aug. 9, 2019), https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2019/08/09/burqa-bans-have-proliferated-in-western-europe.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] U.N. Experts, France: Banning the niqab violated two Muslim women’s freedom of religion (Oct. 23, 2018), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23750&LangID=E.

[8] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 18, Dec. 16, 1966, S. Exec. Doc. No. E, 95-2, 999 U.N.T.S. 171.

 

[9] U.N. Human Rights Committee, Fact Sheet No. 15 (Rev. 1), https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet15rev.1en.pdf.

[10] Id.

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