UN Rules France’s ‘Burqa Ban’ is a Violation of Muslim Women’s Rights

France has 180 days to answer

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled that France's prohibition laws concerning the wearing of the niqab by Muslim women in a public place infringes upon human rights. The UN body upheld two complaints filed against the policy adopted by the French Government to impose monetary fines on women wearing veils covering their faces. It said the ban disproportionately harmed the rights of women to exercise personal religious beliefs.

The burqa is a kind of Islamic veil which completely covers the user's face. The wearer sees the world via a net screen. The niqab is another variant which keeps open the area around the wearer's eyes. Violators could face monetary fines. The person concerned may also be ordered to take a course in French citizenship.

The committee consists of 18 independent experts who monitor how countries implement a particular civil rights treaty. It asked France to explain why the law in question, colloquially named the burqa ban law, was needed. The law came into force in 2010. It said that it was not persuaded by the claim made by France that face coverings should be prohibited from a security aspect or to attain the aim of 'living together' within society. The committee, however, acknowledged the state could demand the individual citizen to show her face for particular identification purposes, but a sweeping niqab ban was uncalled for in this context. It emphasized the reasoning that such a prohibition on full face covering traps women wearing full-face veils only to their homes and impedes access to a number of public services. The law also marginalizes them. The committee's rulings are not binding but could influence courts in France in the foreseeable future. Since France is one of the 172 countries which have ratified the decision-making International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it has the obligation to comply with this ruling.

France has a maximum period of 180 days to report back to the UN body on the steps it has undertaken to implement the decision. The UN panel not only asked Paris to review the law, but also to compensate the two Muslim women who filed the case with the committee. The case was filed in 2016, a full four years after they were prosecuted and then convicted in 2012. Both of them were charged with wearing face veils while in a public place.

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