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- On 11 July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that a 2011 Belgian law forbidding people from wearing clothing that partially or completely covers the face does not violate the European Convention of Human Rights.
- Two Muslim women living in Belgium, Samia Belcacemi and Yamina Oussar, brought the case. Belcaemi and Oussar said they freely choose to wear the niqab.
- Belcacemi and Oussar argued that the Belgian law from June 2011 violated Articles 8, 9, 10, and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
- Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights addresses “the right to respect for private and family life.”
- Article 9 addresses freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
- Article 10 addresses freedom of expression.
- Article 14 addresses discrimination.
- The court ruled that the ban is protected by Articles 8 and 9 because it ensures the “protection of the freedom of others.”
- The court also ruled that the Belgian government was more adept to make this decision because the government has a better understanding of the local context and what is necessary for the “functioning of democratic society.”
- The court ruled that a law can only be declared discriminatory under Article 14 if the law lacks a “legitimate aim.”
- Since the law is, in the eyes of the court, objective and justifiable, the ban does not violate Article 14.
- On 1 June 2011, the Belgian government passed a law forbidding the “wearing of all clothing which completely or mostly hides the face.”
- The law prohibits people from wearing clothing that “masks” the face in such a way that it is it no longer “identifiable.”
- Those who break the law can be fined 15-25 euros and jailed for one to seven days.
- In March 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that prohibitions on wearing religious clothing such as the Islamic veil did not constitute discrimination.
- France also has a ban on clothing that partly or completely covers the face. The French ban was issued in October 2010 by the French Constitutional Court.
- The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on the French ban in July 2014. In the case, S.A.S. v. France, the plaintiff argued that the law violated the European Convention on Human Rights. The court considered this ruling in its decision to uphold the Belgian law.
Criticism of the ECHR Ruling
- Shoaib M. Khan, a human rights lawyer, called the ECHR decision “concerning for many reasons.” Khan tweeted:
ECtHR: The ban on wearing the niqab, or any clothing that partly or totally covers the face, in public in Belgium does not breach the ECHR. pic.twitter.com/YooCmdVD00
— Shoaib M Khan (@ShoaibMKhan) July 11, 2017
Concerning for many reasons. But I don’t understand this part of reasoning. ECHR not breached because not every offender is sent to jail? pic.twitter.com/aUJ7lH5Azf
— Shoaib M Khan (@ShoaibMKhan) July 11, 2017
Supporters of the Ban
- In June 2009, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said:
“The issue of the burqa isn’t a religious one, it’s an issue of liberty and women’s dignity. The burqa isn’t a religious symbol, it’s a symbol of the subjugation, of the submission, of women.”
- Then-Mayor of Meaux, France Jean-François Copé wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times:
“The visibility of the face in the public sphere has always been a public safety requirement. It was so obvious that until now it did not need to be enshrined in law. But the increase in women wearing the niqab, like that of the ski mask favored by criminals, changes that…
In both France and the United States, we recognize that individual liberties cannot exist without individual responsibilities. This acknowledgment is the basis of all our political rights. We are free as long as we are responsible individuals who can be held accountable for our actions before our peers. But the niqab and burqa represent a refusal to exist as a person in the eyes of others. The person who wears one is no longer identifiable; she is a shadow among others, lacking individuality, avoiding responsibility.”
- Fadela Amara, a former French government minister and president of Ni Putes Ni Soumises, a feminist organization which advocates for the ban, has said about the burqa:
“The vast majority of Muslims are against the burqa. The reason is evident. Those that participated in the struggle for women’s rights domestically, particularly in Algeria I think, know what [the veil] represents and what kind of anti-progress political project it masks, one which aims at suffocating the most fundamental liberties.”
Critics of the Ban
- John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination in Europe, said in April 2010 when Belgium’s lower house voted to pass the ban:
“A complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab as an expression of their identity or beliefs. The Belgian move to ban full-face veils, the first in Europe, sets a dangerous precedent.”
- Addressing a French law instituting a similar ban, Viv Groskop wrote for the Guardian:
“Anti-burqa campaigners all over Europe suggest that this is an issue of personal safety and basic trust. In reality, it’s just a form of Islamophobia. In France, the ban already feels unworkable, fatally divisive and, frankly, pathetic.”
- Jacob Mchangama, director of legal affairs for the Center for Political Studies, wrote for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty:
“A law forcing women not to wear burqas is just as inconsistent with human rights as one forcing them to do so. Moreover, if the ban against the burqa is genuinely aimed at those who are being coerced, rather than its symbolic value, the ban should logically cover other religious garments — such as the hijab as well.”
Megan Evershed contributed to this report.