European Muslims Discriminated Against for Demonstrating Faith, Charges Amnesty International

For Immediate Release

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Sharon Singh,ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579

European Muslims Discriminated Against for Demonstrating Faith, Charges Amnesty International

Human rights organization uncovers systematic prejudice against communities; governments must increase pressure to end negative stereotypes

WASHINGTON - European governments must do more to challenge the negative stereotypes and prejudices that fuel discrimination against Muslims, especially in education and employment, a new report by Amnesty International reveals today.

The new report, Choice and prejudice: discrimination against Muslims in Europe, exposes the impact of discrimination against Muslims on the ground of religion or belief in several aspects of their lives, including employment and education.

"Muslim women are denied jobs and girls are prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the headscarf," said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International's expert on discrimination. "Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam. Rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials all too often pander to them in a quest for votes.”

The report focuses on Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, where Amnesty International has already raised issues such as restrictions on places of worship and prohibitions on full-face veils. The report documents numerous individual cases of discrimination across the countries covered.

"Wearing religious and cultural symbols and dress is part of the right of freedom of expression and religion, and these rights must be enjoyed by all faiths equally," said Perolini. "While everyone has the right to express their cultural, traditional or religious background by wearing a specific form of dress, no one should be pressured or coerced to do so. General bans on particular forms of dress, however, violate the rights of those freely choosing to dress in a particular way."

Research shows that legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment has not been appropriately implemented in Belgium, France or the Netherlands. Employers have been allowed to discriminate on the grounds that religious or cultural symbols will vex clients or colleagues, or that a clash exists with a company's corporate image or its "neutrality."

This is in direct conflict with European Union (E.U.) anti-discrimination legislation, which allows variations of treatment in employment only if specifically required by the nature of the occupation.

"E.U. legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment on the ground of religion or belief seems to be toothless across Europe, as we observe a higher rate of unemployment among Muslims, and especially Muslim women of foreign origin," said Perolini.

In France in 2009, the employment rate of women holding French citizenship was 60.9 percent, whereas the rate of Moroccan women in the country was 25.6 percent and for Turkish women 14.7 percent. In the Netherlands in 2006, the employment rate of women of Turkish and Moroccan origin was 31 and 27 percent, respectively, compared with the rate for Dutch women who are not from ethnic minorities at 56 percent.

In the last decade, pupils have been forbidden to wear the headscarf or other religious and traditional dress at school in many countries including Spain, France, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

"Any restriction on the wearing of religious and cultural symbols and dress in schools must be based on assessment in each individual case," said Perolini. "General bans risk hindering Muslim girls' access to education and violating their rights to manifest their beliefs."

The right to establish places of worship is a key component of the right to freedom of religion or belief. In many European countries, despite state obligations to protect, respect and fulfill this right, it is being restricted.

Since 2010, the Swiss Constitution has specifically targeted Muslims with prohibiting the construction of minarets, embedding anti-Islam stereotypes and violating international obligations that Switzerland is bound to respect.

In Catalonia (Spain), Muslims have to pray in outdoor spaces because existing prayer rooms are too small to accommodate all the worshippers and requests to build mosques are seen as incompatible with the respect of Catalan traditions and culture.

"There is a groundswell of opinion in many European countries that Islam is alright and Muslims are okay so long as they are not too visible," said Perolini. "This attitude is generating human rights violations and needs to be challenged."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.

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