The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Wende Gozan, 212-633-4247,

Amnesty International Urges French Politicians to Reject Face Veil Ban

‘Such Important Values As Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ Cannot ‘Be Advanced by Such a Discriminatory Restriction’


Amnesty International is calling
on French lawmakers to reject a draft law banning the wearing of full face
veils in public that was adopted by the government and put before Parliament

The proposal, which is being put forward
by the French government after a prolonged public debate on the wearing
of Islamic face veils, would prohibit the wearing anywhere in public of
any form of clothing intended to conceal one's face.

"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 in public as an expression
of their identity or beliefs," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's
expert on discrimination in Europe. "Much of the public debate in
France has focused on the need to defend French Republican values. Amnesty
International does not believe that such important values as liberty, equality
and fraternity can be advanced by such a discriminatory restriction."

Breach of the law would be punishable by
a fine of up to 150 Euros and/or the requirement to complete a community
rehabilitation program. The move comes only a few weeks after the lower
chamber of the Belgian parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a similar

The Council of State (Conseil d'Etat), France's
top legal advisory body, has already expressed serious reservations about
the compatibility of such a general ban with the French constitution and
the country's obligations under international human rights law. "To ignore
the advice of the Council of State on this issue would be to belie an indifference
to human rights law in general and the rights of Muslim women who choose
to wear full face veils in particular," said Dalhuisen.

The French government has argued that the
ban is necessary for public safety and to protect women from being pressured
into wearing full face veils. "Legitimate security concerns can
be met by targeted restrictions on the complete covering of the face in
well-defined high risk locations. Individuals may also be required
to reveal their faces when objectively necessary, for instance for identity
checks. French law already allows for such limited restrictions,"
said Dalhuisen.

States do have an obligation to protect women
against pressure or coercion in their homes or communities to wear full
face veils. They should do this by taking steps to combat gender
stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes and, where appropriate, by intervening
in individual cases through criminal or family law. A generally applicable
ban would restrict the rights of those who freely choose to wear full face
veils, while punishing those who do so against their will.

"For those women who are being coerced into
wearing full face veils, the ban means they will either face state punishment
if they go out in public - or more likely - they will be confined to
their homes. This is counter-productive." said Dalhuisen. "Some
people may well find the wearing of full face veils objectionable, or contrary
to established social customs. However, human rights law is quite
clear on this - the disquiet of one person cannot be used to justify a
restriction on the freedom of expression of another."

Under international human rights law, restrictions
on freedom of expression and the manifestation of religion or belief are
permissible only when they are demonstrably necessary and proportionate
for the achievement of certain specific purposes permitted by international
law. The only legitimate purposes for such restrictions are to protect
certain public interests (national security or public safety, or public
order, health or morals) or the rights of others. Amnesty International
does not believe that a complete ban on the wearing of full face veils
in public is necessary to achieve any of these goals.

Amnesty International France addressed a
letter to the French Prime Minister on April 20 this year setting out the
organization's position on a generally applicable ban on the wearing of
full face veils. Amnesty International France also contributed to the deliberations
of the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights and shares
the position expressed in its opinion published on January 21, 2010, which
opposes a general prohibition on the wearing of full face veils.

Amnesty International is a global movement of millions of people demanding human rights for all people - no matter who they are or where they are. We are the world's largest grassroots human rights organization.

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