It was a controversial law that spawned hundreds of headlines when it was passed in 2010, and now the United Nations is calling on France to review its ban on the niqab. The organization’s Human Rights Committee this week released a statement deeming the crackdown on the full-face Islamic veil a “violation of human rights”.
After receiving complaints by two French Muslim women, both fined for wearing a full-body veil or niqab, the committee ruled in their favor on Tuesday, urging that the women be compensated. The legislation, which came into effect in 2011, prohibits the wearing of face-covering garments, such as the niqab, helmets, and balaclavas, in public, and those caught breaking the law can be fined up to €150 (AED 630).
The ban risks “confining [women] to their homes,” the UNHRC said in a statement, “impeding their access to public services and marginalizing them”. The ruling, handed down by a committee of 18 independent experts, judged that the women affected had not been given the right to manifest their religious beliefs. “The State has not demonstrated how the full veil presents a threat in itself for public security to justify this absolute ban,” the UNHRC said, recommending the country introduce measures to prevent similar violations. “The Committee was not persuaded by France’s claim that a ban on face covering was necessary and proportionate from a security standpoint or for attaining the goal of ‘living together’ in society.” France must now report to the committee within 180 days on the actions it has taken to implement the landmark ruling, though panel cannot legally enforce their decision.
The two petitioners, who complained to the UN in 2016, were both prosecuted, convicted and fined in 2012 for wearing the niqab, the committee revealed. When the law was introduced, the French government estimated that 2,000 women in the country could be affected by the legislation. Similar bans on face-concealing garments have since been introduced in Denmark, Austria, and the Netherlands.