News / Europe

Europe Rights Court Backs French Burqa Ban

File - Kenza Drider, wearing a niqab, drives a car in Avignon, southern France.
File - Kenza Drider, wearing a niqab, drives a car in Avignon, southern France.
Lisa Bryant

In a decision with potentially wider implications, Europe’s highest court on Tuesday upheld France's controversial 2010 ban on full-face veils in public, dismissing a case brought by a French woman against the state for breach of religious freedom.

In its ruling, the European Court of Human Rights rejected a petition by a young Muslim woman that France's 2010 veil ban violated her rights and amounted to discrimination.

The Strasbourg-based court found the legislation did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

The French law bans most face-covering garments, including the Islamic face veil, or niqab, and Afghan-style burqa. 

French authorities argue the measure is important not only for security reasons, but because face veils violate France's secularist creed and women's rights.

Only a small minority of French Muslim women actually wear face veils - the government estimates less than 2,000 of France's 5 or 6 million Muslims. Nonetheless, the ban has sparked controversy, with some Muslims arguing it unfairly singles them out.


Reacting to the ruling, French Council of the Muslim Faith head Dalil Boubakeur said face veils like the niqab are not a religious obligation.

Boubakeur said the word niqab is not mentioned in the Koran as a religious prescription.  He said he has no problem with banning the garment, although he said stricter Muslims may disagree.

But Amnesty International called the court's ruling "deeply damaging" and a "profound retreat on the right of freedom of expression and religion."

A researcher on radical Islam at the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research, Maryam Borghee, said she is concerned about the ruling's ramifications.

In 2012, Borghee authored a book about why young French women adopt the veil, which she said many do voluntarily.

Borghee said she believes the ruling will deepen the divide between more conservative European Muslims, even if they are in the minority, and public powers. And it will reinforce the belief among Muslims that they are being stigmatized because of their religion.

The European court's ruling may have wider implications. 

Belgium also adopted the veil ban, as have some areas of Switzerland. 

In France, the ruling reinforces a number of judicial decisions in favor of the ban, including one just a few days ago by the country's highest court (Court of Cassation).

No discrimination

Two of the 17 judges, who spent several months deliberating on the case, dissented from the majority view. But the judges agreed unanimously that the woman had not been a victim of discrimination.

Authorities passed the law under former President Nicolas Sarkozy's administration, casting the full-faced veil as an affront to the country's tenets of secularism as well as being degrading to women. It is also a security risk, preventing the accurate identification of individuals, officials have said.

The 24-year-old French woman who brought the lawsuit had not been prosecuted under the law, which has resulted in only a few arrests since it was introduced in 2010, according to the French news agency AFP.

The woman, a university graduate, had requested anonymity for fear of reprisals in France over her action.

She had argued that being obliged to take off her veil in public was degrading.

In written evidence, she had testified that she wore the full veil of her own free will and was willing to remove it whenever required for security reasons - addressing two of the main arguments put forward by French authorities in support of the ban.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AFP.

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Comment Sorting
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
July 01, 2014 1:56 PM
It's time the world reconsiders its stand with the so-called Amnesty International seemingly in support of everything in counter clockwise direction. Perhaps the body wants to use its mandate to force people to accept anything and everything, even when such can be harmful or injurious. There is a need to reappraise the usefulness or otherwise of the Amnesty International to avoid being misled by it in matters of security importance. In a world in want of transparency where bigots and miscreants have escaped or evaded arrest because of such ungodly camouflage, Amnesty International saying the court is "deeply damaging" is itself a profound retreat on its mandate to the right of security and protection of the individual and state.

And talking about stigmatization, islam and muslims have got enough reason to earn it. If people are not ashamed to be called muslim now, in the face of outrageous crises the religion has caused everywhere, boko haram in Nigeria, al qaida everywhere, el shebaab in Somalia, ISIL in Iraq, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, even to the killing and kidnapping of children and women etc. etc. then the world has gone crazy.
In Response

by: E. Marinos from: Athens, Greece
July 02, 2014 3:37 AM
France and generally Europe, in their constitutions accept full freedom in the believes of all of their CITIZENS, although the majority are Christians and some states declares that into their first article of their constitutions. Most of Christians uses to wear a cross under their clothes, just for themselves and according to their believes, so not to propound their faith in public "advertising" their faith, or bother other people with different faith. When Christians visit or stay in countries where other Creeds persist, they (the Christians) follow the rules of that country and they do not defy. So dear of any Creed, YOU HAVE TO DO THE SAME TOO if you want to enjoy the same rights as the locals, otherwise you will become outlaw.

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