GENEVA - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein is calling on all French seaside towns to rescind "discriminatory bans" on the burkini and other forms of dress worn by Muslim women.
In weighing in on this controversial issue, the U.N.’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, did not disguise his disdain for a policy he regards as discriminatory, humiliating and counterproductive.
The commissioner said he agrees with France’s highest administrative court, which ruled on Friday that the ban constitutes a grave and illegal breach of fundamental freedoms and should be suspended. He said he understands and shares the grief and anger generated by the terrorist attacks, including the massacre carried out in Nice on July 14.
Rupert Colville, the high commissioner’s spokesman said decrees such as the ban on wearing burkinis do not improve the security situation. He said they only serve to fuel religious intolerance and stigmatize Muslims.
“By stimulating polarization between communities, these clothing bans have only succeeded in increasing tensions and as a result may actually undermine the effort to fight and prevent violent extremism, which depends on cooperation and mutual respect between communities,” Colville said.
He said dress codes such as anti-burkini decrees disproportionately affect women and girls, undermine their freedom to choose what to wear and are humiliating and degrading.
Colville called the bans spurious, telling VOA they have nothing to do with health or hygiene, as claimed by some. He described as "nonsense" the argument that preventing women from wearing the burkini liberates them.
“It is frankly a stupid reaction to what we are having, facing in terms of terrorist attacks. It does nothing to increase security," he said. "It does nothing to improve public order. If anything it stimulates friction, and therefore undermines public order and it is having a counterproductive effect.”
High Commissioner Zeid said individuals who wear burkinis or any other form of clothing cannot be blamed for the violent or hostile reactions of others. He said those who incite hatred or react violently should be targeted, not women who just want to walk on the beach or go for a swim wearing clothes that make them feel comfortable.