جولائی 1, 2014

European Rights Court Upholds France’s Ban on Face-Covering #Veils

A veiled woman after being released from a police station in Paris in 2011.CreditImage by Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters
LONDON — The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday upheld a ban imposed by France on the wearing of face-covering veils in public, rejecting arguments that the measure violated religious freedoms and bolstering opponents of strict Islamic dress in other parts of Europe.

The ban, which went into effect three years ago in France, has always been contentious since it set the authorities on a collision course with Muslims who said the wearing of such veils was an obligation of their faith.

The ban, imposed by the former conservative government of Nicolas Sarkozy, was also depicted by its critics as exploiting anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments in a country with a Muslim minority estimated at up to six million — Europe’s largest.

At the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, judges said the ban was a legitimate attempt to preserve the norms of France’s diverse society and did not infringe on Europe’s Convention on Human Rights. The court was ruling on a case brought by an unidentified Frenchwoman who said the law, first passed in 2010 and implemented in 2011, was discriminatory and violated her freedom of conscience.

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The 24-year-old woman, a college graduate, had requested anonymity for fear of reprisals if her identity became known.

The law, the first of its kind in Europe and followed by similar legislation in Belgium, evoked an array of issues, including France’s vaunted secularism and the question of whether women are degraded when they wear full-face veils.

During years of debate, proponents of the ban said it was needed to preserve French culture and ward off Islamic separatism. Officials also said the veil presented a security risk because it cloaked the identity of the wearer. But opponents called the ban extreme.

At the time, the Interior Ministry in Paris estimated that only about 2,000 women in France wore the face-covering veil, known as the niqab and which leaves the eyes exposed. It is often confused with the head-to-toe covering called the burqa.

Hundreds of women have been fined up to 150 euros, or about $215, for defying the ban, but the police have said it is rarely enforced.

The court said in a statement that the “ban was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face.” The 17 judges said the applicant had not been a victim of discrimination.

In a statement summarizing the ruling on its website, the court said the woman “is a devout Muslim and in her submissions she said that she wore the burqa and niqab in accordance with her religious faith, culture and personal convictions.”

“The applicant also emphasized that neither her husband nor any other member of her family put pressure on her to dress in this manner. She added that she wore the niqab in public and in private, but not systematically. She was thus content not to wear the niqab in certain circumstances but wished to be able to wear it when she chose to do so. Lastly, her aim was not to annoy others but to feel at inner peace with herself,” the statement said.

It continued: “While the Court was aware that the disputed ban mainly affected certain Muslim women, it nevertheless noted that there was no restriction on the freedom to wear in public any item of clothing which did not have the effect of concealing the face and that the ban was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face.”

The court also said it was “able to understand the view” that, in the interests of social cohabitation, the wearing of such face-covering veils might be perceived as thwarting “open interpersonal relationships, which, by virtue of an established consensus, formed an indispensable element of community life within the society in question.”

While opponents of the ban complained that it could exacerbate social tensions, the court’s statement concluded that the prohibition could “be regarded as proportionate to the aim pursued, namely the preservation of the conditions of ‘living together' ” in French society.

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