Belgian face veil ban backed in European court ruling


Two women show fines imposed for wearing niqabs in Brussels in 2011. The fines were paid by French businessman Rachid NekkazImage copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Two women show fines imposed for wearing niqabs in Brussels in 2011. The fines were paid by French businessman Rachid Nekkaz (C)

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Belgium’s ban on face veils does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

It was a ruling in a case brought by two women who wanted to wear the niqab veil, which covers all but the eyes.

Belgium banned the wearing of partial or total face veils in public in 2011.

The court agreed that the ban sought to guarantee the concept of “living together” and the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

The court came to a similar judgement on Tuesday in the case of a Belgian woman who was contesting a bylaw brought in by three Belgian municipalities in 2008 that also banned face veils.

The European Court of Human Rights is an international court set up in 1959 and rules on individual or state applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Belgian MPs approved the ban in 2011 on the grounds of security, to allow police to identify people, although some also argued the veil was a symbol of the oppression of women.

The latest case brought against Belgium was filed by Belgian national Samia Belcacemi, who lives in Schaerbeek, and Moroccan national Yamina Oussar, who lives in Li├Ęge.

Ms Belcacemi removed her veil fearing she might be fined or jailed, while Ms Oussar opted to stay at home, curtailing her social life, the court noted.

In its ruling, the court took into consideration a previous ruling it had made in a similar case brought against France over its imposition of a veil ban.

It noted: “The court found that the concern to ensure respect for the minimum guarantees of life in society could be regarded as an element of the ‘protection of the rights and freedoms of others’ and that the ban was justifiable in principle, solely to the extent that it sought to guarantee the conditions of ‘living together’.”

In the second case, the court made a similar ruling against the application brought by Belgian national Fouzia Dakir against the ban imposed by the municipalities of Pepinster, Dison and Verviers in 2008.

An appeal against the rulings can be lodged with the Grand Chamber of the court within three months.

In March, Europe’s top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), ruled that workplace bans on the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign” such as headscarves need not constitute direct discrimination.

However, it said such bans must be based on internal company rules requiring all employees to “dress neutrally”.


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