EU: Human Rights Commissioner against burka ban

EU: Human Rights Commissioner against burka ban

Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe writes that he's against a burka or niqab ban.

Prohibition of the burqa and the niqab would not liberate oppressed women, but might instead lead to their further alienation in European societies. A general ban on such attires would constitute an ill-advised invasion of individual privacy. Depending on its precise terms, a prohibition also raises serious questions about whether such legislation would be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Two rights in the Convention are particularly relevant. One is the right to respect for one’s private life and personal identity (Article 8). The other is the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief “in worship, teaching, practice and observance” (Article 9).

Both articles specify that these human rights can only be subject to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are notably necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Those who have argued for a general ban of the burqa and the niqab have not managed to show that these garments in any way undermine democracy, public safety, order or morals. The fact that a very small number of women wear such clothing has made proposals in such a direction even less convincing.

Nor has it been possible to prove that these women in general are victims of more gender repression than others. Those who have been interviewed in the media have presented a diversity of religious, political and personal arguments for their decision to dress themselves as they do. There may of course be cases where they are under undue pressure - but it is not shown that a ban would be welcomed by these women.

No doubt, the status of women is an acute problem within some religious communities. This needs to be discussed, but prohibiting symptoms like clothing is not the way to do it, especially as these may not always be the reflection of religious beliefs, but the expression of broader cultural aspects.

Rightly, we react strongly against any regime ruling that women must wear these garments. This is absolutely repressive and should not be accepted. However, this is not remedied by banning the same clothing in other countries.

A serious approach requires an assessment of the genuine consequences of decisions in this area. For instance, the suggestion to ban the presence of women dressed in the burqa/niqab in public institutions like hospitals or government offices may only result in these women avoiding such places entirely.

The fact that the public discussion in a number of European countries has almost exclusively focused on what is perceived as Muslim dress has been unfortunate and created the impression of targeting one particular religion. Some of the arguments have been clearly Islamophobic and that has certainly not built bridges or encouraged dialogue.

Indeed, one effect is that the wearing of a full cover dress has become a means of protesting against intolerance in our communities. The insensitive discussion about prohibitions has provoked a polarisation.


Source: CoE

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