By agency reporter www.ekklesia.co.uk
4 May 2010
Amnesty International has condemned an overwhelming vote by
the lower house of the Belgian parliament last week in favour of legislation
banning the wearing of full-face veils in public.
One hundred and forty one parliamentarians voted for the measure, two abstained
and none opposed it.
"A complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights to
freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab as an
expression of their identity or beliefs," said John Dalhuisen,
Amnesty International's expert on discrimination in Europe.
"The Belgian move to ban full-face veils, the first in Europe,
sets a dangerous precedent. Restrictions on human rights must always be
proportionate to a legitimate goal. A total ban on full-face veils would not
be," added Dalhuisen.
Amnesty immediately called on the Belgian Senate to exercise its prerogative to
review the law and carefully consider it in the light of Belgium's obligations
under international human rights law. The Senate should ask for an opinion from
the Belgian Council of State on the legality of the measure.
Though the law is worded in general terms so as to criminalise any covering of
the face that would prevent identification, it is clear from the parliamentary
debates that the law's main aim is to prevent Muslim women from wearing full
veils such as the burqa or the niqab.
Belgian politicians have argued that the law is necessary for public security
and to protect women from being forced to wear full-face veils.
Under international human rights law, the only legitimate grounds for
restricting the rights to freedom of expression and religion are the
preservation of public security, order or morals and the protection of the
rights of others.
Amnesty International said it believes that legitimate security concerns can be
met by targeted restrictions on the complete covering of the face in
well-defined high risk locations.
Individuals may also be required to reveal their faces when objectively
"In the absence of any demonstrable link between the wearing of full-face
veils in Belgium and genuine threats to public safety, there can be no
justification for the restriction on the freedom of expression and religion
that a complete ban on the wearing of face veils in public places would
entail," said John Dalhuisen.
States do have an obligation to protect women against pressure in their homes
or communities to wear full-face veils and should do this by intervening in
individual cases through criminal or family law systems, says the human rights
They must also combat gender stereotypes that result in the discrimination of
women. This will require a range of social and public policy and education
measures, it adds.
"Far from upholding the rights of women, such a general ban would violate
the rights of those who choose to wear full face veils, while doing little to
protect those who do so against their will, who risk even greater confinement
as a result. The obligation to combat discrimination cannot be fulfilled by
imposing a measure that is itself discriminatory," said Amnesty's John Dalhuisen.