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Council of Europe: Human Rights Commissioner Criticizes Banning of Burqas

(Aug. 3, 2011) On July 20, 2011, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, criticized the legislation adopted by France, and more recently by Belgium, to ban the wearing of the burqa, on the grounds that such prohibitions may raise compatibility issues with certain rights, including the right to respect for personal life and personal identity. (Thomas Hammarberg, Penalising Women Who Wear the Burqa Does Not Liberate Them, HUMAN RIGHTS COMMENT (July 20, 2011).) He noted that similar calls to ban burqas in other countries, including Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, may have adverse effects on women who wear them. In Italy, he pointed out, the authorities punish women who wear burqas publicly by invoking an old anti-terrorist law prohibiting the covering up of one's face. The Commissioner disagreed that such prohibitions may assist women to liberate themselves from repressive customs or rules; rather, he recommended that states focus on adopting laws, policies, and campaigns to fight discrimination against minorities and xenophobia. (Id.)

In June 2011, a French Muslim couple who are residents of the United Kingdom filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights against the prohibition imposed by France on full-face coverings. Pursuant to the French law, women who wear burqas in public can be fined €150 (about US$215) and also be ordered to take a citizenship class. (Maureen Cosgrove, European Rights Official Denounces Burqa Bans, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (July 20, 2011).)