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Italy: Burqa Ban Provision Approved by Parliamentary Committee

(Aug. 11, 2011) On August 2, 2011, the Italian Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee approved a draft law banning women from wearing full-face veils in public. The ban includes the burqa, a full-body covering in a dark fabric that leaves only a mesh screen opening for the eyes, and the niqab, which also covers the whole body but whose face veil typically leaves the area around the eyes clear. (Maureen Cosgrove, Italy Lawmakers Approve Draft Burqa Ban Law, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Aug. 2, 2011); Martin Asser, Why Muslim Women Wear the Veil, BBC NEWS (Oct. 5, 2006) [click on headscarf graphic]; Atto senato n. 2343, modifica all'articolo 5 della legge 22 maggio 1975, n. 152, concernente il divieto di indossare gli indumenti denominati niqab e burqa, Senato della Repubblica website (last visited Aug. 9, 2011) [click on hyperlinked PDF for text of the bill].)

The bill amends article 5 of Law No. 152 of May 22, 1975, concerning the protection of public order and identifiability of persons. (Legge 22 maggio 1975, n. 152, as amended, IL DIRITTO PENALE (last visited Aug. 9, 2011).) It would insert as the second paragraph in article 5 the stipulation that for security reasons it is prohibited, in conformity with the first paragraph, to wear feminine apparel called the burqa and niqab and any other garment or accessory capable of concealing the face of a person in all places and buildings that are public or open to the public. Paragraph 1, in part, prohibits the use of protective headgear or any other means to make recognition of a person difficult, in public places or places open to the public, without justified reason. According to the Associated Press, women who violate the ban could incur a fine of €100-300 (about US$143-428), and persons who force women to conceal their faces in public would be punishable by a fine of €30,000 (about US$43,000) and imprisonment for up to a year. (Italian Parliament Commission Approves Burqa Ban, AP (Aug. 3, 2011).)

The bill's supporters argue that the new provision will further the assimilation of Islamic women in Italian society; opponents contend it will “isolate devout Muslim women” because it will force them to stay at home. The parliamentary vote on the legislation is slated to occur after the legislature's summer recess. (Cosgrove, supra; see also Nicole Atwill, France: Implementation of the Law Prohibiting Wearing of Clothing Concealing One's Face in Public Spaces, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Mar. 23, 2011); The Islamic Veil Across Europe, BBC NEWS (June 15, 2010); Theresa Papademetriou, Council of Europe: Human Rights Commissioner Criticizes Banning of Burqas, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Aug. 3, 2011).)

In connection with the public wearing of full-face veils, the report submitted by Italy in March 2011 to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of the United Nations noted:

… the discussion about “veils” has been carried on jointly with the problem of security of the State and prevention of terrorism. In order to avoid different decisions of local authorities and to grant to all citizens equal treatment over the whole national territory, several bills were introduced, currently under discussion at the Parliament, intended to modify, in different ways, the public security law of No. 152 of May, 22 1975, which forbids the wearing of any scarf or other clothes that, covering the face, makes difficult to be identified by public authorities. (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 9 of the Convention, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Periodic Reports of States Parties Due in 2009: Italy, CERD/C/ITA/16-18, at 16, ¶¶ 66 & 67 (June 21, 2011).)

The report goes on to discuss recent Italian jurisprudence on the matter, which has addressed the difficulty of applying the public security norms in question. It refers specifically to the Council of State (the highest administrative court) judgment No. 3076 of June 19, 2008, which affirmed that the religious or cultural motivations supporting the wearing of the veil do not constitute sufficient and justified grounds for the criminal offense configured in article 5 of Law No. 152. (Id.) It was not the Court's aim, the report states,

to give judgement on the nature of the veil or on its role as a religious symbol or on the willingness or not of wearing the veil. The judgement, rejecting a Mayor's ordinance prohibit [sic] the wearing of the veil in his city, stated that the public security requirements are guaranteed by the prohibition of use of any clothes covering the face during public manifestations and by the obligation, for those who wear a veil, to remove it upon request by public security authorities for security reasons, allowing personal identification of the person concerned. (Id.)