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Netherlands: Burqa Ban Proposed

(Nov. 3, 2011) The Dutch government announced on September 16, 2011, that it would propose legislation prohibiting the wearing in public of burqas and other face coverings. (Michael Haggerson, Netherlands to Propose Burqa Ban, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Sept. 16, 2011).) The measure is being submitted to the Dutch Parliament in cooperation with Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom, the third largest Dutch political party, a conservative group that made its support for the current minority government conditional upon the adoption of the ban. The legislature had voted for a ban on burqas in 2005, the first European parliament to do so, based on a proposal tabled by Wilders “at the start of his career as an anti-Islam politician,” but national elections and a change of coalition derailed the legislation. (Bruno Waterfield, Netherlands to Ban the Burka, THE TELEGRAPH (Sept. 15, 2011).)

According to the current proposal, a fine of €380 (about US$527) will be imposed on women “caught wearing a burka in public, on the streets, public transport and in schools or hospitals.” (Id.) Exemptions from the ban will apply to mosques and other religious buildings and to foreign women in transit lounges of Dutch international airports. Cabinet ministers reportedly will offer justification for the ban by arguing “that the burka does 'not fit into our open society and women must participate fully.'” (Id.)

On October 14, 2011, more than 30 Dutch women who wear burqas or niqabs took part in a demonstration in The Hague to protest the proposed ban. The protest was organized by the Islamic activist group Behind Bars. The women reportedly indicated that they would continue to wear the veil even if the government adopts the ban; in their view, the proposed legislation is discriminatory. (Margo de Haas, Protests Against Burqa Ban, RADIO NETHERLANDS WORLDWIDE (Oct. 14, 2011).)

If the legislative proposal is adopted soon, the Netherlands would be the third country in Europe to prohibit the wearing of the burqa in public places; France and Belgium have already imposed bans. The Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Italian Parliament approved on August 2, 2011, a draft law banning the wearing of full-face veils in public. (Haggerson, supra; Wendy Zeldin, Italy: Burqa Ban Provision Approved by Parliamentary Committee, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Aug. 11, 2011); see also Theresa Papademetriou, Council of Europe: Human Rights Commissioner Criticizes Banning of Burqas, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Aug. 3, 2011); Nicole Atwill, France: Implementation of the Law Prohibiting Wearing of Clothing Concealing One's Face in Public Spaces, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR(Mar. 23, 2011); Nicole Atwill, Belgium: Ban on Islamic Headscarves in Flanders, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Oct. 6, 2009).)

On the other hand, the lower house of Spain's Parliament rejected a proposal to ban the burqa and similar apparel in July 2010. (Haggerson, supra.) The Parliamentary Assembly of the 47-member international organization the Council of Europe, moreover, in a resolution adopted by unanimous vote on June 23, 2010, held that there should be no general prohibition on the wearing of the burqa or other religious clothing, declaring that while women's wearing of the veil “is often perceived as 'a symbol of the subjugation of women to men' … a general ban would deny women 'who genuinely and freely desire to do so' their right to cover their face.” Nevertheless, the resolution also stated “that legal restrictions may be justified 'for security purposes, or where the public or professional functions of individuals require their religious neutrality, or that their face can be seen.'” (European Council Opposed to General Ban of Minaret and Burqa, Freethinkers Association of Switzerland website (June 23, 2010).)