Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Netherlands: Wearing of Face Coverings in Most Public Places to Be Banned

(Feb. 3, 2012) On January 27, 2012, the Cabinet of the Netherlands reaffirmed an earlier decision and announced that a ban on burqas and other face coverings, which had been proposed in September, would proceed later in 2012. According to Deputy Prime Minister Maxime Verhagen, the ban would affect not just religious clothing but also motorcycle helmets and balaclavas if “worn in inappropriate locations.” (Jamie Davis, Netherlands to Ban Burqa, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Jan. 28, 2012).)

A government news item on the ban states, “[o]pen communication is vital in public places. Wearing clothing that covers the face is not appropriate in an open society like the Netherlands, where participation in social intercourse is crucial.” (Government Approves Ban on Clothing That Covers the Face, Government of the Netherlands website (Jan. 27, 2012).) This rationale is included in the proposal for the ban. The measure, together with the Council of State's advisory opinion on it, was slated to be sent to the House of Representatives soon after the Cabinet approval. (Id.) Verhagen also stated, “the purpose behind the ban is to stop people from being able to commit crimes and remain undetected by concealing their identities and covering their faces.” (Davis, supra.)

The measure forbids face-concealing clothing “in public spaces, public buildings, educational and healthcare institutions and public transport,” and imposes a fine of up to €390 (about US$513) on those who violate the ban. However, “[t]he ban does not apply to face coverings that are necessary for health, safety or the practice of an occupation or sport”; to certain special events such as Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas holiday in early December), Carnival, and Halloween; or to specific events for which mayors may temporarily lift the ban. (Government Approves Ban on Clothing That Covers the Face, supra.) Locations where the ban does not apply include places and buildings intended for religious use; on board aircraft; or in Dutch airports (to passengers in transit). (Id.)

The government contends that “[r]equiring women to wear face-covering burkas or niqabs in public is incompatible with the principle of gender equality,” and that the proposed legislation would remove “an obstacle to women's social participation.” It argues that the protection of social intercourse and public order, as was noted above, is legitimate grounds for the ban. Therefore, in its view, the measure is not in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. (Id.) Press reports have indicated that the measure is also strongly supported by controversial politician Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party. (Davis, supra.)

However, the Dutch Council of State (Raad van State), which is both the highest advisory body of the government and the highest administrative court and one of whose tasks is to review government bills, has reportedly expressed “grave reservations” about the legality and feasibility of the ban. (Minister Wants Dutch Burqa Ban Enforced, RADIO NETHERLANDS WORLDWIDE (Jan. 28, 2012).) Individuals have also criticized the measure. In the opinion of Frank Giltay, Chairman of the police works council of the national police force, a burqa ban is unnecessary and “unlikely to have any practical benefits.” (Id.) Jolande Sap, of the Green Left Party, agreed with Giltay's characterization of the ban as a symbolic measure and noted that different policies, such as education and language courses, were needed to emancipate women. (Id.; see also Wendy Zeldin, Netherlands: Burqa Ban Proposed, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Nov. 3, 2011).)