Violation of ICCPR Articles recognised.
In 2011, the author was stopped for an identity check while wearing her niqab. She was then prosecuted and convicted of the minor offence of wearing an article of clothing intended to conceal the face in a public space.
The author claimed that on the basis of article 18 of the Covenant, the ban on concealing the face in public spaces deprives women wishing to wear a full-face veil of the possibility to do so.
FoRB violation – Manifestation: worship, observance, practice, teaching; Discrimination
(1) The Committee recalled its general comment No. 22, according to which: “The freedom to manifest religion or belief may be exercised ‘either individually or in community with others and in public or private’ … The observance and practice of religion or belief may include not only ceremonial acts but also such customs as … the wearing of distinctive clothing or head coverings.” It is not disputed that, as the author asserts, the wearing of the full-face veil is customary for a segment of the Muslim faithful and that it is part of the observance and practice of a religion. Nor is it disputed that Act No. 2010-1192, banning the wearing in a public space of an article of clothing intended to conceal the face, is applicable to the niqab worn by the author, who is thereby forced to give up dressing in accordance with her religious beliefs or else face sanctions. Accordingly, the Committee considers that the ban introduced by the Act constitutes a restriction or limitation of the author’s right to manifest her religion or belief, within the meaning of article 18(1) of the Covenant, by wearing the niqab.
(2) ‘The Committee observes, moreover, that article 18(3) is to be strictly interpreted: restrictions are not allowed on grounds not specified there, even if they would be allowed as restrictions to other rights protected in the Covenant, for instance on grounds of national security. Limitations may be applied only for those purposes for which they were prescribed and must be directly related and proportionate to the specific need on which they are predicated. Restrictions may not be imposed for discriminatory purposes or applied in a discriminatory manner’.
(3) ‘The Article 18(3) exceptions are to be interpreted strictly and not applied in the abstract…The State party has not identified any specific fundamental rights or freedoms of others that are affected by the fact that some people present in the public space have their face covered, including fully veiled women. Nor has the State party explained why such rights would be “unfairly” obstructed by wearing the full-face veil, but not by covering the face in public through the numerous other means that are exempted from the Act. The right to interact with any person in a public space and the right not to be disturbed by the fact that someone is wearing the full-face veil are not protected by the Covenant and cannot therefore constitute permissible restrictions within the meaning of article 18(3) of the Covenant.’
(4) the Committee noted ‘that the State party has not demonstrated that the limitation of the author’s freedom to manifest her religion or belief by wearing the niqab was necessary and proportionate within the meaning of article 18(3) of the Covenant. Accordingly, the Committee concludes that the ban introduced by Act No. 2010-1192 and the author’s conviction under the Act for wearing the niqab violated her rights under article 18 of the Covenant’.