France’s niqab ban violates the human rights of Muslim women and risks “confining them to their homes,” the United Nations Human Rights Committee said Tuesday.
The committee said two women fined for wearing the full-face Islamic veils should be compensated and it called on France to review its controversial 2010 law banning the garment.
“The French law disproportionately harmed the petitioners’ right to manifest their religious beliefs,” the committee said in a statement, adding that France had not adequately explained the need for the ban.
“The Committee was not persuaded by France’s claim that a ban on face covering was necessary and proportionate from a security standpoint or for attaining the goal of ‘living together’ in society,” they said.
They added that the ban, “rather than protecting fully veiled women, could have the opposite effect of confining them to their homes, impeding their access to public services and marginalizing them.”
Women in France can be fined up to 150 euros ($172) for wearing the niqab, a full-face veil with an opening for the eyes, under a law that came into effect in 2011 prohibiting the wearing of headgear covering the face.
The French government estimated when it introduced the law that around 2,000 women out of a Muslim population of 3.5 million wore the niqab.
Complaints by two women were received by the 18-person expert UN panel in 2016, after they had separately been prosecuted for wearing niqabs in 2012. France must now report to the committee within 180 days on the actions it has taken to implement the panel’s decision.
In 2014 the European Court of Human Rights rejected a claim by a young Muslim woman that France’s ban violated her rights.
Denmark and the Netherlands have passed similar bans on face-covering garments since the French law came into effect, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for legislation to do the same.
But a further ban on the burkini, a full-length swimsuit worn by some Muslim women, in the French city of Nice was overturned by a regional court after attracting criticism worldwide.