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23 October 2018 France “condemned” by UN Human Rights Committee over ban on niqab in public spaces

In 2016, two women were sentenced to pay a fine of 150 euros for wearing a niqab, the full veil, in a public space in France following the 2010 French law prohibiting such practice. They brought an appeal before the UN Human Rights Committee in 2016, after the Court of Cassation and the ECHR had previously despaired it. This week, a group of 18 independent UN experts, assembled within the Human Rights Committee in Geneva, has responded to their demands and has stated that the French 2010 law “violates” religious freedom as defined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which France, together with other 172 countries, is a signatory. The experts condemned the French ruling to these two women, and stated 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”. Although the group of experts only provides opinions and has no coercive powers over States, their statement is reviving the debate on the prohibition of the full veil in public space in France.