The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Committee has criticised France’s so-called “burqa ban,” saying it violated the rights of two Muslim women who were fined for wearing full-face veils in public.
The committee called for the women to be compensated and for a review of the 2010 law that forbids people from publicly wearing clothing that conceals their face.
“The French law disproportionately harmed the petitioners’ right to manifest their religious beliefs,” the committee said in a statement.
It added that it was not convinced by France’s claim that the ban was necessary for security and social reasons.
“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 marginalising them,” the committee said.
The UN Human Rights Committee, made up of independent experts, ensures countries stick to their human rights commitments but it does not have enforcement powers.
It said the French ban was “too sweeping” but that governments could still make people show their faces in specific circumstances.
The 2010 law had strong public support when brought in under former president Nicolas Sarkozy. But many said it targeted the tiny minority of Muslim women in France who wear Islamic veils.
An estimated five million Muslims live in France and women who ignore the ban can be fined up to 150 euros.
Other EU countries, including Denmark, Austria and Belgium, have also implemented similar full-face veil bans.