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Alert: Belgium – Draft proposal to ban the niqab in process

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The consequences of wearing the niqab in Belgium would be a fine of 30 Euros and a 7 day prison sentence. 

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Islamic Human Rights Commission
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28 April 2010

Alert: Belgium – Draft proposal to ban the niqab in process

Contents
1. Summary
2. Background
3. Action required
4. Sample letters


1. Summary

Belgium’s draft proposal to ban the niqab in public areas comes at a time where other European countries such as France are also proposing a ban on the Islamic face covering (niqab). The consequences of wearing the niqab in Belgium would be a fine of 30 Euros and a 7 day prison sentence.

According to International Human Rights law, specifically article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) the freedom to manifest religion and belief individually or with others is protected and considered fundamental to freedom of expression. Article 26 of the ICCPR outlines the right to non discrimination on the grounds of religion. Article 20 of the ICCPR states that international human rights law protects people against the promotion of religious hatred which amounts to incitement of discrimination, hostility or violence. Therefore various legal expert and human rights organisations deem this move to be in breach of the aforementioned articles and international law.

Considering that only 30 out of the 500,000 Muslims in Belgium choose to wear the niqab, many believe that this is a political stunt to pander to the far right considering the growing popularity they enjoy in opinion polls and various local and national elections in a number of European countries.


2. Background

In view of the mounting climate of Islamophobia in Europe with various bans on headscarves, mosque minarets, and now the niqab, many Muslims feel targeted and marginalised by their own government. The recent draft proposal which is very popular amongst Belgian ministers across all parties is a ban on the niqab in public areas otherwise a fine of 30 Euros and a 7 day prison sentence can be incurred. Despite condemnation by various human rights organisation that such a proposal would violate international law and be counterproductive, it appears that the ban will still go ahead.

As well as upholding the aforementioned human rights treatises, the government would have to outline why the ban is necessary, in order for it to be lawful. According to International Human Rights law, a government can only enforce such a ban when a three step process is met: they must be prescribed by law; they must address a specific legitimate purpose permitted by international law; and must also be demonstrably necessary and proportionate for that purpose. Since there is no causal link between security risks and a woman wearing the niqab, the ban is baseless. The European Court of Human Rights states the right to freedom of expression includes forms of expression “that offend, shock or disturb the state or any section of the population”. Therefore regardless of negative public opinion, the government has not presented sufficient evidence to ban the niqab.

Considering, that in Belgium only 30 out of the 500,000 Muslims wear the niqab and in France where only 3000 out of the 6 million Muslims wear the niqab, has led many to believe that this is a political stunt to gain the votes that would normally be going to the far right. Recently in French regional elections the Far Right National Front gained 12% of the vote, which showed a growth in popularity.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission is alarmed by the widespread anti Islamic rhetoric of various European governments that are now translating into policy and fears that hate crime such as the brutal murder of Marwa el Sherbini by a right wing extremist will become more prevalent. Recently, another disturbing example of the targeting of Muslim businesses and Mosques is the Istres mosque in Southern France, where 30 bullet holes were discovered on the building. These are just a few examples of a rising trend of violence and hatred levelled at the Muslim community.


3. Action required

Write to the following authorities requesting them to act against state inspired Islamophobia in Europe.

a) Jozef De Witte, Director of Diversite, Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism

b) Stephanos Stavros, Secretariat of The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, Council of Europe, Directorate

4. Sample letters
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A sample letter is given below for your convenience. Please note that model letters can be sent directly or adjusted as necessary to include further details. If you receive a reply to the letter you send, we request you to send a copy of the letter you sent and the reply you received to IHRC. This is very important as it helps IHRC to monitor the situation with regards to our campaigns and to improve upon the current model letters. It is preferable that letters be sent via post, or otherwise by fax and/or email.

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a) Jozef De Witte, Director of Diversite on  Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism (Fax:+32 (0) 2/212 30 30  or Email: epost@cntr.be)


[Your name]
[Your address]

[Date]

Jozef De Witte
Director of Diversite  
Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism,
Koningstraat 138, 1000 Brussels

Dear Mr. De Witte,

Re: Belgian ban on Niqab (Islamic face veil)

I’m deeply alarmed by the growing climate of Islamophobia in Europe with various bans on headscarves, minarets, and now the niqab, many Muslims feel targeted and marginalised by their own government. The recent draft proposal which is very popular amongst Belgian ministers across all parties is a ban on niqab in public areas otherwise a fine of 30 Euros and a 7 day prison sentence can be incurred. Despite condemnation by various human rights organisation that such a proposal would violate international law and be counterproductive, it appears that the ban will go ahead.

According to International Human Rights law, specifically article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) the freedom to manifest religion and belief individually or with others is protected and considered fundamental to freedom of expression. Article 26 of the ICCPR outlines the right to non discrimination on the grounds of religion. Article 20 of the ICCPR states that international human rights law protects people against the promotion of religious hatred which amounts to incitement of discrimination, hostility or violence. Therefore various legal expert and human rights organisations deem this move to be in breach of the various treatises.

As well as upholding the aforementioned human rights treatise, the government would have to outline why the ban is necessary, in order to be lawful. According to International Human Rights law, a government can only enforce such a ban when a three step process is met: they must be prescribed by law; they must address a specific legitimate purpose permitted by international law; and must also be demonstrably necessary and proportionate for that purpose. Considering that there is no causal link between security risks and a woman wearing the niqab, the ban is baseless. The European Court of Human Rights states the right to freedom of expression includes forms of expression “that offend, shock or disturb the state or any section of the population”. Therefore regardless of negative public opinion, the government has not presented sufficient evidence to ban the niqab.

Considering, that in Belgium only 30 out of the 500,000 Muslims wear the niqab and in France only 3000 out of the 6 million Muslims wear the niqab, has led many to believe that this is a political stunt to gain the votes that would normally be going to the far right. Recently in French regional elections the Far Right National Front gained 12% of the vote, which showed a growth in popularity.

I’m worried that such anti Islamic rhetoric will result in the targeting of the Muslim community and more specifically Muslim women. Especially considering that last year in Europe Marwa el Sherbini was brutally murdered by a racist right wing extremist for wearing a headscarf. Also just recently in Southern France, 30 shots were fired at the Istres mosque, being just one incident out of many where Muslim businesses and Mosques are targeted.

This disturbing trend is on the rise and unless effective action is taken the results can be devastating to community cohesion and a civil society.

I look forward to your response on this urgent matter.

Yours sincerely,


[Your signature]
[Your name]

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b) Mr. Stephanos Stavros, Secretariat of ECRI (Fax: +33 (0)3 88 41 39 87or Email: combat.racism@coe.int)

[Your name]
[Your address]

[Date]


Mr. Stephanos Stavros
Secretariat of ECRI
Council of Europe
Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs-DGHL
F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex
France


Dear Mr. Stavros,

Re: Belgian ban on Niqab (Islamic face veil)

I’m deeply alarmed in light of the growing climate of Islamophobia in Europe with various bans on headscarves, minarets, and now the niqab, many Muslims feel targeted and marginalised by their own government. The recent draft proposal which is very popular amongst Belgian ministers across all parties is a ban on niqab in public areas otherwise a fine of 30 Euros and a 7 day prison sentence can be incurred. Despite condemnation by various human rights organisation that such a proposal would violate international law and be counterproductive, it appears that the ban will go ahead.

According to International Human Rights law, specifically article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) the freedom to manifest religion and belief individually or with others is protected and considered fundamental to freedom of expression. Article 26 of the ICCPR outlines the right to non discrimination on the grounds of religion. Article 20 of the ICCPR states that international human rights law protects people against the promotion of religious hatred which amounts to incitement of discrimination, hostility or violence. Therefore various legal expert and human rights organisations deem this move to be in breach of the various treatise.

As well as upholding the aforementioned human rights treatise, the government would have to outline why the ban is necessary, in order to be lawful. According to International Human Rights law, a government can only enforce such a ban when a three step process is met: they must be prescribed by law; they must address a specific legitimate purpose permitted by international law; and must also be demonstrably necessary and proportionate for that purpose. Considering that there is no causal link between security risks and a woman wearing the niqab, the ban is baseless. The European Court of Human Rights states the right to freedom of expression includes forms of expression “that offend, shock or disturb the state or any section of the population”. Therefore regardless of negative public opinion, the government has not presented sufficient evidence to ban the niqab.

Considering, that in Belgium only 30 out of the 500,000 Muslims wear the niqab and in France only 3000 out of the 6 million Muslims wear the niqab, has led many to believe that this is a political stunt to gain the votes that would normally be going to the far right. Recently in French regional elections the Far Right National Front gained 12% of the vote, which showed a growth in popularity.

I’m worried that such anti Islamic rhetoric will result in the targeting of the Muslim community and more specifically Muslim women. Especially considering that last year in Europe Marwa el Sherbini was brutally murdered by a racist right wing extremist for wearing a headscarf. Also just recently in Southern France, 30 shots were fired at the Istres mosque, which is just one incident out of many where Muslim businesses and Mosques are targeted.

This disturbing trend is on the rise and unless effective action is taken the results can be devastating to community cohesion and a civil society.

I look forward to your response on this urgent matter.

Yours sincerely,


[Your signature]
[Your name]

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