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MRG deplores France’s decision to ban wearing of face veils

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Minority Rights Group International on Wednesday expressed serious concern over the decision of France’s Senate to ban the wearing of full face veils in public, saying the move is discriminatory and infringes on the rights of religious minorities in the country.

The bill was passed on 14 September by an overwhelming majority of 246 votes to one and, having already cleared the lower house in July, the bill will now be reviewed by senior judges of the Constitutional Council, which has a month to confirm its legality.

If the Council assents, it would make France the first country in Europe to have such a law, which would enter into effect in early 2011. The law sets a range of fines for women, including tourists, who wear the full face veil and also provides criminal penalties for those who are found to have forced women to wear it.

Some Muslims believe that it is a religious requirement for women to wear a full face veil such as niqab or burka. It is also considered as a cultural or traditional form of dress code by some sections of the Muslim community.

“If it enters into force, the ban would represent a worrying incursion on the civil liberties of religious minorities in France, as provided for in international law,’ Carl Soderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications, says.

Religious traditions and customs are of fundamental importance to religious minorities and their way of life, whilst the freedoms of expression and religion represent two of the cornerstones of a democratic society, MRG says.

“France’s adoption of this law could pave the way for similar unacceptable rules in other European states, posing a serious threat to the identity and culture of religious minorities, and challenging their rights to non-discrimination and equality,” Soderbergh adds.

Belgium is also in the process of proposing a similar law. The country’s lower house voted unanimously in April for the banning of clothing that obscures the identity of the wearer in public places and is currently awaiting the decision of the Senate on the issue.

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