Belgium – Draft proposal to ban the niqab in process
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 organizations 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.
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 marginalized 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 organization 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 leveled at the Muslim community.
Repuplished with Permission from Bikymasr