The United Nations Human Rights Committee (OHCHR) said Tuesday a face veil ban in France violated human rights and religious freedoms.
The committee received two complaints in 2016 after two French women were prosecuted and convicted in 2012 for wearing the face veils.
OHCHR said the reasons France put forward for the veil ban and associated security concerns were not convincing.
France adopted a law in 2010 stipulating that “No one may, in a public space, wear any article of clothing intended to conceal the face.”
The law has the effect of banning the wearing of the full Islamic veil in public, which covers the whole body including the face, leaving just a narrow slit for the eyes.
“The Committee found that the general criminal ban on the wearing of the niqab in public introduced by the French law disproportionately harmed the petitioners’ right to manifest their religious beliefs. France had not adequately explained why it was necessary to prohibit this clothing,” the statement said.
“OHCHR wasn’t persuaded by France’s claim that a ban on face-covering was necessary and proportionate from a security standpoint or for attaining the goal of living together in society,” the committee said.
“The Committee acknowledged that states could require that individuals show their faces in specific circumstances for identification purposes, but considered that a general ban on the niqab was too sweeping for this purpose. The Committee also concluded 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,” it added.
France should report to the committee within 180 days on the action it has taken to implement the committee’s decision, including compensation of the two petitioners and measures taken to prevent similar violations in the future.
France has the largest Muslim minority in Europe, estimated at over 5 million population.
According to French media reports more than 200 fines were handed out in 2015 for wearing a veil in public.