[JURIST] The top rights official at the Council of Europe [official website] on Monday rejected [press release] the notion of banning Muslim burqa [JURIST news archive] and niqab garments. Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg [official profile] noted in a written statement [text] marking International Women's Day [official website]:
Those who have argued for a general ban of the burqa and the niqab have not managed to show that these garments in any way undermine democracy, public safety, order or morals. The fact that a very small number of women wear such clothing has made proposals in such a direction even less convincing.Hammarberg stressed that European governments considering bans on burqas and niqabs should first look to Articles 8 and 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text] before making any decision.
Nor has it been possible to prove that these women in general are victims of more gender repression than others. Those who have been interviewed in the media have presented a diversity of religious, political and personal arguments for their decision to dress themselves as they do. There may of course be cases where they are under undue pressure - but it is not shown that a ban would be welcomed by these women.
Hammarberg's remarks come as fierce debate continues in France and other European nations over the legality of banning traditional Muslim body coverings. Last month, French political candidate Ilham Moussaid [JURIST report] ignited controversy by running for office on a left-wing platform while wearing a headscarf. In January, a French parliamentary commission recommended banning the burqa [JURIST report] in public places. Currently, headscarves are banned in French schools.