Do the Face-Veil Bans Violate International Law?
Belgium and France are both considering laws to ban the wearing of full-face veils in public. According to Amnesty International, such bans would violate international human rights law.
“A general ban on the wearing of full face veils would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who choose to express their identity or beliefs in this way,” said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s interim secretary general.
“At the same time the Belgian authorities must make sure that all women who chose to wear the full veil do so without coercion, harassment and discrimination.”
Under U.S. constitutional law analysis, such a ban would have serious trouble under the Constitution’s Free Exercise of religion clause, especially because it seems aimed pretty directly at the religious practice of a single group. (Are yamakas in public next?) But it would depend on the secular purpose of the law, which I don’t know much about.
Under, say, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which both France and Belgium are parties, there seems to be a pretty serious conflict since it guarantees a right to religious practice (emphasis added).
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
And then there is the European Convention on Human Rights, Art. 9(1) (emphasis added):
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
So maybe Amnesty has a point. I suppose there might be a decent argument that the full-face veil is simply not a manifestation of a religious belief through practice and observance. Or that there is a strong public need to ban this practice. But there seems a clear basis for a challenge under the ECHR at least. But I am far from an expert in this area, and would encourage any readers with better knowledge of the facts behind the bans, or with knowledge of how Article 9(1) has been interpreted, to comment.