The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday upheld a Belgian ban on wearing the niqab, a full-face veil, in public spaces. The court dismissed two cases, Belcacemi and Oussar v. Belgium and Dakir v. Belgium, that asserted the ban was in violation of Articles 8, 9, 10 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Both cases concerned women who chose to wear the veil of their own volition and felt the ban was discriminatory and without a "legitimate aim." The court rejected the claims that the ban violated a right to private life under the Convention finding that it "could be regarded as proportionate to the aim pursued, namely the preservation of the conditions of 'living together' as an element of the 'protection of the rights and freedoms of others'."
In Dakir, the court found that the Conseil d’État had infringed Dakir's right of access to a court under Article 6 by ruling a previous application to annul the ban inadmissible and awarded her €800 for costs and expenses.
It was the latest test of laws brought in across Europe to ban the Islamic veil in public or while carrying out state functions.
In March, the European Court of Justice found that companies can legally ban Muslim employees from wearing headscarves, but only as part of prohibitions including other religious and political symbols.
But the Luxembourg-based court found that bans could constitute discrimination if people adhering to a specific religion, such as Muslims, are put at a particular disadvantage.
The veil is a controversial issue across Europe, with some countries banning the garment in public in the name of safety and rights groups arguing that this amounts to a violation of civil liberties.
France was the first European country to ban the niqab in April 2011 and there have been around 1,600 arrests since coming in to force.
Belgium and Bulgaria followed, with partial or regional prohibitions now in place in Italy, Spain and Denmark. The German, Austrian and Dutch parliaments have voted in support of a partial ban on full-face Islamic veils, but no laws have yet come into force.
Switzerland's lower house narrowly approved in September a draft bill on a nationwide burka ban, but the measure remains far from becoming law. In the southern Tessin region however, the burka has been forbidden since July 1 and violators face a minimum fine of 100 Swiss francs.
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