France: Burqa Bans Violate RightsSarkozy Weighs in as Parliamentarians Propose Studying the Issue
President Nicolas Sarkozy has entered the debate about banning the Muslim burqa and niqab in France, telling members of Parliament in a speech on June 22, 2009, that the burqa “is not welcome in the French territory.” Sarkozy’s speech came after a group of about 60 members of the 577-member National Assembly, the lower chamber of Parliament, called for the creation of a special commission to study measures to address the wearing of burqa and the niqab in public places. The burqa covers the entire face and body; the niqab covers the face, leaving an opening for the eyes.
Calling this a question of “women’s equality and dignity,” Sarkozy endorsed parliamentary debate around the issue of a possible ban. André Gérin, the principal promoter of the motion for a parliamentary commission, has linked the issue to laïcité, or the principle of the secular nature of French state and society.
“Banning the burqa won’t deliver equality for women,” said Jean-Marie Fardeau, director of Human Rights Watch’s Paris office. “It will simply stigmatize and marginalize the women who wear it. Freedom to express one’s religion and freedom of conscience are fundamental rights.”
Any such ban, restricting only Muslim religious expression, would send a new signal to many French Muslims that they are unwelcome in their own country, Human Rights Watch said. A ban that specifically targeted Muslim women would probably be discriminatory on the grounds of both religion and gender.