A total ban on wearing the burqa in public could be illegal and violate human rights, France’s highest administrative body has concluded.
Such a ban on full-face clothing often worn by Muslim women risks violating the French Constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, the Council of State said in a report released Tuesday.
Even a limited ban would be difficult to enforce and should be avoided, said the council, which advises the French government on bills and studies public policy issues on request.
However, the council said rules requiring the face to be uncovered may be justified in certain situations, for safety reasons or when it is important to know the age or gender of the person.
The report is the latest development in President Nicolas Sarkozy’s efforts to ban the burqa after telling the French in June that such attire was “unwelcome” in France.
A parliamentary committee examined the matter for six months last year before making 15 recommendations in a report in January. This panel refrained from recommending a ban on face-covering veils.
Questionable legal basis for ban: advice
Determined not to give up, Fillon asked the Council of State on January 29 to look further into the matter as a precaution to ensure that any possible bill would be legal even before being voted on by Parliament.
The council determined that “no clear legal basis for a general and absolute ban on wearing a veil completely covering the face as such could be found,” according to the report. The council also concluded that a ban on covering the face regardless of the type of dress would also face legal hurdles.
Wearing the full veil is already prohibited in certain cases: for civil servants exercising their functions, in schools or in companies where it would interfere with work, for example.
Beyond that, the council found that the presentation of an uncovered face might be required and would have a solid legal basis in other situations as well: those involving public safety, for example, and in places where the sale of some items requires age verification like courts. , polling stations, town hall, or school outings when taking care of children, among others.
An uncovered face could be required in hospitals, public toilets and swimming pools where it is necessary to know the gender of the person entering, according to the report.
Establishments that sell alcohol, cigarettes and firearms could also be required to sell only to people whose faces are not covered, according to the report.
Appearing in public with a covered face could also be banned at some stations, department stores during the holiday season, fairs and street markets, according to the report.
The question of the burqa divides in France.
Many conservatives, including Sarkozy, support a restrictive ban, while others say women should be free to wear whatever they want.