Religious signs in public schools: Belgian Council of State shows judicial bravery

Co-authored by Yousra Benfquih* and Saïla Ouald Chaib**

As in many other countries in Europe, the wearing of religious signs has been the topic of heated debate in Belgium. This has been the case for public servants, teachers, employees in private firms and the wearing of religious signs by pupils in school. It is the latter issue that was the subject of two recent judgments of the Belgian Council of State (Conseil d’Etat, Belgium’s highest administrative court), judgments that might prove to mark a watershed in the Belgian discourse on headscarf bans, freedom of religion and the right to education of pupils. (The judgments are in Dutch and can be found here and here)[1] The judgments are furthermore interesting because of their inclusive comprehension of neutrality through systematic reference to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. This post will start by briefly shedding light on the structure of the Belgian education system and the implementation of a ban on religious signs in Flanders. We will subsequently highlight the crucial parts of the judgments of the Council of State (hereafter ‘the Council’) and conclude with some reflections.

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NEW BOOK: “The Experiences of Face Veil Wearers in Europe and the Law” (E. Brems ed.)

cover book

We are happy to announce the publication of a new book entitled “The Experiences of Face Veil Wearers in Europe and the Law” edited by prof. Eva Brems and published by Cambridge University Press.

This book, unique in its kind, unites empirical research on women wearing face veils in Europe and commentary of scholars of different disciplines on this research and on face veil bans. People who have been following the case of SAS v. France, might be particularly interested in the in-depth analysis that this book provides of the empirical research several third parties referred to in the case. Continue reading

S.A.S. v. France: Missed Opportunity to Do Full Justice to Women Wearing a Face Veil

By Saïla Ouald Chaib and Lourdes Peroni

This week, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights published its long-expected judgment in S.A.S. v. France. The case concerns a ban on the wearing of face veils in the public space. Although the outcome of such highly debated cases is always unpredictable, we hoped that the Court would take this opportunity to bring procedural and substantive justice to the women wearing a face veil in Europe.[1] Alas, the Court disappointingly decided the case by granting a wide margin of appreciation to France and by consequently not finding a violation of any of the ECHR provisions invoked, in particular freedom of religion, the right to private life and non-discrimination. At the same time, however, the judgment contains some positive aspects, namely respect for several requirements of what is known as “procedural justice” and departure from previous case law portraying Muslim women as oppressed. In this post, we share our first impressions on what we think are some positive and negative aspects of the Court’s reasoning. Continue reading

In the Footsteps of Jakóbski v. Poland but Adding Obstacles to the Road: Vartic v. Romania

When it comes to the accommodation of religious dietary requirements of detainees, it is clear that the European Court of Human Rights is adopting an inclusive approach. The case of Jakóbski v. Poland (2010) was considered a landmark case in this sense and the recent case of Vartic v. Romania proves that this assumption was correct. What distinguishes Vartic from Jakobski is the fact that the Court was confronted with the significant disadvantage criterion, which was introduced by protocol 14.

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Seminar Announcement: Normative Dimensions of Procedural Justice in Courts

On Friday 17 January 2014, the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University organizes a seminar on normative dimensions of Procedural Justice in Courts.

In the Human Rights Centre, Prof. dr. Eva Brems and her team conducted research building on the procedural justice research of Prof. dr. Tom Tyler, applying it in a normative way to fundamental rights case-law and to the process of law-making affecting fundamental rights. This expert seminar aims at bringing together academic experts in the field of Procedural Justice as well as practitioners, i.e. judges of different courts, to reflect on this normative approach and to think about how this concept of procedural justice can be translated into practice.

A detailed program of the seminar and more practical information on the registration procedure can be found here.

 

S.A.S. v. France: A short summary of an interesting hearing

On Wednesday, our research team attended the Grand Chamber hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in the case of S.A.S. v. France, in which we submitted a third party intervention on behalf of the Ghent University Human Rights Centre. The case concerns the French law banning the face veil, a highly debated piece of legislation, which was also obvious from the amount of international press covering the hearing. I will first briefly discuss the content of our third-party intervention and then turn to a summary of the hearing which left a positive impression on us.

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Mann Singh wins turban case in Geneva after losing in Strasbourg

The name Mann Singh will probably ring a bell with those who are familiar with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. In Mann Singh v. France (ECHR, 13/11/2008/, no 4479/07), the Strasbourg Court was confronted with the question whether the French obligation to appear bareheaded on photographs on identity documents was compatible with the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. In the case discussed in this post, the same applicant is involved, however, this time he made a claim concerning the prohibition to wear a turban on the photograph on his passport (instead of his driver’s license) and more importantly, he brought his claim in front of the UN Human Rights Committee (hereafter HRC). The same applicant going with almost the same claim to different human rights bodies is quite an exceptional situation. Continue reading