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

A missed opportunity: how the Court’s judgment is commendable for seeking to protect religious minorities but nevertheless wide of the mark

This guest post was written by Lieselot Verdonck. Lieselot is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Human Rights Centre, Faculty of Law of Ghent University. More information on the author can be found here.

The relationship between State and Church has always drawn much interest. It constitutes an inherently sensitive and political issue, which touches upon one of the foundations of a democratic society and concerns any member of that society, whether religious, atheist or agnostic. Accordingly, the European Court of Human Rights inevitably has to face cases concerning the foundational issue of Church-State relations, such as in Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház & Others v. Hungary. The Court’s decision in this case is, however, remarkable for its general and far-reaching statements that leave not only scholars but also governments guessing about their future application. Continue reading

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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Winterstein v France: the third-party perspective

This guest post was written by Judit Geller* and Adam Weiss**

One month ago, the European Court condemned France under Article 8 for violating the rights of travellers (gens du voyage) by ordering their eviction (see the judgment here). The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) made written submissions as a third-party intervener four and a half years ago. Of the eleven countries where the ERRC is currently litigating Roma rights cases, France is the country where it has the greatest number of cases, and most of those concern housing. This piece discusses the judgment in relation to three key issues for Roma facing eviction: alternative accommodation, the failure to conduct a proportionality exercise, and the use of urgent procedures. Continue reading

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

Freedom of Religion in Public Schools: Strasbourg Court v. UN Human Rights Committee

In a recent decision, the Human Rights Committee of the UN found a violation of the right to freedom of religion in a case concerning the famous and highly debated French law of 2004 that prohibits the wearing of religious garment in public schools. Accordingly the UN Committee called upon France to revisit its legislation. This UN Committee’s decision is remarkable, especially since the European Court of Human Rights was also confronted with the same question —whether expulsing pupils from school because of their wearing of religious garment is violating fundamental rights such as the freedom of religion and the prohibition of discrimination—, but contrary to the UN jurisdiction, the ECtHR declared the claims manifestly ill-founded. This recent development is also relevant for the Belgian context, where the debate on headscarves in public schools has been reopened after the Flemish board of public schools announced two weeks ago that they will implement a general ban on religious “signs” for pupils and members of personnel. In this post, I will first summarize the UN decision and subsequently compare it to the Strasbourg case law.

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Francesco Sessa v. Italy: A Dilemma Majority Religion Members Will Probably Not Face

This post was co-authored by Saïla Ouald Chaib and Lourdes Peroni

This week, in a 4-3 judgment, the Court ruled against a violation of the freedom of religion of Mr. Sessa, a lawyer and member of the Jewish faith, unable to attend a court hearing scheduled on Yom Kippur. The case is Francesco Sessa v. Italy. After two recent steps forward in freedom of religion cases (see here and here), the Court with this case takes several steps back. Fortunately, the dissenting opinion leaves the door open for future reasonable accommodation cases.

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