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

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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New Publication: “Doing Minority Justice Through Procedural Fairness: Face Veil Bans in Europe”

Eva Brems and I are happy to announce the publication of our article entitled “Doing Minority Justice Through Procedural Fairness: Face Veil Bans in Europe” in the Journal of Muslims in Europe. In this article we examine the bans on face veils (better known as ‘Burqa bans’) from a procedural justice perspective. This piece also gave us an excellent opportunity to reflect on how the European Court of Human Rights might deal with this matter of face veil bans in a procedurally just way.[1] One case in which the Court will have to face the issue of a face veil ban is in the case of S.A.S. v. France. The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University submitted a third party intervention in this case last year, in which we  advocated inter alia for a procedural justice approach.

The full reference of the article is Saïla Ouald Chaib and Eva Brems, “Doing Minority Justice Through Procedural Fairness: Face Veil Bans in Europe”, Journal of Muslims in Europe 2 (2013), 1-26. Please find the abstract bellow.

The French and Belgian bans on face veils in public places have been subjected to strong substantive human rights critiques. This article takes a complementary approach, examining the bans from the perspective of procedural fairness.
Indeed, the French and Belgian bans are extreme examples of legislative
processes taking place above the heads of the people concerned, neglecting
the ban’s possible human rights impact. After exploring what the social
psychology notion of procedural fairness entails for the judiciary and the
legislator, especially in a multicultural context, this article details procedural fairness shortcomings with respect to the face veil ban in France and Belgium. Subsequently, the article sets out how the European Court of Human Rights might compensate for these shortcomings.


[1] For a general exploration of the concept of procedural justice in the context of the jurisprudence of the ECtHR, see also the recent publication by Eva Brems and Laurens Lavrysen: https://strasbourgobservers.com/2013/02/12/procedural-justice-in-human-rights-adjudication-the-european-court-of-human-rights/

Belgian Constitutional Court says Ban on Face Coverings does not violate Human Rights

Last week the Belgian Constitutional Court rejected a claim to annul the ban on face coverings, better known as ‘burqa ban’.  This ban prohibits the wearing of clothing that covers the face, or a large part of it, in the public space.  The Constitutional Court (hereinafter the “CC”) concluded that the ban does not violate fundamental rights such as the right to freedom of religion, the right to freedom of expression and the right to private life, provided that the ban is not interpreted in such a way that it also covers places of worship. Continue reading

Ghent seminar on empirical face veil research (May 9)

The European Court of Human Rights has recently communicated the case of S.A.S. v. France, concerning a French woman challenging the French ban on face coverings. She alleges a violation of several Convention rights amongst which her freedom of religion, her right to private life and her right not to be discriminated against. This case will surely be intensively followed throughout Europe, as the debate on the so-called burqa bans is raging. Therefore, we thought that readers of this blog might be interested to know that we (the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University) are organizing a seminar on empirical research on face veils. Continue reading

Belgium votes ‘burqa’ ban

Today, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives voted a ‘burqa ban’. It did the same thing a year ago, but the unexpected fall of the government prevented the law from entering into force then, as the bill had been evoked by the Senate. This time, it is for real.

The text introduces in the criminal code a new provision, article 563bis, creating a new offence:

“Will be punished with a fine of 15 to 25 Euro and/or detention of 1 to 7 days, those who, except for contrary legal provisions, are present in places that are accessible to the public with their faces completely or partially covered or hidden, such as not to be recognizable.”

Exceptions are added for workplace regulations and police regulations regarding festivities.

The fines in the criminal code currently have to be multiplied by a factor that is currently 5,5, hence the maximum fine is 137,5 Euro.

I am a member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives and the only Deputy (out of 150)  to vote against the bill (2 Deputies abstained).

While for all government-initiated bills the advice of the legislative section of the Council of State (regarding amongst others the conformity with the Constitution and international law) is mandatory, this is optional for bills tabled by members of parliament; the request for a referral to the Council of State was rejected by all but one parliamentary group (note: in France, the Council of State issued a very critical advice on the ‘burqa ban’)

Similarly, a request by Amnesty International and two women’s rights organizations to organize hearings with civil society, obtained the support of only one group.

It is to be expected that the law will be challenged before Belgium’s Constitutional Court.

For an analysis of the ban from an ECHR perspective, see the previous post “Would a Niqab and Burqa ban pass the Strasbourg test?” written by my research team members Lourdes, Stijn and Saïla.

Local ‘burqa ban’ violates human rights (according to Belgian judge)

Although Belgium does not have a general ban on face covering veils like France, a lot of cities do already ban it in practice. This happens through local regulations that sometimes prohibit face-hiding masks, make-up or the like in the public space. An exception to this rule is accorded for the periods of the festivities of carnival.

The municipality of Etterbeek, like most of the municipalities of Brussels, bans the face veil under this “carnival regulation”. In 2009 a Muslim woman wearing a niqab (a veil that leaves only the eyes uncovered) was stopped twice by the police while bringing her children to school. The authorities claimed that a hidden face in the public space could lead to security problems since the identification of a person can only happen via an individual control. The first time the applicant was fined 35 euro and the second time 200 euro, an amount which she refused to pay. She issued proceedings against the municipality of Etterbeek alleging a violation of her right to freedom of religion, especially her freedom to manifest her religion. The applicant won her case in front of a Belgian lower court (Tribunal de Police de Bruxelles, 26 January 2011) which found a violation of article 9 of the ECHR. The municipality of Etterbeek is appealing against the judgment. Continue reading

Would a Niqab and Burqa ban pass the Strasbourg test?

By Lourdes Peroni, Saïla Ouald-Chaib and Stijn Smet

Whether it is a Burqa or a Niqab, what is at stake is a face-covering veil. This veil is increasingly becoming the subject of heated discussion within Europe. In France, a bill that aims to prohibit its wearing is the subject of a national debate. Also at the level of the European Union certain members of the European Parliament are calling for a general ban on the wearing of face-covering veils.

In this context, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives recently passed an amendment to its Penal Code prohibiting the wearing of clothes that “completely or largely cover the face” and thus became the first European country to introduce what is popularly referred to as the Burqa ban. Although the Chamber of Representatives already approved it with near unanimity (136 votes in favor, two abstentions), the law is not yet definitive as it requires approval by the Senate (which will only discuss the proposed bill after the upcoming federal elections). Despite the fact that the proposed new article of the Belgian Penal Code does not mention the words Burqa or Niqab, and is thus neutral on its face, the Parliamentary discussions clearly show that the mentioned face-covering veils were the intended target of the new provision. If passed by the Senate under its current form, the ban would apply in all public spaces, including streets, parks, shops, public transport, airports, banks, and, of course, public buildings. An exception is introduced for certain cases, including for festivities such as carnival, in which the wearing of face-covering clothing remains allowed. Whoever violates the new law risks a fine of around € 100 and/or a prison sentence of 1 to 7 days. Rationales put forward for the ban include ‘security reasons,’ ‘public order,’ and ‘the protection of the dignity of women and gender equality’.

In this post we would like to analyze the Belgian ‘Burqa ban’ from the angle of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.

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