November Grand Chamber hearing for French full-face veil ban

At a Grand Chamber hearing next month, human rights judges will consider a 23 year old Muslim woman’s complaint against France’s decision to prevent her from wearing a full-face veil in public.

The S.A.S. v. France (no. 43835/11) case hearing is set for 27 November and follows the introduction of a ‘burka ban’ law in April 2011, under which it is prohibited for anyone to conceal their face in public places.

In the applicant’s submission, she is a devout Muslim and she wears the burqa and niqab in accordance with her religious faith, culture and personal convictions.

As she has explained, the burqa is a full-body covering including a mesh over the face, and the niqab is a full-face veil leaving an opening only for the eyes.

The applicant also emphasises that neither her husband nor any other member of her family puts pressure on her to dress in this manner.

She adds that she wears the niqab in public and in private, but not systematically. She is thus content not to wear the niqab in certain circumstances but wishes to be able to wear it when she chooses to do so.

Lastly, her aim is not to annoy others but to feel at inner peace with herself.

Relying on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), the applicant complains that as it is prohibited by law, on pain of criminal sanctions, to wear a garment designed to conceal the face in public places, she risks not only incurring such a sanction but also suffering harassment and discrimination, if she wears the full-face veil.

Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), she also complains that the statutory prohibition on the wearing in public places of a garment designed to conceal the face prevents her from dressing in public as she chooses.

Under Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), the applicant complains of a violation of her right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as a result of the same circumstances.

In her view, her inability to wear the full-face veil in public places is incompatible with the freedom to manifest her religion or belief individually or collectively, in public or in private, by worship, teaching, practice and observance of rites.

Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), the applicant complains of a violation of her right to freedom of expression, as a result of the same circumstances and because she is thus unable to wear in public a garment that expresses her faith and religious, cultural and personal identity.

Relying on Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association), she complains of a violation of her right to freedom of assembly and association, as a result of the same circumstances, and of the fact that she is prevented from assembling with others in public wearing the full-face veil.

Lastly, under Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), the applicant complains that the statutory prohibition on wearing a garment designed to conceal one’s face in public places gives rise to discrimination based on gender, religion and ethnic origin, to the detriment of women who,
like herself, wear the full-face veil.

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