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UN committee slams France over school rule on Muslim headscarf

France violated an international rights treaty when it banned a woman from wearing a headscarf while she studied at a school, a UN committee has ruled.

UN committee slams France over school rule on Muslim headscarf
Illustration photo by PHILIPPE MERLE / AFP

The move broke the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee said.

Its decision follows a complaint filed in 2016 by a French national born in 1977, whose lawyer does not wish her name to be published.

The woman was on a professional training course for adults in 2010, and had passed an interview and entrance test.

But the headmaster of Langevin Wallon high school in the southeastern suburbs of Paris refused to let her enter because of a ban on wearing religious symbols in public educational establishments.

The UN committee said “prohibiting her from participating in her continuing education course while wearing a headscarf constitutes a restriction on her freedom of religion in violation of the treaty”.

The committee’s decision was adopted in March but sent to the woman’s lawyer on Wednesday.

“This is an important decision which shows that France has work to do in terms of human rights and in particular on the issue of respect for religious minorities, and more particularly the Muslim community,” her lawyer Sefen Guez Guez told AFP.

EXPLAINED What does laïcté really mean in France

The issue of religious symbols and clothing is an ongoing one in France, where laÏcité (secularism) rules mean that all overt religious symbols – including the Muslim headscarf – are banned for staff and pupils in public buildings including government offices and schools.

The most recent flare-up over laïcité rules involved local authorities in Grenoble, who had voted to allow the full-body swimsuit known as the ‘burkini’ in municipal swimming pools. Their decision was contested by the interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, who referred the decision to the administrative court, which blocked the Grenoble authority’s decision.

The burka and niquab are banned outright in France, while the Muslim headscarf can be worn in all public places apart from government-run buildings. Public officials who represent the state – such as police officers – are also banned from wearing it while at work. 

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EQUALITY

France to create LGBTQ ambassador to promote rights around the world

The French government will create an ambassador's post to promote LGBTQ rights across the world, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Thursday.

France to create LGBTQ ambassador to promote rights around the world

The new envoy will coordinate the foreign ministry’s policy and act as “France’s voice” for the promotion of LGBTQ rights, Borne told an audience on the 40th anniversary of France’s abolition of a World War II-era law discriminating against homosexuals.

The ambassador, to be appointed by the end of the year, will “campaign for the decriminalisation everywhere of homosexuality and trans-identity”, she said during a visit to a LGBTQ centre in Orléans, central France.

Borne also announced a €3 million fund to add 10 new LGBTQ centres to the 35 already operating in France, which have been set up to help lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, as well as those with other sexual identities, “who don’t know who to turn to”.

Borne said discrimination “continues to exclude, injure and sometimes even kill” LGBTQ people.

She added: “The battle for the minds is not yet won.”

Borne insisted that there was “no ambivalence” among the members of President Emmanuel Macron’s government on their commitment to LGBTQ rights.

But she acknowledged there had been “hurtful comments” towards LGBTQ people, a reference to Regional Affairs Minister Caroline Cayeux, who joined the government in a reshuffle last month and who has been accused of homophobia over comments against same-sex marriage and adoption.

Speaking in the Senate in 2013, Cayeux said plans to legalise gay marriage at the time went “against nature”.

She then sparked outrage last month when, in an apparent attempt to defend herself, she said: “I have to say that I have a lot of friends among those people.”

 The 73-year-old later apologised on Twitter, saying her remarks had been “inappropriate”.

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