Forskjellsbehandling og diskriminering

Lakmustest – åpne eller skjulte ansikt?

Skal europeiske land som Norge kunne forby ansiktstildekning, burka og niqab? Dette skal nå Den europeiske menneskerettighetsdomstolen (EMD) vurdere på bakgrunn av at Frankrike åpnet kvinners ansikt. EMD mener saken er så prinsipiell viktig at den tas til høyeste organ i domsapparatet.

Høringene er allerede i gang i Strasbourg etter at en 23 år gammel kvinne har brakt saken inn for domstolen. Hun omtales anonymt som S.A.S, som skal være hennes initialer, og har gått til sak mot Frankrike. Søksmålet ble overbrakt EMD i april 2011, da det franske forbudet ble operativt.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has opened a landmark hearing to consider the legality of France’s ban on wearing Islamic veils in public spaces.

The Strasbourg-based ECHR enforces the European Convention on Human Rights and its jurisdiction is compulsory and binding for all 47 member states of the Council of Europe.

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The court’s ruling—expected to be issued sometime during the middle of 2014—will determine the fate of the debate over so-called burqa bans (here, here, here, here and here) that have been raging across Europe for many years.

This is the first time the supra-national ECHR has agreed to consider the legality of the face-covering niqab or the body-covering burqa in public spaces in a European country.

The court has deemed the case so important that it has taken the unusual step of referring it to the Grand Chamber, the court’s highest chamber that handles the most significant and leading-edge questions affecting the interpretation and application of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Sammendrag av saken fra EMD forteller at kvinnen er dypt religiøs, og at ingen i familien tvinger henne til å dekke seg til. Kvinnen forteller at hun ikke bruker niqab systematisk i det offentlige eller private livet, men hun ønsker å ha tilgang til plagget når hun måtte ønske det. Hun understreker at hun ikke ønsker å irritere andre ved bruken av heldekkende klær, hun ønsker å ”oppleve en indre fred med seg selv”.

S.A.S. mener lovforbudet bryter med seks artikler i den Europeiske menneskerettighetskonvensjonen: artikkel 3 (å bli utsatt for umenneskelig eller nedverdigende behandling), artikkel 8 (respekt for privatlivet), artikkel 9 (tanke-, samvittighets- og religionsfrihet), artikkel 10 (ytringsfrihet), artikkel 11 (om organisasjonsfrihet) og artikkel 14 (om forbud mot diskriminering).

Rundt 300 kvinner i Frankrike er ilagt bøter for å ha brutt forbudet. Forsøk på å håndheve forbudet har ført til angrep på politiet, som i juli i år, da hundrevis av muslimer samlet seg i Trappes, en forstad til Paris, etter at politiet hadde arrestert en kvinne som nektet å etterleve loven.

Liknende opptøyer og angrep på politiet skjedde i juli i fjor i Marseille.

Den franske regjeringens advokat forsvarer forbudet slik:

  • it is the result of a long democratic debate;
  • the prohibition against concealing the face is an imperative of public policy, a minimum requirement of life in a democratic society;
  • the public space is a place in society where a person must be able to connect with others; and
  • burqas and niqabs deny women their dignity and identity.

Advokaten avdvarer EMDs dommere mot å gå i fellen til kvinnens advokater: dette er ikke en antireligiøs lov, det handler simpelthen om å styrke harmonien i samfunnet. Videre: burka og niqab er et stengsel for det sosiale livet i et demokratisk, åpent og egalitært samfunn.

«Wearing the full veil not only makes it difficult to identify a person, it makes her indistinguishable from other full veil wearers and effectively erases the woman who wears it,» she (regjeringens advokat, min merknad) told the court.

In a letter to the court, Annie Sugier, the head of the International League for Women’s Rights, a leading French feminist group, urged the ECHR to uphold the ban, arguing that it is «in no way contrary to freedom and dignity, but is in fact a law of liberation and of civil concord.» The law also liberates women because the wearing of veils is «totally incompatible with the very idea of equality.»

«The full-face veil, by literally burying the body and the face, constitutes a true deletion of the woman as an individual in public,» Sugier argued. «How can one not see that to wear the full veil is also a symbolic violence to other women?» she added. «Those who do not wear it feel insulted by this sight reminding them of the enclosures suffered in the past.»

Sugier asks: «Can one still speak of dignity when a human being, having consented or not, finds herself reduced to a mere shadow in the street, an object and no longer a person able to exchange with fellow human beings?»

But Ramby de Mello, the British lawyer representing SAS, said the law violated his client’s rights to freedom of religion, free speech and privacy and made her feel «like a prisoner in her own country.» The veil is «as much part of her identity as our DNA is of ours,» he argued.

In a separate case, an appeals court in Paris on November 27 upheld the dismissal of a Muslim nursery worker who was fired for wearing an Islamic headscarf to work, in violation of an internal dress code banning religious garments.

The decision overturned a lower court’s ruling that the Baby Loup daycare center, situated in the Parisian suburb of Chanteloup-les-Vignes, was guilty of religious discrimination when it sacked Fatima Afif in December 2008.

The appeals court ruled that the daycare center, which takes care of infants from 55 different nationalities, had a right «to impose neutrality on its personnel.»

The lawyer defending Baby-Loup, Richard Malka, welcomed the ruling because it «reaffirms the strength of the principle of secularism.»

But the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a Muslim rights group, denounced the ruling as «a veritable judicial scandal» that meant «nobody is protected against being judged by one’s religious, ethnic or social origin.»

Dette kan bli en lakmustest på EMDs forhold til Europas arv fra opplysningstiden og om kontinentet skal videreføre et sekulært demokrati basert på frihetsverdier.