The Round-Up: Niqab ban does not violate human rights

19 July 2017 by

The European Court of Human Rights has upheld the Belgian ban on Islamic burqas and other full-face veils by ruling that it does not violate human rights.

In doing so the Court has held by its position in S.A.S v. France (2014), where it ruled that a similar ban in France was lawful. In these latest cases the Court was asked to rule on the lawfulness of such bans in Belgium, where the applicants argued it was in violation of Articles 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Belcacemi and Oussar v. Belgium

This case concerned the compatibility of a Belgian law introduced on 1st June 2011 which banned the wearing in public places of clothing which partially or totally covers the face. The applicants, Samia Belcacemi and Yamina Oussar both claimed that they had chosen to wear the niqab (a veil which totally covers the face except for the eyes) because of their religious beliefs, and that the restriction on doing so had violated their human rights. Ms Oussar in particular argued that since she has decided to stay at home and wear the veil there has been a restriction on her private and social life.

The Court held that there had been no violation of the applicants’ human rights since the restriction could be considered “necessary in a democratic society”. In particular, it noted that the aims of the Belgian law were public safety, gender equality, and a certain conception of “living together” in society, and held that the ban was in principle justifiable to the extent that it could be regarded as an element of the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others” and would guarantee the conditions of “living together”. It also observed that the Belgian State was in a better position than the Court to assess the needs of citizens and the context in question, and that the State enjoyed a wide margin of appreciation in deciding what constituted “necessary”. It further found that the measure was proportionate to the aim pursued, particularly given that the sanction could range from a fine to a prison sentence, and that any prison sentence would not be applied automatically but only given to repeat offenders.

Dakir v. Belgium

This case concerned a by-law which had been adopted in June 2008 (prior to the national law) by three Belgian municipalities (Pepinster, Dison and Verviers) which banned the wearing in public places of clothing which partially or totally covers the face. The applicant, Fouzia Dakir, lives in Dison, and (like Ms Belcacemi and Ms Oussar) claimed that she had chosen to wear the niqab because of her religious beliefs.

As in Belcacemi and Oussar, the Court held that there had been no violation of the applicant’s Articles 8 and 9 rights. In this case also, the ban was justified on the grounds that it sought to guarantee the conditions of “living together”, and again the State was both better placed to evaluate what was necessary and enjoyed a wide margin of appreciation in doing so. In particular, the Court emphasised that this was a choice of society that had been made by the Belgian State.

The Court did, however, hold that there had been a violation of the applicant’s Article 6 (right to a fair trial). The Conseil d’État had declared Ms Dakir’s application inadmissible on the grounds that it had been based on Article 113bis of the by-law without reference to Article 113. The Court considered that such an assessment did not strike an appropriate balance between adhering to formal procedure and ensuring access to courts, particularly given the merits of the case in this instance.

What does this mean for human rights?

The niqab has proved increasingly controversial as an expression of faith by Muslim women, at least in Europe. A ban on veils covering the face is now in place not only in Belgium and France, but also in Austria, Bulgaria and the Netherlands.

Yet while the ban purports to promote integration and human relationships, it still has been criticised for infringing Muslim women’s rights. Human Rights Watch for example has swiftly criticised these rulings as it did the earlier decision in 2014. The nebulous notion as “living together” might come under attack as a restriction of Muslim women’s rights.


This week the High Court will consider another challenge to the 1961 Suicide Act, under which assisted dying is illegal. The case has been brought by 67-year-old Noel Conway, a sufferer of motor neurone disease, and he is represented by Richard Gordon QC. The argument before the court is that the act breaches human rights, in particular Conway’s Article 8 right to respect for private life and personal autonomy, and should thus be declared illegal. At present those who wish to end their lives with medical assistance must travel to Dignitas in Switzerland to seek help. Conway’s barrister has highlighted the dilemma for many in such a situation: “the choices facing the claimant are therefore stark and unpalatable: seek to bring about his own death while he is physically able to do so, but before he is ready to do so, or await death with no control over when and how it comes.” The Supreme Court dismissed a similar challenge in the Nicklinson case in 2014, when it refused to make a declaration of incompatibility, wishing to give parliament a chance to debate the matter first; the House of Commons however chose to reject the private member’s bill put forward in 2015. As such, it is more likely now that a court would choose to make such a declaration.

A Turkish court has ruled that six human rights activists, including Idil Eser, Amnesty International’s Turkey director, should remain in custody, and a further four have been released on judicial control. The individuals in question were arrested during a digital security and information management workshop on 5th July and have been accused of “committing a crime in the name of a terror organisation without being a member”. The arrests come amid ever increasing fears of human rights abuses in Turkey since the failed coup attempt last July, particularly regarding freedom of expression. Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner has labelled the detention a “shocking travesty of justice”, and has warned that “after this decision none of us who defend human rights in Turkey, whether it is Amnesty International or other organisations, are safe in this country”.

Russia’s Supreme Court has banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, upholding a ruling from April this year that declared the religious group to be extremist. The Justice Ministry argued that the group (whose members are known for visiting people at home and seeking to convert them) had distributed literature inciting hatred against other religious groups; one pamphlet, for example, had described the doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church as superstition and sorcery. According to Yaroslav Sivulsky, the group’s Russia spokesman, the ruling signals that “religious freedom in Russia is over”. The group was one of many Christian denominations that was persecuted in the Stalin era, and human rights group Sova has argued that an “official repressive campaign” has been waged in the past years, particularly since 2004. The group are expected to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, but even so Russia may well choose to ignore any ruling.


Human Rights Watch has reported that Rwandan state security forces have summarily killed at least 37 petty offenders between July 2016 and March 2017. These offenders have been executed without an appropriate legal process to establish their guilt, and for as little as the theft of bananas, a cow or a motorcycle. Other offences have included smuggling marijuana, illegally crossing the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, and using illegal fishing nets. HRW has also reported that at least four other petty offenders have disappeared; their families believe that the security forces killed them too, although their bodies have not yet been found. HRW has made a number of recommendations in its report, and in particular has reminded the Rwandan state of the importance of fair and credible trials, lawful detention, and execution only where it is unavoidable to protect life.

Although earlier this year promises were made to review the restrictive media law in Somalia, the cabinet’s newly reformed media bill has been met with dismay by media watchdogs and human rights groups. According to Human Rights Watch, the cabinet’s amended law that was introduced on 13th July makes only limited reforms. Journalists in Somalia are frequently subjected to arbitrary arrests and two were even murdered in 2016, such that journalists are often forced to self-censor to ensure their own safety. While the new law has made some reforms, such as by reducing fines, it still includes vague and broad prohibitions, such as on “propaganda against the dignity of a citizen, individuals or government institutions”, which could easily be manipulated by public authorities.

by Poppy Rimington-Pounder


  1. Though whilst communicating the expectation is to see the face. However, whilst communicating with technology there is no human contact yet one is expected to communicate.
    On what grounds is the covering of ones head and body illegal? If I were a nun that is precisely how I would clothe myself. Modesty should be celebrated. It does violate Human Rights as one is banned from the choice of clothing.
    Is there any ban on micro mini skirts or dresses where womens nipples are shown or women decide to go nude this is what media currently promotes.
    What does society prefer modesty or immodesty?
    Peace not pieces?

    1. In order to understand “on what grounds is the covering of ones [sic] head and body illegal” one has to appreciate how the concept of “margin of appreciation”, devised by the ECtHR operates. The Court made a clear reference to this concept by stating:”the Belgian State was in a better position than the Court to assess the needs of citizens and the context in question, and that the State enjoyed a wide margin of appreciation in deciding what constituted “necessary”. So, covering one’s head or body may be illegal on the basis that states have the right to give prominence to countervailing considerations that may trump over the individual’s right. It therefore depends on a state’s eventual (political) choice as to which values should be given greater weight. And by the way I totally agree that showing nipples or going naked should be made illegal 100%.

  2. Hijab (a partial veil) is also banned in Switzerland and the ECtHR has also ruled it legal (Dahlab v Switzerland, 2011) but on a very different ground, which was gender equality. I think this concept of “living together” sounds much better that the approach taken in Dahlab because instead of adopting a patronising stance towards those who wear it focuses, righty in my view on the rest of us and our legitimate expectation to live with people whose faces we need to be able to see in normal communication. A good decision.

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




7/7 Bombings 9/11 A1P1 Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology birds directive blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity circumcision citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Cologne Commission on a Bill of Rights common buzzard common law communications competition confidentiality confiscation order conscientious objection consent conservation constitution contact order contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Criminal Legal Aid criminal records Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty declaration of incompatibility defamation DEFRA Democracy village deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention devolution Dignitas dignity Dignity in Dying diplomacy director of public prosecutions disability Disability-related harassment disciplinary hearing disclosure Discrimination Discrimination law disease divorce DNA doctors does it matter? domestic violence Dominic Grieve don't ask don't ask don't tell don't tell Doogan and Wood double conviction DPP guidelines drones duty of care ECHR economic and social rights economic loss ECtHR Education election Employment Environment environmental information Equality Act Equality Act 2010 ethics Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice european disability forum European Sanctions Blog Eurozone euthanasia evidence Exclusion extra-jurisdictional reach of ECHR extra-territoriality extradition extradition act extradition procedures extradition review extraordinary rendition Facebook Facebook contempt facial recognition fair procedures Fair Trial faith courts fake news Family family courts family law family legal aid Family life fatal accidents act Fertility fertility treatment FGM fisheries fishing rights foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Association Freedom of Expression freedom of information Freedom of Information Act 2000 freedom of movement freedom of speech free speech game birds gangbo gang injunctions Garry Mann gary dobson Gary McFarlane gay discrimination Gay marriage gay rights gay soldiers Gaza Gaza conflict Gender General Dental Council General Election General Medical Council genetic discrimination genetic engineering genetic information genetics genetic testing Google government Grenfell grooming Gun Control gwyneth paltrow gypsies habitats habitats protection Halsbury's Law Exchange hammerton v uk happy new year harassment Hardeep Singh Haringey Council Harkins and Edwards Health healthcare health insurance Heathrow heist heightened scrutiny Henry VII Henry VIII herd immunity hereditary disorder High Court of Justiciary Hirst v UK HIV HJ Iran HM (Iraq) v The Secretary of state for the home department [2010] EWCA Civ 1322 Holder holkham beach holocaust homelessness Home Office Home Office v Tariq homeopathy hooding Hounslow v Powell House of Commons Housing housing benefits Howard League for Penal Reform how judges decide cases hra damages claim Hrant Dink HRLA HS2 hs2 challenge hts Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority human genome human rights Human Rights Act Human Rights Act 1998 human rights advocacy Human rights and the UK constitution human rights commission human rights conventions human rights damages Human Rights Day human rights decisions Human Rights Information Project human rights news Human Rights Watch human right to education human trafficking hunting Huntington's Disease HXA hyper injunctions Igor Sutyagin illegality defence immigration Immigration/Extradition Immigration Act 2014 immigration appeals immigration detention immigration judge immigration rules immunity increase of sanction India Indonesia Infrastructure Planning Committee inherent jurisdiction inherited disease Inhuman and degrading treatment injunction Inquest Inquests insult insurance insurmountable obstacles intelligence services act intercept evidence interception interests of the child interim remedies international international conflict international criminal court international humanitarian law international human rights international human rights law international law international treaty obligations internet internet service providers internment internship inuit investigation investigative duty in vitro fertilisation Iran iranian bank sanctions Iranian nuclear program Iraq Iraqi asylum seeker Iraq War Ireland irrationality islam Israel Italy iTunes IVF ivory ban jackson reforms Janowiec and Others v Russia ( Japan Jason Smith Jeet Singh Jefferies Jeremy Corbyn jeremy hunt job Jogee John Hemming John Terry joint enterprise joint tenancy Jon Guant Joseph v Spiller journalism judaism judges Judges and Juries judging Judicial activism judicial brevity judicial deference judicial review Judicial Review reform judiciary Julian Assange jurisdiction jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Act Justice and Security Bill Justice and Security Green Paper Justice Human Rights Awards JUSTICE Human Rights Awards 2010 just satisfaction Katyn Massacre Kay v Lambeth Kay v UK Ken Clarke Ken Pease Kerry McCarthy Kettling Kings College Klimas koran burning Labour Lady Hale lansley NHS reforms LASPO Law Commission Law Pod UK Law Society Law Society of Scotland leave to enter leave to remain legal aid legal aid cuts Legal Aid desert Legal Aid Reforms legal blogs Legal Certainty legal naughty step Legal Ombudsman legal representation legitimate expectation let as a dwelling Leveson Inquiry Levi Bellfield lewisham hospital closure lgbtq liability Libel libel reform Liberal Democrat Conference Liberty libraries closure library closures Libya licence conditions licence to shoot life insurance life sentence life support limestone pavements limitation lisbon treaty Lithuania Litigation litvinenko live exports local authorities locked in syndrome london borough of merton London Legal Walk London Probation Trust Lord Bingham Lord Bingham of Cornhill Lord Blair Lord Goldsmith lord irvine Lord Judge speech Lord Kerr Lord Lester Lord Neuberger Lord Phillips Lord Rodger Lord Sumption Lord Taylor LSC tender luftur rahman machine learning MAGA Magna Carta mail on sunday Majority Verdict Malcolm Kennedy malice Margaret Thatcher Margin of Appreciation margin of discretion Maria Gallastegui marriage material support maternity pay Matthew Woods Mattu v The University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust [2011] EWHC 2068 (QB) Maya the Cat Mba v London Borough Of Merton McKenzie friend Media and Censorship Medical medical liability medical negligence medical qualifications medical records medicine mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Capacity Act 2005 Mental Health mental health act mental health advocacy mental health awareness Mental Health Courts Mental illness merits review MGN v UK michael gove Midwives migrant crisis Milly Dowler Ministerial Code Ministry of Justice Ministry of Justice cuts misfeasance in public office modern slavery morality morocco mortuaries motherhood Motor Neurone disease Moulton Mousa MP expenses Mr Gul Mr Justice Eady MS (Palestinian Territories) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department murder murder reform Musician's Union Muslim NADA v. SWITZERLAND - 10593/08 - HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1691 naked rambler Naomi Campbell nationality National Pro Bono Week national security Natural England nature conservation naturism Nazi negligence Neuberger neuroscience Newcastle university news News of the World new Supreme Court President NHS NHS Risk Register Nick Clegg Nicklinson Niqaab Noise Regulations 2005 Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance nursing nursing home Obituary Occupy London offensive jokes Offensive Speech offensive t shirt oil spill olympics open justice oppress OPQ v BJM orchestra Osama Bin Laden Oxford University paramountcy principle parental rights parenthood parking spaces parliamentary expenses parliamentary expenses scandal Parliamentary sovereignty Parliament square parole board passive smoking pastor Terry Jones patents Pathway Students Patrick Quinn murder Pensions persecution personal data Personal Injury personality rights perversity Peter and Hazelmary Bull PF and EF v UK Phil Woolas phone hacking phone taps physical and mental disabilities physician assisted death Pinnock Piracy Plagiarism planning planning human rights planning system plebgate POCA podcast points Poland Police police investigations police liability police misconduct police powers police surveillance Policy Exchange report political judges Politics Politics/Public Order poor reporting Pope Pope's visit Pope Benedict portal possession proceedings power of attorney PoW letters to ministers pre-nup pre-nuptial Pre-trial detention predator control pregnancy press press briefing press freedom Prince Charles prince of wales princess caroline of monaco principle of subsidiarity prior restraint prison Prisoners prisoners rights prisoners voting prisoner vote prisoner votes prisoner voting prison numbers Prisons prison vote privacy privacy injunction privacy law through the front door Private life private nuisance private use proceeds of crime Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecution Protection of Freedoms Act Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest protest camp protest rights Protocol 15 psychiatric hospitals Public/Private public access publication public authorities Public Bodies Bill public inquiries public interest public interest environmental litigation public interest immunity Public Order Public Sector Equality Duty putting the past behind quango quantum quarantine Queen's Speech queer in the 21st century R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Ors [2011] EWCA Civ 895 R (on the application of) v The General Medical Council [2013] EWHC 2839 (Admin) R (on the application of EH) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2569 (Admin) R (on the application of G) v The Governors of X School Rabone and another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust [2012] UKSC 2 race relations Rachel Corrie Radmacher Raed Salah Mahajna Raed Saleh Ramsgate raptors rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion resuscitation RightsInfo right to die right to family life right to life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials security services sexual offence Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa south african constitution Spain special advocates spending cuts Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance swine flu Syria Tax Taxi technology Terrorism terrorism act tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine unfair consultation universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vaccination vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: