The Dutch government Friday 27 Jan approved a ban on face-covering clothing, such as a burqa, a niqab, a forage cap, or a full face helmet, reported Xinhua. People going on the streets with one of these now risk being fined for up to 380 euros ($499). "It is very important that people in an open society meet each other in an open way," Minister of Interior Affairs Liesbeth Spies said after the cabinet meeting.
The burqa ban was already part of the government coalition agreement. In September 2011, the proposal was sent for advice to the council of state, which issued a negative opinion. The council considered the proposal contrary to the prohibition of freedom of religion and contrary to the standards of non-discrimination. The government's main advisory body also wondered whether a burqa ban was too heavy a measure.
However, the cabinet neglected the advice and claimed the European Convention on Human Rights offers the opportunity to limit religious freedom when it is in the interest of the public order. "We think we have to make a legitimate exception to the freedom of religion," Spies said.
Burqa ban in EU
The French cabinet introduced a bill that would also ban face-covering in public. If parliament agrees on the measure, wearing a burqa or a niqab could carry a fine as early as the beginning of 2011. Veiled women would have to pay 150 euro ($188), according to press reports. Men who force women to wear veils could face a year in prison and a 15,000 euro fine.
Rules for the 'protection of the public order' have been on the books in Italy since 1975. This forbids head coverings in public facilities, whether it's a motor cycle helmet or a face veil. Italy's Equality Minister Mara Carfagna wants to write in an explicit ban on the burqa into this law. There are also four different bills from the governing coalition and the opposition for a ban of face veils, with penalties of up to two years in jail. There is also some resistance to these measures, for example from Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
In Denmark a majority of the population says it would support a burqa ban. The coalition partners in parliament are not quite as united in their stance on the issue, but agreed at the end of January to "fight against" face veils. The government would like to avoid a law because of constitutionality concerns from the justice ministry. But it has been agreed that schools, public sector institutions, and companies should take strict action against face veiling.
A ban on face-veiling is not an official priority in Great Britain. The topic is being discussed on talk shows and in newspaper columns, but none of the three major political parties have taken up the cause. Only right-wing extremists are calling for a burqa ban in Britain.
European Council weighs in
Meanwhile, the European Council has voiced opposition to the burqa-ban ambitions of Belgium and France. Parliamentarians in the culture committee have spoken out against a general face-veil ban because it could run counter to the freedom of religion. The European Council's Human Rights Commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, has warned that a burqa ban would only increase the tension between religious communities. Human rights conventions only allow controls on religious freedom in the interest of public safety or the preservation of democracy. Hammarberg says that is not the case in this situation.