By Kenneth F. Hunt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
BRUSSELS, Belgium – This week one of Belgium’s two legislative bodies passed a bill that would ban burqas within the country.
The lower house of Belgium’s Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, voted on Thursday April 29 to ban certain types of veils worn by Muslim women, most notably including burqas. According to various media accounts, the vote was nearly unanimous (136 to 2) and enjoyed clear majorities from both major Belgian political parties.
Although the bill must still be passed by Belgium’s upper house, the Senate, Belgium is the closest of any European country to passing a ban on the Muslim headwear. The Senate is expected to overwhelmingly approve the legislation in the coming weeks. Media outlets predict the bill will be signed into law before the summer.
Other European lawmakers, most notably the French, have also considered a similar ban. President Sarkozy has indicated France’s ban will come into effect before the fall.
Additionally, several countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark and Poland, have recently had elections that have included overwhelming victories for anti-Islamic parties and candidates. No country in the European Union has yet, however, had such legislation signed into law.
Logistically, the Belgian legislation would ban any and all clothing or headwear that covers the face in part or in whole.
The penalty for women who wear the veil could range from 150 to 15,000 euros. Any person who forces a women to wear a burqa can face up to a year in prison. As in the case of France’s consideration of a burqa ban, criticism of the Belgian legislation has been swift and harsh.
Critics claim that on its face the ban would violates basic tenets of freedom of religion and expression. They also allege that the law illegally targets only Muslims.
Amnesty International’s John Dalhuisen says that the law “violat[es] of a great many of Belgium’s international obligations”, including “the U.N. convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.”
For more information, please see:
AL JAZEERA – Anger at Belgian face veil ban – 30 April 2010
EUR ACTIV NETWORK – Belgian lawmakers first in EU to outlaw burqa – 30 April 2010
EXPATICA – Content of the Belgian bill banning the burqa – 30 April 2010
VOICE OF AMERICA – Belgium’s Parliament Votes to Ban Veils – 29 April 2010