UN calls Swiss burka ban ‘restriction of fundamental freedoms’

The ban on face coverings will now be expanded from two cantons to the whole of Switzerland. Keystone / Mario Vedder

The United Nations has condemned the recent Swiss vote to outlaw face-covering headgear – otherwise known as the burka ban – as discriminatory and “regrettable”.

This content was published on March 9, 2021 - 14:18

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the political campaign leading up to Sunday’s vote was characterised by xenophobia masquerading as emancipation for women.

“Vague justifications on how the wearing of face coverings would be a threat to safety, health or the rights of others cannot be considered a legitimate reason for such an invasive restriction of fundamental freedoms,” the OHCHR said in a statement.

It added that “in the wake of a political publicity campaign with strong xenophobic undertones, Switzerland is joining the small number of countries where actively discriminating against Muslim women is now sanctioned by law”, which is “deeply regrettable.”

On Sunday, 51.2% of voters accepted a people’s initiative proposal to outlaw face coverings, including the Islamic burka and niqab, in public spaces.

Switzerland has now joined five other European countries, including neighbours France and Austria, who have already banned such garments in public.

“Women should not be forced to cover their faces. At the same time, the legal ban on face-coverings will unduly restrict women’s freedom to manifest their religion or beliefs and has a broader impact on their human rights,” the OHCHR commented.

The Association of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland has spoken of its “disappointment” with the vote outcome. Managing director Muris Begovic told Swiss public broadcaster SRFExternal link that the organisation would respect the result, but warned of increasing anti-Muslim racism.

Criticism of the ban by politicians and media in Muslim countries appears to have been subdued.

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