AFP, expatica.com, Mar. 22
A United Nations human rights official Monday criticised new French legislation banning religious headscarves in schools, saying the rule could foster discrimination against Muslims.
“The dominant perception … is that behind the general ban on religious signs in state schools, it is Islam that is being targeted,” said Doudou Diene, a special UN rapporteur on racism and xenophia.
The French parliament has passed a law to come into effect in September prohibiting conspicuous religious symbols in the classroom, including Islamic headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses.
A report by Diene on the situation of Muslims around the world was submitted Monday to the UN Human Rights Commissioner.
“The stigmatisation of Islam, at least in public debate, contains … a serious risk of fostering and giving legitimacy to hatred of Islam and discrimination against Muslims,” he said.
He also claimed that the Muslim question was treated in other European Union member states, which he did not identify, with more tolerance than in France, and recommended that defence of the secular principle in state institutions — a jealously guarded principle of the French state — should be accompanied by strong support for cultural and religious diversity and measures against discrimination.
French Education Minister Luc Ferry defended the new French rule before the UN rights panel here last week, saying the strict application of the secular principle in French state institutions was not directed against religion in general or against any one religion in particular.
The new French legislation has been attacked by civil rights groups and Muslims around the world, as well as by the Roman Catholic Church.