AFP, expatica.com, June 2
GENEVA — UN human rights experts on Wednesday sharply criticised laws in France banning religious symbols in state schools, and told a French minister that the new rules were intolerant towards Muslims.
Several members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which oversees the application of international rules protecting children, took France’s Minister for the Family Marie-Josee Roig to task over the laws, which are due to come into force in September.
They will effectively stop Muslim girls from wearing even a headscarf and other children from displaying open signs of their religious beliefs.
“In what way does a headscarf disturb a classroom?” Dutch UN committee member Jacob Egbert Doek asked Roig, adding that he regretted a lack of tolerance on the part of French authorities.
Fellow committee member Rosa Maria Ortiz said the law voted in by the French parliament earlier this year ran counter to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that states must respect a child’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Egyptian colleague Mushira Khattab also pointed out that it had raised the “fears of Muslim communities”.
“What worries me is that this law plays into the hands of extremism and against minorities,” she added.
The French minister explained that secular traditions in French state schools could not be isolated from values like respect for each other, while the state had a duty to guarantee equality for all pupils.
“It’s the fruit of a long history and common values that are the foundations of national unity,” Roig told the panel of 18 former judges, lawyers and academics.
“We want to continue to preserve total neutrality in our schools,” she added.
France was undergoing a regular examination of its application of the convention, which has been signed by France and 191 other countries.
The panel is due to issue its conclusions and recommendations on Friday.