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Netherlands Approves Partial Ban on Face Coverings

The Dutch parliament’s Upper House has approved a partial ban on face coverings in some public areas, a spokesman said, making the Netherlands the latest European nation to pass a law that directly affects the lives of Muslim women.

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Christine Hauser
Liam Stack, New York Times

The Dutch parliament’s Upper House has approved a partial ban on face coverings in some public areas, a spokesman said, making the Netherlands the latest European nation to pass a law that directly affects the lives of Muslim women.

The law, approved Tuesday, puts the Netherlands, a country of about 17 million people, in company with France, Belgium, Denmark and other countries in Europe and North America that penalize Muslim women who either partly or fully cover their faces in public.

Supporters of such bans say they are necessary to protect public safety, defend Western values or encourage migrants to assimilate into their new societies.

But rights groups say they discriminate against Muslim women, some of whom view garments like niqabs, which cover a woman’s face but for a narrow slit left for the eyes, and burqas, which cover the entire face, as a religious obligation.

Here is a look at efforts in Europe and North America to restrict the wearing of face-covering garments in public.

The Netherlands

The law, which passed the Upper House by a 43-32 vote, according to the body’s press officer, Gert Riphagen, on Wednesday, prohibits wearing face coverings at schools, government offices and hospitals. The rules about facial coverings also apply to people covering their faces with ski masks and full face helmets, he said, but they do not apply to the street.

The law could take effect Jan. 1 after the internal affairs ministry has discussions on how to enforce it, Riphagen said.

The vote was backed by eight parties, Riphagen said, some of which have embraced anti-Islam rhetoric, including the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, the far-right politician, who first proposed the idea in 2005 and tweeted his support of the passage. Four parties, mostly progressive liberals and left-wing Democrats, voted against it, Riphagen said.

Annelies Moors, a professor of anthropology and sociology at the University of Amsterdam, studied the impact of the ban before it was passed and watched the vote proceedings on Tuesday via live stream. She said that backers of the ban had defended it by saying full-face veils hinder communications and impede government service. But she said the action disproportionately affected women in the country’s population of less than a million Muslims. Moors said she and other researchers had estimated there were fewer than 500 Muslim women who wear the full face coverings.

“It is harmful to one particular group,” Moors said. “It excludes them from being able to participate in society. They can’t even take public transportation.”


Switzerland’s Cabinet said on Wednesday that it opposed a campaign pushing for a nationwide ban on facial coverings in public spaces, saying such decisions about public space should be made by individual cantons.

“The cantons should decide for themselves whether or not to ban facial coverings in public places,” the statement said. “The initiative would make it impossible to take into account the individual cantons’ differing sensitivities, in particular removing their ability to determine for themselves how they wish to treat tourists from Arab states who wear facial coverings.”

The Cabinet was responding to an initiative called “Yes to a ban on full facial coverings” which has collected more than 100,000 signatures to demand provisions in the law making it illegal for people to cover their faces anywhere in public, according to the statement.

The push includes some of those who led a 2009 ban on building new minarets, Reuters reported. About 5 percent of Switzerland’s 8.5 million residents are Muslims, the news agency said.


On June 2, The Times reported that on May 28:

Parliament approved a law to ban the wearing of full-face coverings in public, mostly seen as directed at the Islamic veil. And the immigration minister recently stirred controversy by suggesting that fasting Muslims were a danger to society.

The Associated Press reported in May that Justice Minister Soeren Pape Poulsen said law enforcement officers should use “common sense” when they see possible violations before the law goes into effect on Aug. 1. Last year, The Times examined efforts to restrict the wearing of face covering garments. Here is a version of that breakdown.

In October, the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec made it a crime to wear a face-covering garment in public, a move that critics derided as discriminatory against Muslim women.

The law was the first of its kind in North America. It barred people with face coverings from receiving public services, such as riding a bus, or from working in government jobs, such as a doctor or teacher. They also cannot receive publicly funded health care while covering their faces.

Quebec’s minister of justice, Stéphanie Vallée, said the law fostered social cohesion. Ihsaan Gardee, the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, called it “an unnecessary law with a made-up solution to an invented problem.”


Austria’s ban on face coverings also took effect last October. It forbids women to wear garments like burqas or niqabs in public, including at universities, on public transportation or in courthouses. Violators can be fined 150 euros, or about $175.

Muna Duzdar, a state secretary in the office of Chancellor Christian Kern, has said the measure was part of a broader package intended to help immigrants assimilate to life in Austria. But it has proved difficult to enforce.


In 2011, France became the first country in Western Europe to ban face-covering garments like the burqa or niqab in public, although the law did not explicitly mention Islam. The move made it illegal to cover one’s face in public places, including streets and stores, as a security measure. Those who break the law face fines of up to 150 euros.

The law has been divisive in France, which has long been rived by tensions between its Muslim population, Europe’s largest, and those who support the state ideology of secularism.

In 2016, a string of beach towns went one step further, driven in part by a string of deadly terrorist attacks, and banned the burkini, a full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women.


A law that banned face-covering garments in public also went into effect in Belgium in 2011. Violators could be sentenced to seven days in prison and face a fine of 137.50 euros.

The law was quickly challenged in court by two Muslim women who said it violated their right to privacy and freedom of religion.

But in July, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against them. It said it agreed with Belgium’s argument that the law was meant to “guarantee the conditions of ‘living together’ and the ‘protection of the rights and freedoms of others.'”


A law banning face coverings while driving took effect in Germany last year coming on the heels of legislation prohibiting anyone in the civil service, military or working for an election from covering their faces.

Bavaria took the measure one step further, barring teachers and university professors from covering their faces.


Bulgaria banned face-covering garments in government offices, schools and cultural institutions in 2016.

Lawmakers who supported the measure denied it was discriminatory. They said it was intended to help the country respond to potential security issues posed by the migrant crisis.

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