Sikhs challenge French turban ban before UN body

December 16th, 2008 - 11:27 am ICT by IANS  

United Nations, Dec 16 (IANS) United Sikhs, an Sikh advocacy group, has challenged the French government’s ban on the wearing of turbans before the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), arguing that this was suppressing their freedom of religion and depriving the community of its basic human rights.The petition by United Sikhs’ lawyers was filed Monday on behalf of three Sikhs, who alleged that they were being denied the right to wear a turban, which is the basic feature of the Sikh religion.

The three Sikhs, on whose behalf the petition has been filed, include Bikramjit Singh, who was expelled from school for refusing to remove his turban.

Senior citizen Ranjit Singh, who cannot access public health services without a ration card, for which French authorities allegedly asked him to remove his turban to get himself photographed by the card, has also filed the petition to the UN human rights body.

Shingara Mann Singh, 52, too filed the petition as his identity documents renewals have been denied because he refused to remove his turbans for his ID photos.

“The three cases, before the UNHRC, will be the first such cases before the UN since France passed a law in March 2004, banning the wearing of religious symbols, including the Sikh turban, in public schools,” said Kuldeep Singh, director, United Sikhs.

Addressing a press conference here, Mejindarpal Kaur, legal director of United Sikhs said through the three petitions, the Sikh community is urging the UN to deliver to Sikhs in France their rights under Articles 2, 17, 12, 18, and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“These rights are derived from the inherent dignity of the human person,” she said.

“Under the ICCPR, France may restrict these fundamental rights on only the most compelling grounds, and may do so only so far as absolutely necessary. We submit that France has not made out a compelling case for denying a Sikh the right to wear a turban,” she added.

Addressing the conference through telephone, Bikramjit Singh exuded confidence that the French government would realize the genuine demand of the Sikhs. He was expelled with two other Sikh schoolboys, Jasvir Singh and Ranjit, whose cases were filed by the United Sikhs lawyers before the European Court of Human Rights in May 2008.

The case was, however, dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights last month.

“By doing so, the court sent a signal to 25 million Sikhs globally that their religion was not welcome in France. We hope that the UN will say otherwise in support of religious freedom in France,” Kaur said.

The press conference was followed by a panel discussion on “Defending the right to faith, belief and dignity in the post 9/11 world”.

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