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kaushikKaushik Paul, Durham University

The European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “the ECtHR”) delivered a judgment in the case of Belcacemi and Oussar v Belgium (application no 37798/13) on 11 July 2017. In this case the ECtHR, in line with its previous decision in SAS v France (application no 43835/11), upheld the ban on wearing Islamic full-face veils (e.g. the niqab and the burqa worn by Muslim women) in public places in Belgium on the grounds of living together. In Belcacemi, the ECtHR unanimously said that “the wearing in public of clothing that partly or totally covers the face” can be prohibited to “guarantee the conditions of ‘living together’” and for the “protection of the rights and freedoms of others”. The ECtHR also maintained that Belgium’s ban on full-face veils was “necessary in a democratic society” under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Before moving to offer a critique of Belcacemi ruling, it is worth elaborating on the concept of ‘living together’. This concept was established and accepted by the ECtHR in SAS. However, the ECtHR has never clearly defined the notion of living together. In upholding the full-face veil ban in France on the basis of the living together principle, the Grand Chamber held in SAS that “the voluntary and systematic concealment of the face is problematic because it is quite simply incompatible with the fundamental requirements of living together in French society and that the systematic concealment of the face in public places, contrary to the ideal of fraternity, … falls short of the minimum requirement of civility that is necessary for social interaction” (para. 141-142). The Grand Chamber also held that allowing women to wear the full-face veils in public spaces might breach “the right of others to live in a space of socialisation that makes living together easier” (para. 122). (more…)

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