Dutch told burka ban discriminates against Muslim women
Creation of real equality and tolerance blocked by false notion they ‘already exist’
A woman wearing Niqab Islamic dress pulls a shopping trolley in Rotterdam: Between 200 and 400 women are estimated to wear a burqa or niqab in the country of 17 million. Photograph: Robin Utrecht
The Dutch government has been warned that its burka ban, which came into effect at the start of August, discriminates against Muslim women and has “no place” in a country that claims to promote equality between the sexes.
In a scathing report, the UN special rapporteur on racism, Prof Tendayi Achiume, questions the perception that the Netherlands is socially inclusive and tolerant, and says that in reality it “treats racial and ethnic minorities as perpetually foreign”.
The Dutch ban – less strict than in some other EU countries – is partial in that it applies only on public transport and in public buildings, such as schools and hospitals, and not in other public spaces, such as in the street or in the vicinity of public offices.
It became virtually ineffective before it even began when police said they would not treat calls to enforce it on public transport as a priority, and transport companies responded by pointing out that it was not their job to apply the law, especially if it meant disrupting services.
Prof Achiume, a law professor at the University of California, paid an official visit to the Netherlands last week and published her preliminary findings on Wednesday – praising the Dutch for their “formal commitments” to equality, non-discrimination, and inclusiveness.
However, she said that while the new law was “carefully worded” to include all face coverings and so be “ostensibly neutral”, it was “shaped by a political climate of hostility to Islamic forms of dress such as the niqab”.
‘Targeting’ and ‘effect’
The “highly polarised” political debate which had surrounded the adoption of the new law, she said, made plain “its intended targeting of Muslim women”, adding: “Even if such targeting was not its intent, it has certainly been its effect.”
The problem in the Netherlands, she said, “is that insistence that equality and tolerance already exist actually operates as a barrier to achieving that equality and tolerance in fact”.
This criticism is certain to be embarrassing for prime minister Mark Rutte’s government, especially since the presentation of her report in The Hague was coupled with an appeal to politicians to “show more leadership”.
To add insult to injury, Prof Achiume also referred to a whistleblower row in The Hague’s police department which she said raised concerns about “a culture” of racial discrimination. It was “not the first case” and the government needed to “deal decisively with it”.