SIKHS Win Turban Case Against France at the UN
"The UN Human Rights Committee has asked France to submit a report by March 15th on measures it is taking to remedy the violation of the religious freedom of 76 year old Ranjit Singh,who was asked to remove his turban for his ID photo" said Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS Legal Director, who is in the fore-front of a legal campaign for French Sikhs' right to wear their turban.
Bobigny, France, 12 Jan 2012 – The UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has concluded that France had violated the religious freedom of 76 year old Ranjit Singh when he was asked to remove his turban for his ID photograph. This was disclosed today at a media conference, in Bobigny (near Paris), by the UNITED SIKHS legal team, who had filed a communication on behalf of Ranjit Singh to the UNHRC in December 2008.
The media conference was told that the UNHRC observed that "even if the obligation to remove the turban for the identity photograph might be described as a one-time requirement, it would potentially interfere with the author's (Ranjit Singh's) freedom of religion on a continuing basis because he would always appear without his religious head covering in the identity photograph and could therefore be compelled to remove his turban during identity checks."
The Committee said that France had failed to explain how the Sikh turban hindered identification since the wearer's face would be visible and he would be wearing the turban it at all times, therefore, the regulation constituted a violation of article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was entered into force for France on 4 February 1981. You may read the Committees views in full here. The views were adopted at the 102nd session of the Committee's sitting.
"I had faith that truth and justice would prevail and I patiently waited for this day. I pray that France will now fulfil its obligation and grant me a residence card bearing my photo without baring my head," said Ranjit Singh, who despite his ill-health has had no access to the public health-care system or to social benefits since 2005 because his residence card was refused due to his refusal to remove his turban.
"UNITED SIKHS is heartened by the Committee's observations that France is under an obligation to provide Ranjit Singh with an effective remedy, including a reconsideration of his application for a renewal of his residence permit and a review of the relevant legislative framework and its application in practice. France, the Committee noted, is also under an obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations in the future," said Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS Legal Director, who addressed the media conference.
"We now look to France to fulfil its treaty obligations under International law and its moral duty to ensure that the freedom of religion and belief is upheld for everyone who lives within its territory," she added.
"We are very pleased with the views that the Committee adopted and we welcome France's compliance with these findings. We also look forward to a similar resolution for Shingara Singh, whose case is still pending before the Committee," O'Melveny & Myers, a New York law firm engaged by UNITED SIKHS, said in a statement through their attorneys who spoke during a telephone interview. A decision is still awaited for Shingara Singh, whose passport has not been renewed by France because he refused to remove his turban for his ID photograph.
You may read a previous press release on our advocacy for religious freedom here.
Mrs Praneet Kaur, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs: "I am very happy with the UN's decision and congratulate the UNITED SIKHS team for making everyone realise what the turban means to Sikhs, their identity and pride. I am very pleased that the UN has recognised the fundamental right of a Sikh to practice his/her faith by wearing a turban. We respect France's sovereign right to frame laws. I will ensure that the Indian Government continues, at the highest level, to raise this issue with France. This UN decision will certainly help us advance our case with France."
Stephen Grosz, Head of Public Law & Human Rights at London solicitors Bindmans, who was engaged by UNITED SIKHS to file a communication to the UNHRC on behalf of Bikramjit Singh, a French student who was expelled from a French school for refusing to remove his head covering after the 2004 law was passed by France that banned religious signs in schools:
"The Human Rights Committee's decision is very heartening. The Committee recognises that even a one-off requirement to remove a turban for the purposes of an identity photograph interferes with a Sikh's religious rights; and it considers that the French Government advanced no argument that the Committee considered sufficient to justify this interference. The Committee will shortly consider the restrictions placed on the wearing of turbans by French school students, and the Committee's approach is encouraging."
Eric Rassbach, National Litigation Director, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty:
"The Committee has struck a major blow in defence of religious liberty. This is a victory not just for Sikhs, but for people of all faiths who seek to live up to their beliefs. The Becket Fund congratulates Mr. Singh and United Sikhs for their persistence and bravery in standing up for the rights of all."
Francois Jacquot, lawyer who represented Ranjit Singh in the French courts: "This is the first time that the UNHRC has sanctioned the French State for violation of Religious freedom of a member of the Sikh Community in regards to the Turban. In that respect, the decision is historical. Ranjit Singh is finally recognized in his rights for freedom of Religion and respect of his Identity, after numerous years of frustration. The French State has not been able to "explaine(d) how, specifically, identity photographs in which people appear bareheaded help to avert the risk of fraud or falsification of residence permits.", while it was the reason invoked by the French authorities and the French Court to justify the violation of the religion Freedom of Sikhs."
Carla Clarke, (acting) Head of Law, Minority Rights Group International: "This is a welcome decision which makes it clear that where states interfere with peoples' basic human rights they cannot expect simply to invoke the phrases "public order" and "public safety" to justify such interferences but must show concretely why their measures are necessary to ensure such public order and safety. In this regard, the Human Rights Committee has shown itself prepared to take a more pro-active and investigative stance than the European Court of Human Rights when faced with similar cases."
Sikh Community Leaders:
Avtar Singh Makkar, President, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC): "Its a great victory for which SGPC had supported UNITED SIKHS when the case was filed in 2008. We are very pleased that the UN has recognised the challenges faced by Sikhs in protecting our identity and held that Sikh should not be required to remove his turban. We will ask the Punjab government to put pressure on France to comply with the UN's decision and fulfil their obligations under international law."
Paramjit Singh Sarna, President, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee: "We are very grateful to UNITED SIKHS and the UN for this great victory for the Sikhs' right to wear our turban. We wish UNITED SIKHS the very best and are ready to do any seva you request."
Bhai Amrik Singh, Chair, Sikh Federation (UK): "It is excellent news that the UN Human Rights Committee has come out in support of Baba Ranjit Singh's fundamental right to wear his turban for the photograph on his resident card. The Sikh Federation (UK) was delighted to join Sikhs from across the globe in New York to submit the cases to the UN in December 2008. Sikhs must now come together again to see what diplomatic and political pressure can be exerted on the French Government to recognise the UN decision in support of the Sikhs right to wear the turban."
Jaspal Singh Anand, Chair, European & International Affairs Committee, Sikh Council UK: "The Sikh Council UK congratulates United Sikhs and other Sikh organisations that have worked tirelessly in representing Baba Ranjit Singh's rights as a Sikh to wear his Turban for the photograph for his identity card and on the landmark decision announced by the UN's Human Rights Committee in providing unequivocal support in recognising the Sikh Turban as an integral part of it's religious identity while declaring France in breach of Article 18 of the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which it is a signatory."
Dr.Pritpal Singh, Coordinator, American Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (AGPC): "AGPC welcomes the UNHRC decision on Sikh religious identity under Article 18. We ask France to respect UN's decision and allow turbaned Sikhs in school, public offices and on photographs of ID documents. We congratulate UNITED SIKHS for its persistent effort and tireless work."
Amarjit Singh Mann, President, Ontario Gurdwaras Committee: "This is a news of pride for all Sikhs and we hope the UNHRC ruling helps resolve the Sikh identity issue in various parts of the world."
Bhupinder Singh Ubbi, Ontario Sikhs & Gurdwara Council: "I congratulate the Sikh community for their collective efforts and hard work to achieve this success."
Giani Kewal Singh and Darshan Singh Brar, Manitoba Sikh leaders: "This ruling will provide more knowledge and understanding about the Sikh community to the whole world and we are proud of UNITED SIKHS' work."
Baljit Singh Dadduwal and Jasbir Singh Boparai, Panthak Sewa Lehar Canada: "Congratulations to Sikhs and thanks for getting it done. This UNHRC ruling sends a direct message to the entire world to respect the right of religious freedom."
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