By Juliette Jabkhiro
PARIS (Reuters) – A United Nations committee ruled that France discriminated against a Muslim woman who was prevented from attending vocational training in a public school while wearing her Islamic head scarf, according to a U.N. document.
In 2010, Naima Mezhoud, now aged 45, was due to train as a management assistant at a course held in a state high school, where teenagers are prohibited by law from wearing the hijab. When she arrived, the head teacher of the school in the northern outskirts of Paris barred her from entering, according to the document which was seen by Reuters.
Six years earlier, in 2004, France had banned the wearing of hijabs and other visible religious symbols in state schools by school children. Mezhoud argued that as a higher-education student, she should not have been targetted by the law.
“The committee concludes that the refusal to allow (Mezhoud) to participate in the training while wearing her headscarf constitutes a gender and religious-based act of discrimination,” the U.N Human Rights Committee determined, according to the document.
A U.N. source confirmed the authenticity of the document.
The interior ministry and foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The possible ramifications of the U.N.’s ruling were not immediately clear. Freedom law expert Nicolas Hervieu of the Paris Institute of Political Studies said that according to legal precedent, it was unlikely that France would comply with the committee’s decision.
France is home to one of Europe’s largest Muslim minorities. For years, the country has implemented laws designed to protect its strict form of secularism, known as “laicité,” which President Emmanuel Macron has said is under threat from Islamism.
Some Muslim associations and human-rights groups allege those laws have targeted Muslims and chipped away at democratic protections and left them vulnerable to abuse.
Mezhoud approached the U.N. Human Rights Committee after she lost a series of appeals in French courts.
The committee said France had breached articles 18 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on religious freedom.
Mezhoud’s lawyer, Sefen Guez Guez, told Reuters the decision showed that international human-rights institutions were critical of France’s policies regarding Islam.
“French institutions will have to comply with the U.N. decision,” he added.
In theory, following the U.N. committee’s ruling, France now has six months to financially compensate Mezhoud and offer the opportunity to take the vocational course if she still wishes. The country also must take steps to ensure similar violations of international law will not happen again.
(Reporting by Juliette Jabkhiro in Paris; Editing by Richard Lough and Matthew Lewis)