Tackle French ‘abuse’ of Muslims, civil society groups tell UN

Dozens of organisations from 13 countries accuse France of violating the ‘basic rights’ of its sizeable Muslim minority.

Muslims gather to celebrate Eid al-Adha at Maryam Mosque in Caen, France, on July 31, 2020 [Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP]

A group of lawyers, NGOs and religious bodies from 13 countries have submitted formal complaints to the United Nations Human Rights Council (OHCHR), calling for action against France’s “breadth of state abuse against Muslims” stretching back more than two decades.

The coalition submitted its findings to the UN body on Monday, accusing France of violating “a number of basic rights that are protected in legislation that is ratified by Paris”.

It said successive governments since 1989 had “entrenched structural Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims”.

As examples, it cited recent “illegitimate and violent” raids of Muslim homes and organisations designed to “send a message”, French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan against what he calls “Islamist separatism”, an alleged backlash against Muslim communities in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US, the 2004 ban on the hijab in public schools, the 2010 ban on the niqab in public spaces and moves in 2016 – later overturned – against the full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women.

It also said a 2017 counter-terrorism law, SILT – Strengthening Homeland Security and the Fight Against Terrorism, fuelled Islamophobia, alleging it mainly targeted Muslim families, individuals and community centres.

The group urged the OHCHR to act in the wake of its complaints and ensure France upholds the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The group accused France of failing to tackle systemic discrimination and called on Paris to “enact or rescind legislation” to combat intolerance.

The 36-member coalition includes advocacy groups such as the France-based European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion; the UK’s Muslim Association of Britain; Holland’s Muslim Rights Watch, and the US-based Council on American-Islamic Relations and Islamophobia Studies Center.

UK-based CAGE, which campaigns against the injustices of the “war on terror” and calls for due process, and legal groups such as the South Africa-based Muslim Lawyers Association are also part of the group.

Feroze Boda, of the Muslims Lawyers Association, said: “These policies are not only counter-productive, but they are open to abuse, and have been abused – while also being completely out of touch with reality.”

Muhammad Rabbani, head of CAGE, said: “As a signatory to the UN, France cannot be allowed to infringe upon its international rights obligations so openly, and yet present itself as the land of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’.”

A fragile relationship

France’s fragile relationship with its Muslim community, which at more than 5 million people is the largest in Europe, has been tested in recent months.

Macron’s recent bid to regulate Islam in the country has been met with criticism, with some observers claiming the minority is being collectively punished for the actions of a fringe group that have carried out attacks.

Macron on October 2 last year said Islam was a religion “in crisis” globally as he outlined plans for a new law aimed at tackling what he called “Islamist separatism”.

On October 16, 47-year-old teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in a middle-class Paris suburb. He had shown his students the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a lesson on free speech.

On October 29, three people were stabbed to death in a knife attack at a church in the southern city of Nice. Macron branded both attacks “Islamist terrorism”.

In the wake of the attacks, Macron defended the right to show the caricatures, which were also projected on government buildings during tributes for Paty.

The French president’s remarks about Islam caused anger in the Muslim world, with millions calling for a boycott of French products as they took to the streets to protest against France.

The coalition said the proposed legislation against “separatism” was “solely focused on consolidating the government’s political, ideological, theological and financial control of Muslims”.

The draft law does not specifically mention the word Islam, but it does seek to amend regulations related to home-schooling and improve the oversight of mosque financing – measures aimed at Muslim communities.

The bill is set to be debated by the French Parliament in the coming months.

Source: Al Jazeera