Bosnia and Herzegovina: Amnesty International Urges Parliament to Reject Burqa Ban

Amnesty International & Siawi

Amnesty International is urging the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina to reject a draft law, prohibiting wearing in public, clothes which prevent identification which is set for debate tomorrow. “If adopted, such a law would violate the human rights of women who choose to wear a full face veil as an expression of their religious, cultural, political or personal identity or beliefs," said Marek Marczynski, Amnesty International’s researcher on Bosnia and Herzegovina. "It would violate their right to freedom of expression and religion. At the same time, a general ban on wearing full-face veils in public could result in some women being confined to their homes and unable to participate in public life.”

The draft law envisages imposing penalties such as a fine of 100 KM ($63 U.S. dollars) or imprisonment between one and seven days. The advocates of the law have been arguing that its adoption is needed in order to address security concerns, however they have failed to identify them. 

Amnesty International believes that Bosnia and Herzegovina already has a legal framework which is able to address this issue. 

“Any such measures must be the least restrictive to achieve that purpose," said Marczynski. " For example, a requirement to show one's face in demonstrably high-risk locations or to lift a veil when requested by a police officer for a necessary identity check."

The draft law was proposed by the Serbian Alliance of Independent Social Democrats. It comes before the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 3. 

Amnesty International is also concerned that the law may have a negative impact on inter-ethnic relations in Bosnia and Herzegovina as it may be perceived by some Muslim citizens of the country as an attack on their identity. 

“The authorities and politicians representing all nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina must work together to resolve all political issues in ways which are consistent with human rights standards,” said Marczynski. 

It has also been asserted that some women may be wearing a full face veil under pressure from their families or communities. 

States are obliged under international law to protect women against pressure or coercion in their homes or communities to wear full face veils. However, they should do this by taking steps to combat gender stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes and, where appropriate, by intervening in individual cases through criminal or family law. 

“Imposing bans on what people choose to wear is neither going to address the stated security concerns, nor will it help to combat gender discrimination in the country,” said Marczynski 

Amnesty International has also opposed similar legislation in France, Belgium and other European countries. 

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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Amnesty International Media Release

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Response from SIAWI:

On August 31, 2010, A.I. issued a press release opposing the proposed ban of burqa in Bosnia and Herzegovina. One could think that it is just following up on its previous appeals not to ban burqa in France, Belgium, etc… But it is not the case.

For the first time A.I. is not just justifying its position through religious rights, as it has done so far. Please note in passing that albeit several Muslim theologians have gone public in Europe to say that covering is NOT a religious duty, AI has repeatedly chosen to ignore their voices ( on what grounds ?) and given the floor to conservative and obscurantist voices instead.

But it is the first time that AI supports ‘ the right to veil’ as the expression of a political stand: … ‘such a law would violate the human rights of women who choose to wear a full face veil as an expression of their religious, cultural, political or personal identity or beliefs’.

Hence AI for the first time admits to the fact that veiling in the heart of Europe in these days and times is a political stand. Isn’t it what we have been saying for many years? The veil under all its various forms, as a recent introduction in western life, is indeed the political flag of fundamentalist groups.

If one recalls the situation in Bosnia over the past few years, where strong intervention of fundamentalist armed groups into people’s life has been steadily growing ( for example: chasing young couples, or forbidding sexes to swimming together, etc… most of the time at gun point), supported by the visible presence, heavier by the day, of Saudi sponsored salafists, one knows that secularists and anti fundamentalist Muslims alike are more and more in danger there. But we are yet to hear AI loudly protesting this kind of abuses and attempting to protect secular people’s rights to chose their way of life.

Once more, under the pretext of defending human rights ‘for all’, AI picks and chooses whose right to free expression it will defend and whose rights will be ignored. This is no surprise to us as we witnessed AI’s persistently discriminating among victims for more than three decades now.

Marieme helie lucas

Source:, September 2, 2010