PACE’s General Rapporteur on combating racism and intolerance, Momodou Malcolm Jallow (Sweden, UEL), today made the following statement:
“A bill on ‘Strengthening respect for Republican principles and against separatism’ has now been read in the two parliamentary chambers and will be submitted to the vote for final approval soon. The draft legislation aims to address alleged ‘Islamic separatism’, described by French authorities as a deliberate politico-religious project leading to the creation of a counter-society and to indoctrination, running counter to French laws.
The text under discussion is problematic in many respects. By targeting Muslims, it inherently stigmatises them, increasing suspicion and indirectly suggesting a link between this group and foreign or terrorist threats. It limits the space and potentially curtails the work of civil society organisations, with provisions allowing the dissolution of associations holding ‘non-mixed’ activities, such as creating safe space environments for members of racialised groups only. The proposed prohibition of wearing ‘ostentatious religious signs’ in certain contexts would particularly affect Muslim women and girls, as the parliamentary debate and the enforcement of existing similar provisions make it clear that the ‘sign’ effectively targeted is the hijab.
Ironically, draft legislation that is meant to protect constitutional values, including human dignity and gender equality, would in fact seriously undermine them. In addition, by overly restricting freedom of religion, these provisions would be in breach of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I am deeply concerned that this proposed legislation will serve to further legitimise the marginalisation of Muslim women and will contribute to establishing a climate of hate, intolerance and ultimately violence against Muslims.
I call on French parliamentarians to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all their fellow citizens and to avoid the risk of sowing division among them. The stigmatisation of a group based on their religious beliefs cannot be the price to pay for an illusion of increased security of the State. In the longer term, which is the perspective that should guide us as legislators, this would only lead to a less cohesive society and to weaker support for public institutions. In the current European context of growing intolerance, with pervasive Islamophobia, Afrophobia, antisemitism and antigypsyism at structural and institutional level, scapegoating a minority group through national legislation sets a dangerous precedent that should be avoided at all costs.”