Belgium Burqa Ban Would Breach Intl. Law, says Human Rights Group

Human rights organization Amnesty International released a statement on Wednesday urging the Belgian Parliament to not pass a law that would ban women from wearing full face veils anywhere in public.

The garments in question, which are traditional clothing for some Muslim women, are the niqab, which veils the face, and the burqa, which covers the entire body.

The proposed Belgian law would carry penalties of a fine of up to $34 or a seven-day jail sentence for perpetrators.

Belgian officials, both from the country's ruling party and the opposition, have widely supported the measure, citing security and morality as reasons for the new policy.

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"We think all people in public places must show their face," Denis Ducarme told CNN.

He adds: "We must defend our values in the question of the freedom and the dignity of the woman."

For Amnesty International, however, the ban would be a serious violation of human rights.

"A general ban on the wearing of full face veils would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who choose to express their identity or beliefs in this way," said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International's interim secretary general.

 "At the same time the Belgian authorities must make sure that all women who chose to wear the full veil do so without coercion, harassment and discrimination," Cordone added.

The Belgian government was set to vote on the measure this week, but a collapse of their coalition government delayed the action.

Meanwhile, a 31-year-old French woman was fined $29 last month after being pulled over by police for wearing a niqab while driving.

Earlier this week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reiterated his determination to have the garments banned in the country, saying that such clothing "hurts the dignity of women and is not acceptable in French society," according to a presidential spokesman.

"We're legislating for the future. Wearing a full veil is a sign of a community closing in on itself and a rejection of our values," the spokesman said.

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