“In particular, the committee was not persuaded by France’s claim that a ban on face covering was necessary and proportionate from a security standpoint or for attaining the goal of ‘living together’ in society,” it said.
The panel of 18 independent experts oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Implementation of its decisions is not mandatory, but under an optional protocol of the treaty, France has an international legal obligation to comply “in good faith”.
The same committee came to similar conclusions on the 2008 case of a woman sacked by a creche for wearing a veil. In September, a top French judge was quoted by newspaper Le Monde as saying that while not binding, the panel’s decisions might still influence French case law.
In 2014 the European Court of Human Rights, whose rulings are binding, upheld France’s ban on full-face veils in public, saying it did not violate religious freedom.
But the UN Human Rights Committee disagreed with this in its statement on Tuesday, saying the ban disproportionately harmed the right of women to manifest their religious beliefs and could lead to them being confined at home and marginalised.