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This Press Release may be read online at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-24-01-2008-00.html

Press Release: 24th Jan 2008,  12th Magh (Samvat 540 Nanakshahi)

Indian PM Must Convince French President to Reverse the Sikh Turban Ban in France

New Delhi : UNITED SIKHS, a United Nations affiliated international advocacy NGO, calls on Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to convince President Nicholas Sarkozy, during the latter’s visit to India this week, to reverse the Sikh Turban ban in France.

Dr Manmohan Singh, a Turban-wearing Sikh, cannot turn a blind eye to the injustice suffered by Sikhs in France, who have not been allowed to practice their faith freely, since a law was passed in 2004 that banned the wearing of the Sikh Turban in schools. Since the law, France has also not issued passports, driving licence and residence cards to Sikhs who refuse to remove their turban for their ID photos.

Dr Manmohan Singh, a Sikh who has never been seen without his Turban, is the best evidence France needs to be convinced that a Sikh is inseparable from his Turban. Mr Sarkozy arrives in New Delhi tomorrow as a chief guest for India’s Republic Day celebrations on 26th January 2008.

“We call upon Dr Manmohan Singh to highlight the effect the law is having on Sikhs in France,” said Mejindarpal Kaur, a UNITED SIKHS director, who is leading the legal challenge on the French ban on the turban in schools and on ID document photos.

“A school child who is prevented from manifesting his faith is effectively being prevented from practising it,” she said at a gathering today, at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi.

Under the European Convention on Human Rights, France is only allowed to deny someone a right to manifest his/her faith for reasons of safety, security or health or if it undermines the right of another.

“The Sikh Turban does not threaten France’s safety, security nor health nor does it takes away another’s right,” said Mejindarpal Kaur.

“Sikhs respect France’s desire to observe secularity in public places and the Sikh Turban does not threaten secularity,” said Gurdial Singh, an Indian national living in France, who traveled to New Delhi to campaign for the Sikh Turban ban to be lifted in France.

“Secularity should promote a neutral position on religion and not an antagonistic one,” he told the gathering in New Delhi.

“We urge Dr Manmohan Singh to use all diplomatic and economic channels to ensure that Sikhs receive a just reward for the sacrifice thousands of turban-wearing Sikhs made when they fought for the French people and their liberation in World War I and II,” said Gurpreet Singh, a UNITED SIKHS director based in Chandigarh, Panjab.

“It will be a travesty to forget the sacrifices made by 80,000 Turbaned Sikh soldiers for France in the two World Wars,” he added at the gathering.

UNITED SIKHS views the continuing ban on the Sikh Turban as a gross violation of the fundamental rights of the Sikhs and also a grave transgression of human rights. The French State’s ban of the Sikh Turban constitutes a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Protocol Rights (ICCPR) of the United Nations and the European Convention on Human Rights, which France has ratified.

To access slides, on French Sikh History and the sacrifices made by Turbaned Sikh soldiers during the World Wars, click http://www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/pdf/French_Sikh_History_Presentation_Combined.pdf

Issued by:

Jaspreet Singh
Staff Attorney
International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy (ICHRA)
UNITED SIKHS
Tel: 91 9999 481 785
law@unitedsikhs.org

Notes to Editors:

UNITED SIKHS is a UN affiliated international non-profit NGO that protects civil and human rights of minorities. We were founded in New York in 1999 and now have chapters all over the world. Our mission is to transform underprivileged and minority communities and individuals into informed and vibrant members of society. We have been in the forefront of a legal campaign on behalf of French Sikhs, since France passed a law in 2004 banning the wearing of a turban in schools and on identification documents.

Nicholas Sarkozy’s views on promoting religious diversity in a speech to the UN General Assembly on 25th September 2007:
“Attachment to one’s faith, to one’s language and culture, and to one’s way of life, thought and belief – all this is natural, legitimate and profoundly human…To deny that is to sow the seeds of humiliation. A clash of civilizations will not be averted by forcing everyone to think and believe alike; cultural and religious diversity must be accepted everywhere and by all.”

The French law that bans the Turban
“Art. L. 141-5-1. – In primary schools, schools and high schools, the wearing of a sign or dress by which the students reveal ostentatiously a religious affiliation, is forbidden.

About the Turban Ban in France:

As a result of the law passed by France banning the Turban in French schools in 2004, a Sikh Student is not allowed to wear a turban to school. Six French Sikh children have been expelled from schools. As a consequence of the law, French Sikhs have also not been able to renew their driving licence, passport or refugee card because they refuse to remove their turban for their ID photographs.

UNITED SIKHS, a UN affiliated international civil and human rights NGO has filed cases in French courts on behalf of the expelled French Sikh students and those who have not been allowed to wear a turban for their ID documents photographs.

UNITED SIKHS is in the process of filing cases against France in the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights.

UNITED SIKHS has argued in the French courts that Frances’ ban is in violation of its treaty obligations under article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), on the right to manifest one’s religion. Enclosed are legal arguments in one of the cases to be filed with the UN Human Rights Committee shortly.

Further, UNITED SIKHS has argued in all courts that the Sikh Turban poses no identification risk as a Sikh is recognizable only because of his Turban and not without it. Further, the Turban does not interfere with identification in today’s age of biometric photos, as evidenced by the fact that French immigration does not prohibit a Sikh national from any other country who wears a turban on his passport photo.

The law banning religious signs in schools was passed to promote secularity. However, Sikhs are non-proselytistic; wearing the turban is an expression of a Sikh's identity and in no way threatens the secular space in French society.

In a recent speech on justice to the UN general assembly, President Sarkozy stated, “Attachment to one’s faith, to one’s language and culture, and to one’s way of life, thought and belief – all this is natural, legitimate and profoundly human.”

Despite numerous promises in the past by various French officials and President Sarkozy’s unambiguous statement, the policy in France has not changed towards Sikhs. Instead, France’s stance on this issue has, we believe, led other countries to follow suit by discriminating against turbaned Sikhs in airports and schools. It is our concern and belief that if this law is not repealed or acted against, it will lead to widespread abuses and discrimination against Sikhs and their right to practice their faith freely and openly worldwide.

 


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