Press Release

Monday, 26 September 2005

12th Assu (Samvat 537)

UNITED SIKHS Member Petitions the European Parliament

UNITED SIKHS Briefs the UN Rapporteur for Religious Freedom on the French Turban Ban

Right to Turban rally photo.
Jasvir singh, (centre) one of the three
expelled French students, at a Right to
Turban rally in Panjab earlier this year.

London—A UNITED SIKHS member has petitioned the European Parliament to investigate the French law that bans the wearing of the Sikh Turban in French schools and seek France's compliance with European human rights law. This petition which was filed in June was listed during a plenary session of the opening of the European Parliament on Sept 5th.

"The Petitions Committee Secretariat now has to assess the petition's admissibility, to determine if it falls within the competence of the European Parliament or if it is a national issue?" said Gurmit Singh, who filed the petition as a member of the United Kingdom chapter of UNITED SIKHS.

In a separate development in Paris yesterday, UNITED SIKHS-France director, Kudrat Singh briefed Asma Jahangir, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief of the Commission on Human Rights.

Asma Jahangir is visiting Paris to prepare a UN report on religious freedom in France. Kudrat Singh informed Asma Jahangir that approximately 250 French Sikh schoolchildren have been directly or indirectly affected by this law. Asma Jahangir was also briefed on the ban on wearing a Turban for photo identity cards. Also present during the briefing was Gurdial Singh, Chairman of the French Action Committee for the Sikh Turban.

Kudrat Singh explained that under the photo ID ban France would be the only country in Europe where a policeman would be able to ask a Sikh to remove his Turban in order to establish the Sikh's identity.

When French schools re-opened earlier this month, one Sikh student was excluded from his classroom for refusing to remove his Turban and is awaiting a disciplinary hearing which may lead to his expulsion, another was forced to wear a handkerchief on his top-knot, and a third had to wear a 'hair net'. This is despite Indian Prime Minister's press statement last week that his counterpart in France had assured him that Sikh schoolchildren have been allowed to wear a patka (a form of head covering which is usually worn by young Sikh children). The press report is at www.navhindtimes.com/stories.php?part=news&Story_ID=092537 Last year three French Sikh students were expelled for refusing to remove their Turban to attend school.

The petition filed at the EU parliament cites the infringement of several protocols and treaties that France has signed up to as a member state of the European Union, including the Treaty of the European Union, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and several directives and protocols on human rights. To read the petition in full click here.

The petition was entered in the European Parliament's general register and announced at a plenary sitting of the European Parliament on the 5th Sept 2005. This appeared in the minutes of the sitting, which can be found by clicking here. Search for n° 607/2005. You should find "Monsieur Gurmit Singh (United Sikhs) (n° 607/2005).

"If it is found to be admissible the relevant Commission department will look at the issue and comment on the legal dimension; they will often look into the background of the case and it is their report which will appear in the formal Committee papers," said Gurmit Singh.

There are occasions where, as a result of a petition, changes have been made to the national law in a member state to bring it in to line with EU legislation: as was the case in the law on waste water treatment in Italy, or on the treatment of waste in Ireland, for example. At other times, it might involve governments changing its policy or its attitude.

"Change can be slow, but it can happen and simply because an individual, a local organisation or a national pressure group has brought a petition to the Parliament," Jean Lambert, UK Member of the European Parliament, explains in a publication on European parliament petitions at www.new-politics.net/publications/features/petitioning-the-eu/. Further information on the EU petition process can be found at: www.europarl.eu.int/parliament/public/staticDisplay.do?language=EN&id=49

The petition action is being run at tandem with litigation which is progressing in the French national courts. An appeal will be filed next week in the French High Court against the Administrative Appeal Tribunal which upheld the expulsion of the three French Sikh schoolboys last December, for refusing to remove their Turban.

For more information on the Right to Turban campaign, please go to www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/

Please join the PR_UNITEDSIKHS@yahoogroups.com if you wish to receive regular updates on this and other issues raised by UNITED SIKHS.

We need your support for the Right to Turban campaign in France and Belgium. Please join the RTT team. To volunteer please email contact@unitedsikhs.org or download and complete the volunteer application form.

Issued By:
Mejindarpal Kaur
++44 (0) 870 199328

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