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US in the News - Herald Sun


Sikhs take turban rights case to United Nations
By Claudia Parsons in New York
Dec 16 , 2008


A SIKH rights group asked a UN human rights committee to declare that France violated a student's rights by expelling him for wearing a turban and to recommend repealing the law that led to it.


France passed a law in 2004 banning children in state primary and secondary schools from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, including Muslim headscarves, Jewish yarmulkes, large Christian crosses and Sikh turbans.


Bikramjit Singh was 18 when he was expelled from school in France in 2004 for refusing to remove his turban, according to a group called United Sikhs, which held a civil rights Conference in New York near the United Nations.


Stephen Grosz, a lawyer for the group, said United Sikhs had filed an official communication with a General Assembly committee dealing with human rights about Mr Singh and two other Sikhs who have been unable to renew French identity documents because they refused to remove their turbans for photographs.


"What we're asking the committee to do is to find that the French state has violated Bikramjit Singh's rights and to recommend that measures be taken to rectify the decision," Mr Grosz said.


"That effectively would mean a repeal of the law and its replacement by something else," he said.


The rights committee passes only non-binding motions or recommendations which carry only moral weight.


One of the other cases was already brought to the European Court of Human Rights, where it was dismissed last month.


Shingara Mann Singh, 52, a French national, lost a series of appeals in France against the refusal by authorities to issue a new driving license with a photograph of him wearing a turban, before taking his case to the Strasbourg-based court.


In the third case, pensioner Ranjit Singh was unable to access health care since 2002 because French authorities would not renew his residence card unless he removed his turban for a photograph, United Sikhs said.


Mejindarpal Kaur, legal director of the group, said the cases were being brought to the UN committee under the terms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which France is a signatory.


She said the appeal to the committee was not about the three men in question but about "25 million Sikhs' right to wear a turban."


Ms Kaur said it was unclear how long it might take for the committee to decide whether to discuss the cases or to reach a conclusion.


A spokesman for the French mission to the United Nations said he had no comment on the issue.


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