"As societies build walls of separation between communities,
ICAAD works to remove each brick to illuminate our common humanity"

UPR: France, 15th Session, 2013

United Nations Human Rights Council
Universal Periodic Review: France

The International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD) submits its analysis on Law No. 2004-22 of Mar. 15, 2004 (also known as the French Headscarf Ban) as a contribution to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of UNHRC member-state France.

(I)Executive Summary/ General Statement on French Law No. 2004-22 of Mar. 15, 2004

(2) Law No. 2004-22 of Mar. 15, 2004, although couched in language that applies broadly to all religious denominations, has a disproportionate impact on minorities and has deleteriously affected members of the Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish communities. Children of these minority communities have been deterred from freely practicing their faith and have been forced to make the untenable choice between practicing their faith or obtaining a proper education.

(3) Cases filed at the UN Human Rights Committee, French Courts, and European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) make it apparent that specific minority communities have been affected by Law No. 2004-22. Thus, the danger of preserving Law No. 2004-22 is the continued marginalization of vulnerable communities and the further psychological and societal instability created within these communities because of a loss of religious identity.

(4) Any country seeking to restrict religious manifestation must show that the law is necessary to protect public safety, public order, health, or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. This international human rights principle intentionally sets a high bar for the State to meet, and additionally, the State must show that the law is legitimate, proportional, and non-discriminatory. During the 2008 UPR cycle, eight States specifically Recommended that France address issues of minority rights and religious freedoms, including the repeal of Law No. 2004-22.

(5) When laws have a disparate or disproportionate impact on minority communities, although couched in language that is of general and neutral application, they cease to uphold principles of secularism, pluralism, and democracy because in practice these laws are discriminatory, even if the result is indirect.


This Civil Rights and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we’d like to challenge you to reflect on how fear may have influenced your opinions, especially of others, and to take a step towards the courage to overcome those fears. Why the focus on fear you might ask?

Famed marketer and author Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” outlines six typical manipulations used in sales and marketing, one of which is the use of fear. On fear, Sinek says, “When fear is being employed, facts are incidental. Deeply seated in our biological drive to survive, that emotion cannot be quickly wiped away with facts and figures.”

In the current political atmosphere, in the U.S. and around the globe, fear is often used by politicians and campaigners to polarize debates and to demonize marginalized communities, using them as scapegoats for the real economic, social, and political challenges that societies face.

Martin Luther King, Jr. understood how important fear is, so much so that he gave a sermon on it named “Antidotes for Fear.” It’s worth reading in its entirety, especially because it recognizes the importance, necessity, and creativity of fear (kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/draft-chapter-xiv-mastery-fear-or-antidotes-fear). However, particularly pertinent section was highlighted by King’s wife Coretta Scott King in her book “My life with Martin Luther King, Jr”:

“First Martin spoke of the many kinds of fear that troubled men and women in this period of change and "calamitous uncertainty"— fear of illness or economic disaster, fear of personal inadequacy in our highly competitive society. More terrible was the fear of death, even racial annihilation, in this atomic age, when the whole world teetered on "a balance of terror . . . fearful lest some diplomatic faux pas ignite a frightful holocaust."

"Some fears are normal and necessary," he said, like the fear of snakes in a jungle, but when they become neurotic and unchecked, they paralyze the will and reduce a man to apathy or despair. He quoted Emerson, who wrote, "He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear."

How, then, to overcome fear? First, Martin said, "We must un-flinchingly face our fears . . . this confrontation will, to some measure, grant us power. . . . "Second, we can master fear through one of the supreme virtues known to man— courage . . . courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.”"

MLK Coretta Scott King Simon Sinek
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