Annual Report 2013
The state of the world's human rights
23 April 2012
Anti-Muslim banners protesting against the establishment of a Muslim prayer room, in Catalonia, Spain
© Jordi Moreras
European governments must do more to challenge the negative stereotypes and prejudices against Muslims fuelling discrimination especially in education and employment, a new report by Amnesty International reveals today.
“Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the headscarf. Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination.
“Rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often pandering to them in their quest for votes.”
The report Choice and prejudice: discrimination against Muslims in Europe, exposes the impact of discrimination on the ground of religion or belief on Muslims in several aspects of their lives, including employment and education.
It focuses on Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland where Amnesty International has already raised issues such as restrictions on the establishment of places of worship and prohibitions on full-face veils. The report documents numerous individual cases of discrimination across the countries covered.
“Wearing religious and cultural symbols and dress is part of the right of freedom of expression. It is part of the right to freedom of religion or belief – and these rights must be enjoyed by all faiths equally.” said Marco Perolini.
“While everyone has the right to express their cultural, traditional or religious background by wearing a specific form of dress no one should be pressurized or coerced to do so. General bans on particular forms of dress that violate the rights of those freely choosing to dress in a particular way are not the way to do this.”
The report highlights that legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment has not been appropriately implemented in Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Employers have been allowed to discriminate on the grounds that religious or cultural symbols will jar with clients or colleagues or that a clash exists with a company’s corporate image or its ‘neutrality’.
This is in direct conflict with European Union (EU) anti-discrimination legislation which allows variations of treatment in employment only if specifically required by the nature of the occupation.
“EU legislation prohibiting discrimination on the ground of religion or belief in the area of employment seems to be toothless across Europe, as we observe a higher rate of unemployment among Muslims, and especially Muslim women of foreign origin,” said Marco Perolini.
In the last decade, pupils have been forbidden to wear the headscarf or other religious and traditional dress at school in many countries including Spain, France, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
“Any restriction on the wearing of religious and cultural symbols and dress in schools must be based on assessment of the needs in each individual case. General bans risk adversely Muslims girls’ access to education and violating their rights to freedom of expression and to manifest their beliefs.” Marco Perolini said.
The right to establish places of worship is a key component of the right to freedom of religion or belief which is being restricted in some European countries, despite state obligations to protect, respect and fulfil this right.
Since 2010, the Swiss Constitution has specifically targeted Muslims with the prohibition of the construction of minarets, embedding anti-Islam stereotypes and violating international obligations that Switzerland is bound to respect.
In Catalonia (Spain), Muslims have to pray in outdoor spaces because existing prayer rooms are too small to accommodate all the worshippers and requests to build mosques are being disputed as incompatible with the respect of Catalan traditions and culture. This goes against freedom of religion which includes the right to worship collectively in adequate places.
“There is a groundswell of opinion in many European countries that Islam is alright and Muslims are ok so long as they are not too visible. This attitude is generating human rights violations and needs to be challenged,” said Marco Perolini.
Muslims across Europe belong to many different ethnic groups and follow diverse cultural, religious or traditional practices. They are discriminated against for different reasons, including their religion or belief, ethnicity and gender. This report highlights discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and illustrates some of its consequences. Restrictive dress-code policies and legislation are enforced in several states. Muslims, and especially Muslim women, who express their cultural or religious background by wearing specific forms of dress or symbols have been denied employment or excluded from classrooms.