French bans on burkini swimwear are “a grave and illegal breach of fundamental freedoms” and a “stupid reaction” to recent extremist attacks, the UN human rights office said on Tuesday.
Spokesman Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the UN wants French officials to lift the bans “immediately”, adding that they do not increase security.
France’s highest court, the Council of State (Conseil d’Etat), has already struck down one town’s ban on the burkini, effectively invalidating all such bans. But some towns have said they will continue with the prohibitions.
Colville said such bans “fuel religious intolerance and the stigmatisation of Muslims”, and “have only succeeded in increasing tensions”.
“These decrees do not improve the security situation but rather fuel religious intolerance and the stigmatisation of Muslims in France, especially women,” Colville said.
Local authorities have said the wearing of burkinis threatens public order. But people who choose to wear them “cannot be blamed for the violent or hostile reactions of others”, Colville said.
“Dress codes such as the anti-burkini decrees disproportionately affect women and girls, undermining their autonomy by denying them the ability to make independent decisions about how to dress, and clearly discriminate against them,” he added.
Colville went on to criticise “the manner in which the anti-burkini decrees have been implemented in some French resorts” as “humiliating and degrading”.
Around 30 coastal resorts have recently banned women from wearing the full-body swimwear on their beaches.