Comments on the UNHRC’s views on the violation by France of Ranjit Singh’s right to wear a turban on his ID photo:
Mrs Praneet Kaur, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs: ‘I am very happy with the UN’s decision and congratulate the UNITED SIKHS team for making everyone realise what the turban means to Sikhs, their identity and pride. I am very pleased that the UN has recognised the fundamental right of a Sikh to practice his/her faith by wearing a turban. We respect France’s sovereign right to frame laws. I will ensure that the Indian Government continues, at the highest level, to raise this issue with France. This UN decision will certainly help us advance our case with France.”
Stephen Grosz, Head of Public Law & Human Rights at London solicitors Bindmans, who was engaged by UNITED SIKHS to file a communication to the UNHRC on behalf of Bikramjit Singh, a French student who was expelled from a French school for refusing to remove his head covering after the 2004 law was passed by France that banned religious signs in schools:
“The Human Rights Committee’s decision is very heartening. The Committee recognises that even a one-off requirement to remove a turban for the purposes of an identity photograph interferes with a Sikh’s religious rights; and it considers that the French Government advanced no argument that the Committee considered sufficient to justify this interference. The Committee will shortly consider the restrictions placed on the wearing of turbans by French school students, and the Committee’s approach is encouraging.
Eric Rassbach, National Litigation Director, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty:
“The Committee has struck a major blow in defence of religious liberty. This is a victory not just for Sikhs, but for people of all faiths who seek to live up to their beliefs. The Becket Fund congratulates Mr. Singh and United Sikhs for their persistence and bravery in standing up for the rights of all.”
Francois Jacquot, lawyer who represented Ranjit Singh in the French courts: “This is the first time that the UNHRC has sanctioned the French State for violation of Religious freedom of a member of the Sikh Community in regards to the Turban. In that respect, the decision is historical.
Ranjit Singh is finally recognized in his rights for freedom of Religion and respect of his Identity, after numerous years of frustration. The French State has not been able to “explaine(d) how, specifically, identity photographs in which people appear bareheaded help to avert the risk of fraud or falsification of residence permits.”, while it was the reason invoked by the French authorities and the French Court to justify the violation of the religion Freedom of Sikhs.”
Carla Clarke, (acting) Head of Law, Minority Rights Group International: “This is a welcome decision which makes it clear that where states interfere with peoples’ basic human rights they cannot expect simply to invoke the phrases “public order” and “public safety” to justify such interferences but must show concretely why their measures are necessary to ensure such public order and safety. In this regard, the Human Rights Committee has shown itself prepared to take a more pro-active and investigative stance than the European Court of Human Rights when faced with similar cases.”
Sikh Community Leaders:
Avtar Singh Makkar, President, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC): Its a great victory for which SGPC had supported UNITED SIKHS when the case was filed in 2008. We are very pleased that the UN has recognised the challenges faced by Sikhs in protecting our identity and held that Sikh should not be required to remove his turban. We will ask the Punjab government to put pressure on France to comply with the UN’s decision and fulfil their obligations under international law.”
Paramjit Singh Sarna, President, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee: We are very grateful to UNITED SIKHS and the UN for this great victory for the Sikhs’ right to wear our turban. We wish UNITED SIKHS the very best and are ready to do any seva you request.”
Bhai Amrik Singh, Chair, Sikh Federation (UK): “It is excellent news that the UN Human Rights Committee has come out in support of Baba Ranjit Singh’s fundamental right to wear his turban for the photograph on his resident card. The Sikh Federation (UK) was delighted to join Sikhs from across the globe in New York to submit the cases to the UN in December 2008. Sikhs must now come together again to see what diplomatic and political pressure can be exerted on the French Government to recognise the UN decision in support of the Sikhs right to wear the turban.”
Jaspal Singh Anand, Chair: European & International Affairs Committee, Sikh Council UK: The Sikh Council UK congratulates United Sikhs and other Sikh organisations that have worked tirelessly in representing Baba Ranjit Singh’s rights as a Sikh to wear his Turban for the photograph for his identity card and on the landmark decision announced by the UN’s Human Rights Committee in providing unequivocal support in recognising the Sikh Turban as an integral part of it’s religious identity while declaring France in breach of Article 18 of the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which it is a signatory