Can the Dutch ban on burqas in public areas be enforced?

Dutch police forces have stated that enforcing the ban, which goes into effect on Thursday, is not their priority.

Sara Rubenstein ,

Muslim woman in burqa (illustration)
Muslim woman in burqa (illustration)
Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90

A ban on wearing face-covering veils on public transportation or in public buildings went into effect on Thursday in the Netherlands. “From now on the wearing of clothing which covers the face is banned in educational facilities, public institutions and buildings, as well as hospitals and public transport,” the Dutch interior ministry said.

Face-covering veils such as burqas and niqabs are worn by some Muslim women. However, it's estimated that only 150-400 women in the Netherlands wear them out of its 17 million residents. The ban includes wearing anything that covers the face, such as hoods, full-face helmets, or ski masks.

The controversial ban was proposed in 2005 by far-right politician Geert Wilders but wasn't passed until June 2018, partly due to the increasing popularity of Wilder's anti-Islam Party for Freedom.

However, the law may be impossible to enforce since Dutch police said that enforcing the policy is not their priority, according to a Guardian report. The police also fear that the ban will deter Muslim women from entering police stations for help on unrelated issues. In response to the police position, Dutch transport companies said that they are not willing to have their staff enforce the law.

“The police have told us the ban is not a priority and that therefore they will not be able to respond inside the usual 30 minutes, if at all,” said Pedro Peters, spokesman for the RET transport network.

“This means that if a person wearing a burqa or a niqab is challenged trying to use a service, our staff will have no police backup to adjudicate on what they should do. It is not up to transport workers to impose the law and hand out fines.”

Additionally, Dutch hospitals said that they are not willing to refuse treatment to those wearing burqas.

Public officials are required to tell people with covered faces to show their faces and anyone who refuses could be fined up to €150 ($167) and/or be denied access to public spaces.

The Islamic Nida party in Rotterdam, announced it would cover the cost for anyone fined for wearing face veils and even opened an account for people to donate money to the cause.

The Netherlands is the fifth country in Europe to institute a ban on burqas, joining France, Belgium, Denmark and Austria. France, which instituted the ban in 2010, bans the wearing of face veils anywhere in public, including the street, which means that women can only legally cover their faces in private spaces, such as at home, in a private vehicle or in a place of worship.

The law is controversial, with opponents claiming that the ban violates religious freedom. Those who support the law say that face veils oppress women. The European court of human rights ruled in 2014 that the ban does not violate human rights according to the European convention. On the other hand, Amnesty International stated that the ban infringes a women's right to wear what they wish, and a United Nations committee ruled last year that the ban does violate human rights.