Police and transport companies have signalled unwillingness to enforce face covering ban
Daniel Boffey in Brussels
Thu 1 Aug 2019
The Netherlands’ so-called burqa ban has been rendered largely unworkable on its first day in law after both the police and Dutch transport companies signalled an unwillingness to enforce it.
Under the terms of the Partial Ban on Face-Covering Clothing Act, the wearing of ski masks, full-face helmets, balaclavas, niqabs and burqas is prohibited in public buildings including schools and hospitals and on public transport.
Wearers of the banned clothing are to be given the option to remove the offending item or face a police fine of between €150 and €415. There is no prohibition on wearing such garments in the street.
But the law appears to have been fatally undermined after police said its enforcement was not a priority and signalled their discomfort with the idea that veiled women could be put off from entering a police station to make unrelated complaints.
Transport companies said in a response to the police position that they would not ask their staff on trains, metros, trams or buses to take on an enforcement role in the absence of officers.
Pedro Peters, a spokesman for the RET transport network, said the law was unworkable. “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,” he said.
“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.”
Staff have been instructed to advise women wearing face-covering clothing of the law but to allow entry.
With confusion reigning, an editorial in the conservative Algemeen Dagblad newspaper caused an uproar by suggesting that those “bothered” by the wearing of the prohibited clothing could make a citizen’s arrest, a position confirmed by the national police on Twitter.
The exact number of women who wear burqas or niqabs in the Netherlands is unknown. A study in 2009 by an University of Amsterdam professor, Annelies Moors, estimated that just 100 women regularly wore a face veil and no more than 400 occasionally did so.
The law was passed in 2016 by Mark Rutte’s coalition government, largely in response to the growing popularity of Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom party.
The Netherlands is the sixth EU country to prohibit face-covering clothing in public buildings, a trend that was started by France in 2011 after the then president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said full-face veils were “not welcome”.
The Nida party in Rotterdam has said it will pay fines enforced on niqab wearers and has opened an account where people can deposit money. Rachid Nekkaz, an Algerian entrepreneur and activist, also said he would cover the costs of fines imposed in the Netherlands.
Amsterdam’s mayor, Femke Halsema, has expressed her dismay at the law and the city’s authorities are expected to ignore it.
Amnesty International has said the ban is an infringement of women’s right to choose what they wear. But the European court of human rights ruled in 2014 that such bans were not in violation of the European convention on human rights.