UN raps France for asking Sikh to remove turban for Id photo
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has concluded that the religious freedom of 57-year-old Shingara Mann Singh was violated when he was asked by French authorities to remove his turban for his passport photograph.
A French citizen since 1989, Shingara couldn’t renew his passport in 2005 because the authorities insisted that he remove the turban for his ID photograph, which he refused to do. A legal team of the NGO United Sikhs took up his case in French courts and then engaged O’Melveny & Myers LLP to file a petition with the UNHRC in December 2008.
The UNHRC, in a statement dated September 26, 2013 but made public last week, said France had failed to explain why the restriction imposed on Shingara was necessary. The international rights body found that the restrictions resulted in a potential obstruction to his fundamental right to freedom of religion when he was required to appear in ID photos without the religious headwear that he always wore, as he might thereafter be forced to take off his turban in public when going through ID checkpoints.
The UNHRC also observed that France had not explained why wearing a turban covering the upper portion of the head and forehead(leaving the face clearly visible) makes it more difficult to identify the wearer, or why a bare-headed ID photograph in Shingara’s case would make it easier to ascertain his identity or to prevent fraud or forgery given that he always wore a turban in public.
“This is the third turban case that the United Sikhs legal team has won at the UN since these cases were filed against France in 2008. This shows the international community recognises that wearing a turban is not only a Sikh’s religious duty but also a part of his identity,” said Mejindarpal Kaur, international legal director of the NGO.