Washington: The UN's rights body has concluded that France had violated the religious freedom of a 76-year-old Sikh man when he was asked to remove his turban for his ID photograph, a US-based Sikh group has said.
United Sikh, a Sikh rights body, had filed a communication on behalf of Ranjit Singh to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in December 2008.
Singh, despite his ill-health, has had no access to the public health-care system or to social benefits since 2005 because his residence card was refused due to his refusal to remove his turban.
In a statement, United Sikh said that the UNHRC observed that "even if the obligation to remove the turban for the identity photograph might be described as a one-time requirement, it would potentially interfere with the author's (Ranjit Singh's) freedom of religion on a continuing basis because he would always appear without his religious head covering in the identity photograph and could therefore be compelled to remove his turban during identity checks."
According to United Sikhs, the UN rights body said that France had failed to explain how the Sikh turban hindered identification since the wearer's face would be visible and he would be wearing the turban it at all times, therefore, the regulation constituted a violation of article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was entered into force for France on 4 February 1981.
"I had faith that truth and justice would prevail and I patiently waited for this day. I pray that France will now fulfill its obligation and grant me a residence card bearing my photo without baring my head," said Singh.
Mejindarpal Kaur, United Sikhs legal director, said they are heartened by UNHRC's observations that France is under an obligation to provide Ranjit Singh with an effective remedy, including a reconsideration of his application for a renewal of his residence permit and a review of the relevant legislative framework and its application in practice.
"France, the Committee noted, is also under an obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations in the future," she said.
"We now look to France to fulfill its treaty obligations under International law and its moral duty to ensure that the freedom of religion and belief is upheld for everyone who lives within its territory," she added.