“The UN Human Rights Committee has said that by requiring Shingara Singh to remove his turban for his passport photograph, France has violated his right to religious freedom that is guaranteed under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and that France must now re-examine his passport application and review of the relevant laws to ensure that no further violations of the same occur in the future,” said Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS International Legal Director, who is in the fore-front of a legal campaign for French Sikhs’ right to wear their turban.
The UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) concluded that France has violated the religious freedom of 57 year old Shingara Mann Singh when he was asked to remove his turban for his passport photograph. Shingara Singh, a French national since 1989, was unable to renew his passport in 2005 because the French authorities insisted that he remove his turban for his ID photograph, which he refused to do. The UNITED SIKHS legal team took up his case in French courts and then retained O’Melveny & Myers LLP to file a communication on behalf of Shingara Singh to the UNHRC in December 2008.
The UNHRC, in views dated September 26, 2013 and made public last week, said that France has failed to demonstrate that the restriction imposed on Shingara Singh is actually necessary. The Committee found that the restrictions result in a potential obstruction to his fundamental right to freedom of religion when he is required to appear in ID photos without the religious headwear he always wears, as he might thereafter be forced to take off his turban in public when going through ID checkpoints. The Committee also observed that France had not explained why the act of wearing a turban covering only the upper portion of an individual’s head and forehead (but leaving the face clearly visible) makes it more difficult to identify the wearer, or why a bare headed ID photograph in Shingara Singh’s case would make it easier to ascertain his identity or to prevent fraud or forgery given that he wears his turban at all times when in public.
Shingara Singh, a French national, who refused to remove his turban for his passport photograph
“The Committee therefore must conclude that the regulations requiring him to appear in his passport photographs ‘with the head uncovered’ is a disproportionate restriction that poses a threat to the author’s [Shingara Singh’s] freedom of religion and thereby constitutes, in the present instance, a violation of Article 18 of the Covenant,” according to an unofficial English translation of the Committee’s Views. The Covenant was entered into force for France on 4 February 1981.