Countries That Have Banned Burqa And What International Law Says About It

As the controversy around the Karnataka hijab row flares up, here’s a look at countries that have put a ban on veils.

Women in burqa.

Massive protests for and against wearing ‘hijab’ in educational institutions have erupted in various colleges across Karnataka. The situation worsened on Tuesday when a Muslim girl wearing a hijab entered the college, while a group of boys with saffron scarf shouted ‘Jai Shri Ram’, trailing behind the woman. The agitation began when a couple of Muslim girls were denied entry to the class at Udupi Women's Pre-University college for wearing hijab. Since then, students in various colleges across the state have been wearing saffron scarves and hijab to colleges, protesting for and against the dress code rule. 

The controversy that has drawn ire from various political parties, activists, and leaders, is not an isolated event. The issues around the restriction of religious dresses and denying Muslims and women their right to freedom have been long-debated. 

Several European and Asian countries have banned burqas, hijabs and veils, courting controversies, that to date, remain unresolved. As the controversy around the Karnataka hijab row flares up, here’s a look at countries that have put a ban on veils.

1. France

In 2011, France became the first country to ban the burqa covering face. Also, the first European country to introduce the same. The restriction began in 2004, with a “clampdown on students in state-run schools displaying any form of religious symbol”. The French parliament unanimously voted for imposing a blanket ban on the religious veil courting immense controversy across the globe. In April 2011, the government introduced a total public ban on full-face veils, with then-president Nicolas Sarkozy saying they were “not welcome” in France. The act, “Law of 2010-1192: Act prohibiting concealment of the face in public space”, bans wearing of face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclavas, niqābs and other veils covering the face in public places. The scene triggered a national debate over a woman’s immigration, security, nationalism and freedom to practise religion. People who breach the ban can be fined €150 (Rs 12,816), and anyone who forces a woman to cover her face risks a €30,000 (Rs 25,63,350) fine.


A woman in a niqab veil takes an iPhone photograph of a demonstration outside the French Embassy on April 11, 2011 in London, England. (Credit: Getty Images)

2. Switzerland 

In March 2021, Switzerland joined the line of European countries to ban burqa. The issue, once again, struck at the intersection of religious freedom, security, the economy and women’s rights. The ban was passed after, just over 51 per cent of Swiss voters, cast their ballots in favour of the ban. Proponents, including populist, right-wing movements behind the idea, said that the ban was needed to combat what they consider a sign of the oppression of women and to uphold a basic principle that faces should be shown in a free society like that of the rich Alpine democracy.

3. Netherlands 

In August 2019, Netherlands imposed a partial ban on the burqa and niqab worn by conservative Muslim women — on public transportation, in government buildings and at health and education institutions. Following the Dutch law, Muslim and rights groups voiced opposition to the law --  formally called the “partial ban on face-covering clothing” — and an Islamic political party in Rotterdam said that it will pay the 150-euro (Rs 12, 824) fines for anybody caught breaking it. According to reports, the Dutch government had insisted that its partial ban did not target any religion and that people were free to dress how they wanted. A government site said, however, that “this freedom is limited at locations where communication is vital for good quality service or for security in society.”

4. Sri Lanka 

In April 2021, the country’s Cabinet approved the ban on burqa, following the harrowing Easters Attack, citing a threat to national security. Cabinet spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella said the decision was taken two years after a wave of coordinated terror attacks on hotels and churches on Easter Sunday. The covering of the face includes burqa and niqab. 

5. Belgium 

Since July 11, Belgium put a ban on full-face veils. Anyone who breaks the law risks a fine of up to seven days in jail. Belgium, which is home to around a million Muslims, in a unanimous vote approved the ban on the ground of security, stating that police must be allowed to identify people om public. However, there were also arguments that the veil was a symbol of the oppression of women.  


Demonstration from Muslim students and sympathizers against the ban from the judgment of the Constitutional Court against the headscarf ban at Brussels university college. (Credit: Getty Images)

6. China 

China, in 2017, banned burqas, veils and “abnormal” beards in a predominantly Muslim province in what it claims is a crackdown on religious extremism. The measures introduced by the government also forced people to watch state television, following decades of ethnic and religious discrimination against Xinjiang's 10 million-strong ethnic Uyghur population. The regulation prohibits burqa-clad women from entering airports, railways stations and other public places. 

7. Austria 

In October 2017, Austria put a ban on any kind of full-face covering, including Islamic veils such as the niqab or burqa. Violations carry a possible fine of 150 euros (Rs 12,812). Police are authorized to use force if people resist showing their faces. Only a small number of Muslim women in Austria wear full-face veils, but they have become a target for right-wing groups and political parties.

8. Bulgaria 

In 2016, Bulgaria's parliament banned face veils in public to boost security in the wake of Islamist militant attacks in Europe. The "burqa ban" law, pushed by the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition, echoes similar measures in other western European countries. A fine of 1,500 levs (Rs 64,337) would be imposed on those, who do not follow the ban. 

What does international law tell about the burqa ban?

Freedom of religion and belief is guaranteed under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The UN Human Rights Committee has affirmed that under the ICCPR “the observance and practice of religion or belief may include not only ceremonial acts, but also such customs as the wearing of distinctive clothing or head coverings.”



Poster protesting burqa ban. (Credit: Shutterstock)

The United Nations Human Rights Committee also states that Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics and thus, has to be interpreted broadly.

Under ICCPR article 18(3), any limitation on freedom of religion must be non-discriminatory and must be necessary and proportionate to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

 The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, has stressed that “burqa bans are incompatible with international law guarantees of the right to manifest one’s religion or belief and of freedom of expression.”


Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) explicitly states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. 

By and by, the UN Human Rights Committee has upheld that a blanket ban on face coverings and burqa is not compatible with International law and human rights standards, deeming it discriminatory. It further emphasises that the ban are not proportionate to its stated legitimate aim of promoting public safety.

(with inputs from agencies)