Dutch Human Rights Commission rules in favour of allowing Muslim officer to wear hijab with uniform

AMSTERDAM (Reuters): A Muslim female officer has claimed discrimination at the hands of police in Netherlands for not being allowed to wear a headscarf or hijab with her uniform.

But the Commission of Human Rights has ruled in favour of the complaint that since her contact with the public is limited she should be allowed to wear hijab, reported Al Jazeera.

According to Dutch law, any kind of visible religious symbols are against the dress code of police officers, especially when they are on duty. The law explains that when the officer is on duty on the grounds they need to appear “neutral”.

The complaint, Sarah Izat, a Rotterdam-based administrative officer brought her case to the council saying that the ban posed discrimination against her and hindered her from progressing in her career.

The Commission ruled that, in Izat’s case, the law of headscarf ban could not be justified, mainly because she was not in too much of a contact with public and Izat was doing a desk job that required her taking statements over the phone or sometimes via a video projection system.

“When she is on the phone, civilians can’t see her. Prohibiting her [from wearing the scarf] therefore does not add to the intention of being neutral”, the council said, adding that the police had made a “forbidden distinction on the basis of religion”.

In Commission’s ruling it was also stated that in those cases where people are in contact with Izat’s face, via the video projection system, the scarf had no influence on her job since she only took statements from the complaints and was not authorised in any decision making like police officers.

The human rights council also rejected a claim stated by the national police that the headscarf could pose a danger to Izat’s personal safety. According to Al Jazeera, despite the ruling being in favour of Izat, the Dutch Commission for Human Rights is an independent supervisory body which looks into safeguarding human rights in the Netherlands, it is nonbinding which means the police can decide whether or not to abide by it.

The ruling also only applies to this case and does not address the wider question of headscarves or other religious symbols worn by police officers. “We would have liked it if the Commission had made its decision a bit broader, but we are satisfied with this ruling”, Betul Ozates, Izat’s lawyer, told Al Jazeera.

“I hope this motivates the police to look and change its code of conduct which now prohibits people from wearing a headscarf, especially because my client has been doing her job for months while wearing her scarf. She just wasn’t allowed to do it wearing her uniform”, she added. “She was more than capable of doing her job while wearing the scarf, so we feel she should be able to wear the uniform when she does her job as well just like her colleagues.”

On Twitter, Izat responded to the decision by saying, “We won! The Commission has confirmed I have the right to wear a uniform and a headscarf. This means everything and this victory belongs to us all”!

Several Dutch politicians condemned the Commission’s ruling, stating the necessity of police neutrality and the separation of church and state. Arno Rutte, a member of parliament for VVD, the biggest party in the Dutch coalition government, wrote: “The police uniform shows the neutral character of the State.”

He added that police officers would not be allowed to show their political affiliation or wear football shawls either. Far-right politician Geert Wilders said the decision was “insane” and called for a total ban of the headscarf.

The remarks by Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg led to most political parties condemning the idea, saying police should be neutral and not show any religious expression. A public survey conducted soon after showed a majority of Dutch was also in agreement with those politicians.

For Izat and her lawyer, the fight might continue if the police decide that she still cannot wear her headscarf, despite the Commission’s ruling. “We’ll wait what the police will do, and then we’ll see what happens after,” said Ozates.