International Human Rights Conference Highlights Problem Of Religious Freedoms on Europe’s 50th Birthday

March 31, 2007

Source: Sikh Sangat News

As European countries gathered to celebrate their 50th birthday in Berlin on the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome Sikhs held an international human rights conference in Langenthal, Switzerland to highlight the problem of religious freedoms.

The freedom of an estimated 1 million Sikhs in Europe to visibly practice their faith is a major concern for Sikhs throughout the world. Sikh representatives from over a dozen countries across the globe took part in the conference that attracted a number of non-Sikh speakers, such as Dr Charles Graves, the Secretary General of Interfaith International and Rev Dr Hans Ucko the Interfaith Director of the World Council of Churches.

For the last couple of years the right to wear the Sikh turban (dastaar) in France with respect to school children and when obtaining documentation, such as passports and driving licences have been well publicised. Similarly Sikhs with turbans are not able to take up public appointments and more recently some Sikhs in France are even being prevented from entering banks unless they agree to remove their turbans. The Sikhs have been fighting these restrictions and are preparing to take several of their cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

Similar problems exist for school children in Belgium and difficulties for Sikhs to work while wearing the turban are occurring at an alarming rate in virtually all countries in Europe other than the UK. The Sikh community in the UK, which is by far the largest in Europe, has fought and succeeded in securing greater rights in the last 40 years, although more recently these rights are been challenged due to practices in mainland Europe. One of the main reasons for Sikhs being afforded protection is that UK law has ruled that Sikhs are not simply a faith community, but a distinct ethnic and racial group that is protected by discrimination laws