BRUSSELS – A Dutch human rights council has ruled that police discriminated against a female Muslim desk officer by banning her from wearing hijab with the uniform.
“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 Dutch Human Rights Commission said, adding that the police had made a “forbidden distinction on the basis of religion,” Aljazeera reported.
The unprecedented ruling was issued on Monday allowing Sarah Izat, a Rotterdam-based administrative officer who brought the case to the council, to don hijab with a uniform.
Izat, who lodged a complaint in May, said the ban was discriminatory against her and hindered her from progressing in her career.
While Izat’s non-Muslim colleagues were allowed to be dressed in uniforms, the 26-year-old officer could only be in plain clothes if she wanted to wear her hijab.
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!”
According to Dutch law, police officers are banned from wearing visible religious symbols while on duty on the grounds that they need to appear “neutral.”
Monday’s ruling said that since Izat’s contact with the public is limited, the scarf had no an influence on her job since she only took the statements.
The Commission, established in 2012, is an independent supervisory body tasked with the advancement, protection, and safeguarding of human rights in the Netherlands.
Commenting on the non-binding ruling, a police spokeswoman said the police would look at the decision.
“The police want to be a neutral organization, that’s why we take the Commission’s decision seriously. Neutrality will remain a key facet of police work,” a police press release read.
The Commission’s ruling only applies to Izat’s case and does not address the issue of hijab 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.”
For Izat, the lawyer said they would wait to see the police decision on the issue.
“We’ll wait what the police will do, and then we’ll see what happens after,” said Ozates.