The United Nations said that France’s ban on the burqa — the face-concealing Islamic veil — is a violation of human rights.
France had failed to make the case for its ban, the committee said and gave it 180 days to report back to say what actions it had taken.
It said: “In particular, the Committee was not persuaded by France’s claim that a ban on face-covering was necessary and proportionate from a security standpoint or for attaining the goal of ‘living together’ in society.”
Decisions made by the committee, a panel of independent experts who oversee compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), are not legally binding.
But under an optional protocol of the treaty, France has an international legal obligation to comply “in good faith.”
The committee’s findings come after complaints by two French women convicted in 2012 under a 2010 law stipulating that “No one may, in a public space, wear any article of clothing intended to conceal the face.”
The Committee said the ban disproportionately harmed their right to practice their religious beliefs and could lead to them being confined at home and marginalized.
It also ordered France to pay compensation to the two women.
The committee’s chair Yuval Shany said the findings were not an endorsement of the full-body veil and that he and several others on the 18-member panel considered it a form of oppression.
Prime Minister Theresa May ruled out a burqa ban in the UK in 2017 when questioned during a PMQs session, saying the move would be “divisive.”
France, along with many other European countries, has shown a less open approach.
In 2004, the French parliament banned all religious symbols from state schools, including the face veil.
A 2010 law forbade faces from being covered in public, including by face veils and balaclavas.
Issues around face veils have proved a central test for candidates vying for the French Presidency.
The main contenders in the previous election, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front and Francois Villon of the center-right Republicans, pledged tougher enforcement of facial veil bans.
In the summer, French coastal towns banned women from wearing the Islam-compliant “burkinis” on public beaches.