The Council of Europe human rights group has opposed an all-out ban on Muslim full-face veils, under consideration by some European countries.
MPs from 47 countries have voted unanimously that outlawing it would deny women "who genuinely and freely desire to do so" the right to cover their faces.
The council's ruling was part of a report on Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia voted on in Strasbourg (France), and it threatens to torpedo bans planned in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain.
"There should be no general prohibition on wearing the burkha and the niqab or other religious clothing," The Daily Express quoted a council statement, as saying.
It also added that a woman should not be "compelled to wear religious apparel by her community or family".
The council further left the door open for targeted laws against the wearing of the burkha.
"Legal restrictions may be justified for security purposes or where the public or professional functions of individuals require their religious neutrality, or that their face can be seen," it added.
The group also called on European governments to educate Muslims, their families and communities on their human rights and to encourage them to take part in "public and professional life".
Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Britain has labelled French President Nicolas Sarkozy's opposition to the burkha as "patronising and offensive".
The French leader had said: "The burkha is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience. We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity." (ANI)