Human rights concern over the statelessness of Shamima Begum
With the quashing of the citizenship of the former ISIS bride, Shamima Begum; the legal dilemma regarding statelessness has resurged. Ms. Begum, one of three east London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria in 2015 to support the terrorist organisation, ISIS; was born in the UK to parents of Bangladeshi heritage.
Ms. Begum's appeal was quashed on February 23, 2022, by the UK Supreme Court. The appeal was against the then Home Secretary's removal of her British citizenship on February 19, 2019. So, the verdict has confirmed her being stateless which goes against the standard of human rights.
Under the British Nationality Act of 1981, one can be stripped of their citizenship for "seriously prejudicial act" that goes against the public interest.
Now, the question is whether the verdict of the UK court violates Ms. Begum's human rights. To answer that, two pivotal points are to be determined:
- Whether Ms. Begum is to be punished for her affiliations with the ISIS though she herself has not committed any offence according to official records, and
- If Ms. Begum is to be punished, whether it requires the striking of her citizenship.
The United Nations has two major conventions on statelessness: the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. The 1961 Convention is the leading instrument in setting the rules for the non-withdrawal of citizenship to avoid statelessness. Whereas the 1954 Convention is significant as it has defined a "stateless person" as someone "who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law." It aims at ensuring certain rights of a stateless person. Again article 1(2) has provided certain conditions under which a person would not be considered a stateless person; one of such conditions is that the person has committed a war crime, crime against peace or crime against humanity. The UK Court has not decided on Ms. Begum's committing any of the offences. She has served as a sex slave in the ISIS and regardless of it being a terrorist organisation, she has not been found of any criminal offence since she moved to Syria.
According to section 40(2) the British Nationality Act, 1981, 'The Secretary of State may by order deprive a person of a citizenship status if the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good.' The Act also mentions that any act being prejudicial to the UK's interest will lead to deprivation of citizenship.
The Court had failed to investigate the matter from the perspective of a teenager who may possibly have been the victim of trafficking and radical brainwashing. Ms. Begum's lawyers argued on the point that if her age during which Ms. Begum went to 'serve' the ISIS was taken into consideration, the verdict could have been different. She was just fifteen at the time, legally a minor. Even if her acts are considered juvenile, that does not validate her being struck out of her citizenship as she can be held legally liable for those actions. Apart from being an ISIS bride, official records do not show her committing any offence during her stay in home and abroad.
European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) also imposes obligations concerning nationality. Certain case laws have also affirmed the protection granted under article 8 of the ECHR that nationality is part of one's social identity (Karrassev v Finland, 1999).
According to article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, every person has a right to nationality. Ms. Begum had only the UK citizenship and because of her being stripped of it, she is currently stateless. So, the verdict has violated the provisions of the UDHR too.
So, the verdict of the UK Supreme Court remains another stern and unjust approach to the so called 'War on Terror', violating human rights.
The Writer is a Student of Law, University of Dhaka.