The Weapon of Nationality

-By Katya Sharma, a member of Amnesty International Sciences Po Campus de Menton

This past week represented momentous results in the war against ISIS in Syria. As this article was written, more vehicles containing were reported to have evacuated Baghouz, the final stronghold of the militant organization. This drastic reduction in terrority, from once controlling an area the size of Britain to now only a small village is a product of the efforts of security forces in largely from Iraq with the support of foreign powers.

            However, as has been widely reported the strong supporter that is the United States has recently announced its plans to begin the withdrawal of troops from Syria. Within the context of this decision it was revealed that there have been many foreign fighters captured. US president Donald Trump has asked “Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured”. The United States has largely repatriated many of it’s male citizens however, the same has not been done for the women, the reasons behind this are unknown. Meanwhile, most other western countries, including Britain have refused to commit to repatriating their citizens, and furthermore the family of Shamima Begum, a young girl who left for Syria and now desires to return, has had her British citizenship revoked. This represents a largely troubling trend within United Kingdom’s foreign policy in which nationality and its revocation are used as a tool.


Nationality can be defined as the status of belonging to a state, essentially making you as a person or a citizen said state’s responsibility. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “everyone has the right to a nationality” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality. The term arbitrarily questions the legitimacy of any authority that moves towards depriving an individual of their nationality.


Yet in the case of Mahdi Hashi no one questioned the right of the United Kingdom’s government to deprive him of his nationality. Mahdi Hashi moved to the UK with his family, at age 5, escaping the civil war in Somalia. The family claimed asylum, and at the age of 14, Hashi became a UK citizen. Growing up in the UK, Hashi and his friends claimed to The Independent to have been harassed by intelligence services into spying for the MI5. By June 2012 Hashi was still living in Somalia, now married and with a son, when his parents called to tell him a letter had arrived containing a deprivation of nationality order from the home secretary. The letter stated his British citizenship was being removed on grounds he was “involved in Islamist extremism”.


Hashi claimed he then left Somalia as there was no British embassy there from which he could launch an appeal, which under the law he had to do within 28 days. That summer he travelled to Djibouti, where he was detained by authorities along with two other suspected terrorists to be extradited to the US. Therefore Mahdi Hashi lost his british citizenship.

Initially, UKs primary nationality related legislation, ensured the deprivation of nationality could only be due to the revelation of fraud during the nationality proceedings. However, with the implementation of the Nationality, Immigration, and Asylum Act, the government of the UK now held the power to deprive someone of their nationality if the “Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good.” Furthermore, the new provisions also revoke the article that ensured the government would not be legally allowed to make a person stateless. the citizenship status results from the person’s naturalisation, the deprivation is conducive to the public good and Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able to become a national of such a country or territory. Therefore, meaning any second generation immigrant (or sometimes third) can be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality.

Effectively, these legislations have legitimized the violation of a fundamental human right. This example, raises the essential political question, can considerations of collective security take precedent over human rights? Is the deprivation of one’s nationality a justifiable security measure? There are multiple perspectives on this issue one that prioritize collective security and another that prioritize human rights.

This event represents a shift in the global political landscape towards protectionism and isolationism. With the rise in global terrorism, sparked by the 9/11 attacks the western world moved towards measures to protect themselves, at the same time that the U.S. declared the war on terror. As terrorists are non-state actors and many terrorist attacks are often carried out by lone wolves, especially since the rise of ISIS, there stood no clear enemy. This enemy lacked any particular nationality, race, or gender or even socioeconomic stature. The enemy could be the quiet boy that lives two doors down or the store clerk that smiles a bit too much. These feelings of paranoia and fear led to the demand of  new rules that allowed anyone individual that was assessed as a threat to no longer be able to enter the country, in order to better protect the country.

The real consideration, or issue presented here is to what extent can a government be allowed to exercise control over a fundamental human right, and subsequently remove the universality of a human right. Politically, the impact of stateless persons is vast, as officially, no government is responsible for such persons. This is why critics of the programme warn that it allows ministers to “wash their hands” of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad. These measures lead to situations such as when in 2012, Theresa May stripped two men of their British nationalities and in 2012 he was killed by a drone strike within hours of calling his wife in London to congratulate her on the birth of their first son. Through rescinding their nationality the British government is absolved of responsibility when the citizens are potentially arbitrarily arrested or even murdered, in order to preempt a terror threat.

At the local level, socially this is destructive to the community. This results in cases such as a Sudanese-British man took his four British children on holiday to Sudan, along with his wife, who had limited leave to remain in the UK. Four days after his departure, Theresa May decided to strip him of his citizenship. With their father excluded from the UK and their mother’s lack of permanent right to remain, the order effectively blocks the children from growing up in Britain. The judge, despite recognising their right to be brought up in Britain, ruled that the grounds on which their father’s citizenship was revoked “outweighed” the rights of the children, and therefore the children lost their citizenship too, even though he added that Theresa May was “unlikely to have made that decision without substantial and plausible grounds”.

This is destructive to a community, as was seen by the deportation of Amer Adi, after the overhauling to immigration laws in the USA by the office of Trump. Amer Adi was deported after 40 owned multiple businesses and had extended family in Ohio, when Trump’s new legislation led to the deportation of this “pillar of the community” according to multiple Congressmen of Ohio themselves. These cases represent the destruction of the social structure of communities due to these measures.

Concurrently, politically, on a global level this sets the stage for capricious persecution. Any ethnicity or affiliation being deemed “threatening” and the ability for the removal of nationality instantly transforms human rights into alienable and not universal, being antithetical to the very notion of human rights.

On the other hand, a removal of nationality is the only legally legitimate path towards denying a citizen entry into their country of citizenship. Therefore this acts as international protection measure. This is exemplified by the case of Jake from Australia. Eighteen-year old Jake left Australia to become an ISIS fighter in Syria. He was not from an immigrant family, having been established in Australia for a multitude of generations. Due to this, hypothetically Jake has the possibility of re-entering Australia whenever he desires however this may lead to him perpetrating a terrorist attack on Australian soil. Therefore it is an efficient collective security measure.

Yet there is a significant difference between Jake and Mahdi Hashi. Jake was a known ISIS militant while Hashi was simply suspect. Today cases like Mahdi Hashi’s are repeating with more extreme measures such as the Iraqi courts arbitrary sentencing of people that merely had contact with the caliphate during its extensive rule. The New Yorker reported that, “Thousands of men and boys have been convicted of ISIS affiliation, and hundreds have been hanged. But, according to the senior intelligence official, these cases represent only a small fraction of the total number of detainees. ‘A few of the suspects are sent to court, but only to maintain the illusion that we have a justice system,’ he said.” In this age of fear and retribution the line between due process and justice is being continually blurred. We must continue to protect human rights even for those that we fear the most.





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