In light of the announcement by the UK government that it is considering revoking the citizenship of clearly unrepentant jihadi Shamima Begum, claiming that she is “eligible for that of another country” (Bangladeshi apparently although she has never been there), I thought I would reproduce what I wrote about citizenship revocation in my second book Western Foreign Fighters: the threat to homeland and international security back in 2016. While I am not in favour of foreign terrorist fighter repatriation, nor am I keen on stripping one’s status, as the following paragraphs should make clear.
In the midst of the 2015 Canadian federal election campaign, the governing Conservative government announced that it was taking steps to revoke the citizenship of convicted terrorists in Canada, although it was unclear what implications this move would entail. There were voices calling for similar steps to be taken against foreign fighters with IS. After the Liberals won a majority, they quickly put a hold on this measure in Canadian courts.
Part of me feels that this is just displacing, and not solving the problem. If we deport a terrorist to the country where s/he holds other citizenship (assuming that the other country agrees to take the individual – cases in Canada show that this can be convoluted), aren’t we just giving our problem to someone else? What if that country practices torture or has no decent Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programming? What is to stop that individual from re-engaging?
Furthermore, and I do not think that this aspect has been discussed nearly enough, it seems that the individuals subject to possible citizenship revocation and deportation were actually radicalized in the West. Getting rid of them does not address the environment and the players where the radicalization occurred. In a sense, we own them. So, how does offing our problem make things better? Does it act as a deterrent? Those whose citizenship was revoked could just as easily return on false documentation. Legislation along these lines strikes me as vindictive and knee-jerk.
Another weakness in citizenship revocation is its limited application. States cannot render an individual stateless, hence a person can have his or her citizenship removed only if s/he has another one to fall back on. In the absence of dual citizenship governments cannot use this tool. By doing so they in effect create two tiers of citizenship and apply laws discriminately against one section of society. This strikes me as counter to the democratic systems we have built in the West.
Nevertheless, a number of countries have indicated that they will enact legislation to remove citizenship from terrorists. Among those are:
- In December 2015, Australia passed a law to remove citizenship from those under four criteria: engaging in terrorist acts, provide or receive training in preparation for a terrorist act, direct activities of a terrorist organisation, recruit or finance terrorists or terrorism; fighting in the service of a declared terrorist group; convicted of a terrorism offence and sentenced to at least six years’ jail; or convicted of terrorism in the previous decade – retrospective measures allowing citizenship to be revoked for convicted terrorists in jail.
- In October 2015 France announced plans to strip citizenship from five terrorists in its counter-terrorism struggle This promise, repeated after the November 2015 attacks in Paris, was rescinded the following December when politicians decided it would be too divisive, only to be re-instated a day later It would be applied to dual citizens convicted of terrorism offences. The move led to accusations that France was pandering to the far right and was following in the footsteps of the WWII Vichy regime that stripped Jews of their French citizenship. The planned measure remained controversial as of January 2016. At the end of March 2016 the government finally announced it would not implement the measure.
- Other countries considering such measures include Russia, Israel, Belgium and Norway.