U.K. Increases Use of Stripping Citizenship as Anti-Terrorism Policy
Helena Wray and Caterina Aiena say the U.K. is showing a willingness to deprive people of their human rights and place them into a zone of lawlessness and statelessness
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
The United Kingdom acted lawfully when it stripped a suspected terrorism individual of his citizenship. That was a decision of the European Court of Human Rights last week when it dismissed a claim by a Sudanese-born U.K. dual national. The Human Rights Court in the case of K2 versus the United Kingdom declared … the appeal as being without merit, and that the British Secretary of State for the Home Department acted both swiftly and lawfully.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the then Home Secretary, now Prime Minister Theresa May, stopped 33 dual nationals, rather stripped them of their U.K. citizenship, and that was done without a trial or review by the courts on the grounds that it was “conducive for the public good.”
And joining us today to discuss the case, as well as the wider phenomenon of stripping citizenship, are two guests. We’re joining with Dr. Helena Wray and Caterina Aiena. Dr. Wray is an Associate Professor at Exeter Law School, where she is also Deputy Director of Research. She is an expert of International and U.K. migration law and policy, particularly as it affects families and citizenship.
Caterina works as a researcher with the Islamic Human Rights Commission, where she authored the 2014 report entitled “Stripping Nationality: A Weapon of Political Suppression”.
We appreciate you both for joining us today on The Real News.
HELENA WRAY: (audio difficulty) … pleased to be there.
KIM BROWN: So, Caterina, if we could please start off with you and the decision by the court. So can you explain the court’s thinking when it decided to dismiss the appeal as being without merit? Because if I read the case correctly, there was no charge or trial, and the citizenship was stripped on suspicion alone. Is that accurate?
CATERINA AIENA: It had been accurate in that the European court rejected this complaint on technical grounds, without addressing this complaint by providing more general significance. He said that he would voluntarily leave the U.K., so basically he was provided … he was given the right to appeal the courts, but he left the country following his public order offence. And that’s all the right he claimed.
Especially the ethical aid and ethical (audio difficulty) not being valid by the Theresa May decisions, inasmuch the family could be relocated in Sudan, the country where he is living currently. And he actually got the passport. That was the main reason why the … Article 14 has been respected by the decision.
KIM BROWN: So, Dr. Wray, as I understand it, the Home Secretary can even strip people of citizenship regardless of whether they are dual nationals or not. Is that true? And what is the history behind the ability of the Secretary of State to strip people of their citizenship?
HELENA WRAY: Legal power to strip people of their citizenship has existed for a long time, but it’s only been in quite recent years that it’s been used to any extent at all. There have been a number of cases where it’s been felt that people have been naturalized or obtained citizenship sometimes through birth, and that they have nonetheless been acting against the interests of the United Kingdom in terms of promoting terrorism and promoting violence.
The power that was exercised in this case was the power to strip someone of their citizenship, if the Home Secretary believes that it is conducive to the public good. At the time that it was exercised, the government could only do that if they didn’t make someone stateless as a result. However, in 2014 the government changed the law so that, if they believe that somebody could obtain another citizenship and therefore, although they might be technically stateless at the moment of removal, they would not remain stateless, the government may, nonetheless, strip someone of their citizenship and make them stateless even though they’re not dual nationals.
KIM BROWN: Doctor, what are your main concerns regarding the practice of denationalization as some have called it? Because as you said, this practice has been going on for some time, this is not new, but we’re just seeing it reutilized, I suppose, in more recent times. But, are we entering a world in which citizenship is seen as a privilege and not a right, even for those who hold it?
HELENE WRAY: I think that there’s increasingly a sense in which the attribution of citizenship is regarded as something that people have to earn and which they need to merit, and that governments are justified in removing citizenship when they feel that the person has behaved in such a way that they no longer deserve to hold it.
I think it is very concerning. It’s concerning because of the point you made earlier on about the standard of proof, that these are claims that have not been tested in a criminal court.
I think it’s concerning when you have people who have been brought up, or in some cases, born in a country, and nonetheless find that they have lost that citizenship, and, in effect, are being dumped on another country.
I think it’s very concerning that, by stripping people of their citizenship when they’re outside the U.K., the government is in effect able to make it much more difficult for them to bring an effective appeal, much more… impossible for them, in effect, to return the U.K. And also that it leaves them at large in another country where they may, in fact, be even more dangerous than if they were in the U.K. and under surveillance.
KIM BROWN: So Caterina, how is the stripping of nationality a weapon of political suppression? And what do you say to those, like the Secretary of State, that this is an essential tool for protecting the public?
CATERINA AIENA: Basically I would like to mention here, just to understand that citizenship has fundamental rights, provides a concrete political status, which in turn establishes their legal rights. It’s their right to have rights in this case.
So, for example, if an individual is deprived of the nationality, he becomes a stateless individual. This means that he is – just to see in a more concrete manner what this means – he will be unable to work, to claim welfare or benefits to access education or healthcare. So it’s clear here that the primary citizenship could not be used in the framework of counter-terrorist … or in the war on terror.
KIM BROWN: What do you each of you think that the increased normalization and increased use of these powers signifies in terms of the direction that we are headed? Dr. Wray?
HELEN WRAY: What it indicates is that states feel very little moral responsibility to sorting out the problems that have grown up within their own backyard; that these are people who may well be problematic – nobody is saying that he hasn’t been involved in terrorism, although, in fact, there’s no evidence attested to in open court that he has been.
But, nonetheless, even if he is an undesirable individual, he’s done some bad things, he’s nonetheless an individual who’s been brought up and educated within the U.K., and it would seem to be very much our responsibility as a country to keep the world safe from him and to ensure that he, nonetheless is able also to exercise his basic human rights, which does include the right to life.
There are some very disturbing aspects to the deprivation of citizenship; it has been linked, according the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, to drone attacks and also to extraordinary rendition. But putting people outside the nation state in this way, by removing their citizenship, is also as Caterina says, in effect, removing them from the sphere of rights and from the sphere of human rights, and putting them into a kind of lawless zone.
And I think one of the most basic characteristics of a civilized state is that it does recognize that everybody has human rights based upon their humanity. That doesn’t mean to say that they can’t be held to account for what they do. But it does mean that you don’t instantly get rid of people who are inconvenient to you.
KIM BROWN: Caterina, your thoughts about how the state uses denationalization or the stripping of citizenship as a way of dehumanizing certain groups of people.
CATERINA AIENA: Yeah, for sure. It is really disturbing, what is more, it is going to be also more and more used, I’m afraid.
Just if, for example, we compare the past, for example we had, during World War I, the government implemented the citizenship-stripping powers only four times; secondly, from the end of World War II to 1971, only 24 deprivation orders had been made. So between 1972 to 2002, there was only one order.
This is nothing compared to the figures we are getting now, if you think that, since 2002 to 2014, 53 individuals have been stripped of their British nationality.
So, it’s clear that it is a tool that is going to be used more and more, and governments are going to legitimize this just cause as a tool of protecting the public against terrorists, which is the major issue now, not only in the U.K., of course, but also across Europe.
In this regard, if we see also the last counter-terrorism decision from Europe, that hasn’t been approved by the European Parliament, again, to raise the same commonalities of this phenomenon. They provide just vaguely worded provisions. There is not a serious definition of what a terrorist act consists of. And I think if people don’t know even what acts can be terroristic; I don’t think they can adjust their behavior. So they can be judged for everything and they cannot be aware of doing something that the courts or the government can consider as a terrorist attack.
KIM BROWN: Ladies, we appreciate you both joining us today to talk about this. Thank you.
HELENA WRAY: Thank you.
CATERINA AIENA: Thank you too.
KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.