23 December 2013

Citizenship Stripping

In the UK the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported that at least 20 people have had their British citizenship removed by he Home Secretary since May 2010, received such letters, on the basis that she feels they pose a risk to the UK.
Her orders take effect immediately, so the letters’ recipients have lost their citizenship even before they’ve opened the envelope. 
To issue a deprivation of citizenship order, May must believe someone’s presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’ – usually on suspicion of links to terrorism or extremism. The decision is entirely hers: she requires no judicial approval or any other kind of administrative process in advance.
In nearly every known case, the individual was abroad when the letter was sent. With their citizenship removed they were effectively stranded overseas, unable to return to be present at legal appeals – the only means of fighting their case. ... Where the cases are on national security grounds, appeals are heard in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), a tribunal that can hear secret evidence. The appellant often knows only the vaguest outlines of the allegations against them.
The Bureau's item goes on to state that
Now May is believed to be planning a dramatic expansion of her powers to revoke citizenship by rewriting the law so that she can issue orders even where it will make people stateless, which is currently illegal under the British Nationality Act, and even though Britain is a signatory to international treaties aimed at reducing statelessness. 
This would put Britain in uncomfortable company, alongside nations such as Bahrain, which has been criticised by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights for making dissidents stateless. In the US, the government is banned from removing the nationality of its citizens since a Supreme Court ruling in 1967, when judges ruled the US constitution did not allow for ‘fleeting citizenship, good at the moment it is acquired but subject to destruction by the Government at any time.’ 
By contrast, ‘[T]he current [British] government seems to see being a citizen as just another provisional status that can be taken away if you’re not well-behaved,’ says Dr Helena Wray, an immigration law specialist at Middlesex University. 
Revoking nationality is one of the most significant actions the Home Secretary can take against an individual. A deprivation of citizenship order removes all the protections and rights that go with being a British national, cancelling any passports or travel documents and removing the right to live in the UK, or to get consular help when overseas.  …. 
Under the current law, the only block on the Home Secretary using these powers is that she cannot use the orders if they will make an individual stateless. In practice, this means the orders can only be used against citizens with dual nationality, as they will still hold the nationality of another country. But now, in leaks to the media and parliamentary briefings, the Home Office has signalled its intention to remove this barrier. One suggestion is that May plans to amend the Immigration Bill so she can make people stateless if they have done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests’ of the country. The law would apply only to those who are naturalised as UK citizens, rather than those who are born British, the reports and other sources suggest. Bella Sankey, policy director of Liberty, said: ‘Stripping your own people of their citizenship is a hallmark of oppressive and desperate regimes. Rendering them stateless is lawless and shortsighted. Where suspicions exist public safety is best served by criminal investigations, not trampling on due process and trashing our reputation on the global stage.’ 
The right to a nationality is enshrined in Article 15 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Many of those whose citizenship has been removed by the British Home Secretary have claimed the actions have left them stateless. The Bureau has identified nine cases where people have argued this in court, and Mohamed Sakr’s parents say that although they come from Egypt, their son did not have an Egyptian passport. 
In October, an Iraqi-born man named Hilal al-Jedda won a six-year battle [see 2012 here and 2013 here] to regain his British citizenship when the Supreme Court ruled that he had illegally been made stateless. 
Al-Jedda had been detained by British forces in Iraq for three years on suspicion of planning bomb attacks, but was held in military custody and so was never charged. He has claimed he was physically abused while in custody. 
His Supreme Court victory is one of two times anyone is known to have successfully challenged removal of citizenship on national security grounds. But rather than return al-Jedda’s passport, May signed a new order revoking his nationality, again preventing him from returning to the UK. ... 
Britain is one of 54 signatories to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prohibits making people stateless. The British government reserved the right to make an exception if someone has done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the state’ – a tougher test than the one the Home Secretary currently uses to remove citizenship. 
Mark Manly, legal coordinator for statelessness at the UNHCR, says: ‘The key words here are ‘seriously’ and ‘vital’. So it’s not just any kind of crime that we’re talking about, but really serious crimes against the core interests of the State. Offences like treason and espionage were what the drafters of the Convention had in mind. If you look at the language of the convention, it’s about conduct – action already taken by the individual.’ …
The law was rewritten in 2005-06 so the Home Secretary could act if it was believed that an individual’s presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’ – meaning she can act based on what someone might do, rather than something they have done. …
When questioned about its citizenship-stripping programme, the Home Office often responds with a boilerplate phrase: ‘Citizenship is a privilege, not a right.’
There is a useful discussion of citizenship stripping or denationalisation in 'Should citizenship be conditional? The Ethics of Denationalisation' by Matthew Gibney in (2013) 75(3) The Journal of Politics 646–658