Theresa May, national security and stateless Britons

Theresa May stripped Hashi of his citizenship

Dr Ilyas Mohammed describes the dangers posed by possible amendments to the Immigration Bill by Home Secretary, Theresa May.

President Barack Obama in his State of Union address indicated that 2014 should be the year Guantanamo Bay was closed. If Obama does finally close the camp, he will bring to an end 12 years of indefinite detention and interrogation of detainees.

The US government defines the detainees as “unlawful combatants” and therefore contends that they are not covered by the Geneva Conventions. Italian political theorist has called Guantanamo Bay a modern day “zone of indistinction”, drawing comparison to refugee and concentration camps. The zone is an interstitial space, where the detainees are reduced to “bare life” and stripped of legal status. Resulting in them being un-nameable and un-classifiable, therefore open to abuse and torture.

Theresa May

In contrast, Teresa May, the British Home Secretary has tabled a late amendment to the Immigration Bill to tackle the threat posed by naturalised British citizens to homeland security.

May’s intervention is aimed to prevent naturalised Britons from perpetrating terrorist attacks in the UK. If approved she will have sweeping powers to revoke the citizenship of individuals whose “conduct is deemed by the government as being, seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK’ – even if they have not been convicted of any offence.

It seems that the only necessary evidence needed is “suspicion”. Suspicion of posing a threat to national security, suspected of being involved in terrorism, espionage, taking up arms against British or allied forces and behaviour that undermines British values.

The Bureau of investigative Journalism has reported that, “since 2002, 41 people have been stripped of their British nationality”, 36 of these cases have occurred under the Coalition government. Almost all of them lost their citizenship on national security grounds, often based on evidence, which remains secret.

Mahdi Hashi
Mahdi Hashi

Previously, only dual nationals could be stripped of their British citizenship. The amendment will force those individuals to be made stateless and to seek citizenship in other countries. According May, if they are not able to obtain citizenship from another country, then normal immigration procedures will kick in.

In cases where citizenship has been revoked while the individual is abroad, he or she will not be able to gain re-entry to the UK, therefore making it very difficult, indeed impossible to challenge the decision. An added risk for such individuals is that they could be renditioned to face trial or be killed by another country, as evidenced by the cases of Mahdi Hashi and Mohamed Sakr.

Teresa May vs. human rights organisations

The proposed amendment has already started a debate between the government and human rights organisations.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said that: “Liberty always said that terror suspects should be charged and tried. First politicians avoided trials for foreign nationals; now they seek the same for their own citizens.

“This move is as irresponsible as it is unjust. It would allow British governments to dump dangerous people on the international community, but equally to punish potential innocent political dissenters without charge or trial. There is the edge of populist madness and then the abyss.”

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg had his passport confiscated.
Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg had his passport confiscated.

A spokesman for Reprieve commenting on the latest amendment said: “This is a very alarming development, which reverses a long-standing ban on citizenship stripping where doing so would leave someone stateless. It would give the Home Secretary the power to tear up people’s passports without any need for the kind of due process we might once have expected as British citizens.

“The concern is that this is all part of the wider excesses of the US-led war on terror: once someone has been rendered stateless, it becomes much easier to subject them to execution-by-drone, without the inconvenience of legal consequences.”

The amendment has been carefully crafted, as not to breach the UN treaty on the prevention of “statelessness”. Under this treaty the government has reserved the right to make an exception, if someone has engaged in something that “seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the state”.

Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington stated that the amendment would produce two classes of British citizenship, which is a dangerous road to go down.

Stateless Britons

If we accept that the amendment will be approved, it then raises two inter-related questions concerning what will happen to those rendered stateless – where will they go and will they be protected by human rights?

  • It is unlikely that many states would offer residency to individuals deemed as terrorists or connections with terrorism, such as those recently arrested over the Syrian civil War. Therefore, it is possible that a second country (this could be the country of their origin) could be paid by the British government to give these individuals a new identity and residency. Although there is no identical precedent for what I contend, but some criminals have been given a new life and identity after being released from prison, such as the case of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who murdered James Bulger in 1993. By offloading individuals to a second country, the government will relinquish all responsibility for the future treatment of former citizens.
  • Individuals that are suspected of having fought in trained or financed groups in conflict zones such as Syria are sent back, at the request of the governments, to face trial for terrorism offences. Like the first option there are precedents for this, such as the case of Abu Hamza. This will enable the British government to relinquish responsibility over how these individuals are treated, regardless of any agreement that is signed.
  • Guantanamo Bay type camp is established to house stateless individuals. This would be an international effort and include all those countries, which presently have citizens fighting in foreign conflicts, or are affiliated with organisations that are considered a national security threat. The countries I am referring to include Western and Muslim. Like Guantanamo Bay, the camp will be a zone of indistinction and for which a parallel legal system will have to be created, circumventing local, regional and international laws. The detainees in the camp will be considered as unlawful combatants because they are stateless and belong to terrorist organisations. They will be indefinitely detained and he or she will not legally exist because of their statelessness. Not legally existing means that they are unlikely to have any rights.

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