Javid breaks international law

Talha Ahmad says revoking Shamima Begum’s citizenship undermines the rule of law

Shamima Begum, along with her two friends, became infamously known as one of the Bethnal Green Girls who legged Britain to join Daesh. Their tender age and previously unremarkable behaviour meant the country and, most importantly, the Muslim community in Bethnal Green and across the country was shocked.

We all want to see those committing acts of terrorism punished. We need to have robust means to do so. However, the Home Secretary’s decision to revoke British citizenship of Ms Begum caused serious concern and is problematic on a number of grounds.

First, she was born in Britain, to British parents, had never lived anywhere else, and had no connection to any country but Britain. Yet her citizenship was revoked (as is evident from the narrative that followed afterwards) on the erroneous belief that she may be entitled to claim citizenship of Bangladesh. Had the Home Secretary sought proper legal advice, he would have known that such an assumption was without basis. It leaves only one conclusion: it was her colour and ‘foreign’ heritage which triggered this decision.

Second, this decision is unfair on Iraqis and Syrians whose lives and homes have been ravaged by Daesh. We, the Europeans, are unable or unwilling to take a few hundred, at best several thousands, to our countries – richer in resources, infrastructure and know-how. We expect the Iraqis, Kurds and Syrians deprived of normalcy in their affairs to deal with the remnants of Daesh who we have raised, fed and educated.

Third, this decision flies in the face of our commitment to the rule of law and human rights. Sajid Javid’s decision contravenes our obligation under international law as it left Begum stateless.

Begum’s treatment is the latest in a series of decisions which collectively demonstrate an alarming trend. Between 1972 and 2002, there has not been a single revocation of citizenship. In the quarter century before that – which included the immediate aftermath of WW2, only ten people were deprived of their citizenship. However, since 2013, there has been a serious rise in the number of people deprived of their British citizenship.

In cases where the Secretary of State certifies that a decision is made in reliance on documents which should not be made public for reasons of national security – which would be the case in most decisions of Begum’s type – appeal is before a special tribunal. Neither Begum nor her lawyers will have sight of the evidence and will instead be represented by specially vetted and appointed lawyers. Such an arrangement undermines our values of open justice and reduces confidence in the decision making process.

It was heartening however to see Begum’s case create national outrage with many prominent critics of the government’s decision including the shadow home secretary. But the matter calls for far wider discussion. This is a matter of the integrity of our belief that in Britain all people are equal before the law regardless of their race, colour, belief or gender orientation.

Talha Ahmad

Talha Ahmad is a solicitor.