National Insecurity, Citizenship and Exile

As posted on Gumption-inc

With less than eighteen months remaining in its first term, (or less according to some commentators), the Australian Government has been determined to show that it is tough on national security. One of those measures is legislating to strip citizenship of anyone who has joined the fighting in Syria and Iraq. In this action, all they are doing is following the lead of Canada and Great Britain.

UN Passport
UN Passport

Great Britain’s response to the increasing number of citizens joining the war in Syria was to try and ensure they didn’t return. One tactic in the case of dual passport holders was to revoke their British citizenship. In fact, revocations have increased in Great Britain since 2013.  The power to revoke citizenship resides with the Home Secretary and utilises existing powers. Despite provision to appeal the decision through a court process, due to the decision occurring while the person was abroad, the result is that many individuals have been left stranded overseas.  In some cases individuals have been left stateless. The justification is that of protecting national security and/or deterring potential and actual terrorists. As a consequence of those grounds, little is known of those people who have had their citizenship revoked.  Great Britain is now in the process of enacting and enforcing even more strict laws.

Passport and Handcuffs
Passport and Handcuffs

Following the British example, Canada introduced new rules for revoking citizenship again citing terrorism and national security concerns. Again most cases will be decided by the Minister with a provision for a courts process. No provision is made it seems for dual citizens who are overseas. As the Canadian Bar Association states such actions in effect will exile citizens effectively through a paper based process. As the Toronto Star states citizenship has now been criminalised and is effectively been used as a tool to achieve Government objectives, such as deporting undesirables. But as we are seeing in Australia, once citizenship becomes expendable, then proposals to revoke it on trivial grounds appear from nowhere. However in Canada, those grounds remain terrorism offences overseas,  national security offences and serving overseas in armed forces against Canada. Again note that neither Canada nor Great Britain are considering the revocation of citizenship for single nationals.

Claiming that it is extra tough on national security, but really following suit, the Australian Government introduced a proposal to revoke citizenship from dual nationals who had travelled overseas to fight. This proposal was put to the Cabinet and involved an administrative process with no provision for appeal. After a rebellion by some ministers,the proposal was amended to include a judicial review process.

In the meantime, there has been many views expressed including that the legislation was unconstitutional. But then the legislation was introduced and it appears flawed. Grounds for revocation of citizenship now include terrorism, national security offences, serving in the armed forces of another country and being in a so-called prescribed area such as Raqqa, the capital of Islamic State. But the extent of offences now may include whistle-blowing and the vague phrase of using a thing (undefined) to commit an act of terrorism (a paper glider flown through Parliament perhaps?) noting that offences may be applied retrospectively. So that means a person could visit Iraq or Syria for religious reasons but then lose their citizenship as the war has spread to their location.

World Wide
World Wide

In all of that the Australian Prime Minister was quoted as still pursuing means to strip the citizenship of single-nationals who have left Australia to fight overseas.

This is troubling for democracy. In Australia, at least, a law will be enacted that imposes penalties and offences without recourse to court. This law too will mean that potentially Australians fighting overseas will be rendered stateless and have no means of regaining their citizenship. The law provides no means of holding these terrorists to account for their crimes by extraditing them back home. This law, and such laws like it, fails to deter and in fact provides more grounds for fighters to leave a country, commit terrorism and not return.

This government don’t know what they are doing. If they suspend the citizenship of dual nationals who have committed crimes overseas, how will these people be brought to justice? They’ve effectively got away with their crimes internationally. Such suspension effectively rewards (not punishes) these people with exile. Such people contemplating going overseas may be more motivated if they lose their citizenship. And now they want to impose restrictions upon those with single citizenship through an quasi-legal accounting of their actions which could potential break international law (again).

These laws and laws like it are stupid and destined to fail.




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