Since the emergence of the Islamic State (IS), an estimated 21 per cent of its 30,000 foreign fighters reportedly travelled from Europe to Syria and Iraq to join IS and participate in the conflict. Such phenomenon raises concern over the stability and the security of the nations from which the foreign fighters are recruited as these radicalised fighters may ‘may pose a serious threat to their States of origin … transit…travel, as well as states neighbouring zones of armed conflicts’ according to United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 2178 (2014). The resolution further called upon Member States to co-operate in restricting the movements of foreign fighters.
In response, States enacted laws not only restricting the movement of foreign fighters but also penalising actions that are considered a potential threat to national security and interests. These laws conferred expanded power of surveillance on intelligence and law enforcement agencies; they also restricted immigrant and non-citizen access to the state territory by limiting the right to have a passport and, in more extreme cases, restricted the right to citizenship. However, denationalization not only affects a person’s right to protection, freedom of movement and political participation as he no longer eligible to enjoy the rights and protection provided under the national legal system, but also creates debate that the state is provided an illegitimate enhancement of power ‘at the expense of all citizens and citizenship itself.’ In this context, this essay criticises the scope of counterterrorism laws in the United Kingdom (UK) that enable the deprivation of nationality on security grounds that cannot be justified as an effective counterterrorism mechanism as they would render individuals’ stateless.
Violation of Human Rights
Deprivation of nationality causes a severe erosion of human rights, including the right to life under article 2, and freedom from torture and other inhuman treatment of punishment under article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Although the UK government indicates regularly that it has ‘shown itself to be committed to deport foreign nationals involved in terrorist activities in this country fully respecting our human rights obligations’,such commitments have not been much effective. In some cases the UK government went a step further and required a Memorandum of Understanding to formally assure the receiving state would comply with the human rights’ norms of the deportees. However, this set of assurances is highly questionable in cases where deportees are sent back to countries that have poor human rights records, such as Yemen and Syria. In Abu Qatada, the Strasbourg Court was convinced that a mere Memorandum of Understanding may not prevent the violation of article 3 of the ECHR and not assure the right to fair trial because any confession obtained by torture is admissible in Jordan. Further, in states where the executive overly influences the judiciary, there can be no judicial protection or remedies available to the deportees, which fundamentally undermines the principle of the universal protection of human rights.
International law implications
International law forbids any arbitrary deprivation of nationality. According to the 1961 Convention, no State may deprive ‘any person or group of persons of their nationality on racial, ethnic, religious or political grounds’. However, articles 5–9 of the 1961 Convention prescribe range of principles for withdrawal of nationality, particularly the deprivation of nationality to serve a legitimate purpose. In relation to the deprivation as an external act, the international law impacts the rights and interests of other States. In the context of the UK, such deprivation of citizenship impacts the rights and interests of other States in the context of deportation, refusal and re-admission, prosecution of international crimes and application for protection abroad. This part of the essay focuses on the external act of deprivation and criticizes how in each case the UK’s decision to deprive nationality is problematic under international law.
This must also be seen in connection with the International Law Commission’s (ILC) Draft Articles on the expulsion of aliens, whereby article 9 prescribes for the ‘deprivation of nationality for the sole purpose of expulsion. A State shall not make its national an alien, by deprivation of nationality, for the sole purpose of expelling him or her.’ In the Commentary, the ILC noted that ‘deprivation of nationality, insofar as it has no other justification than the State’s desire to expel the individual, would be abusive, indeed arbitrary within the meaning of article 15, paragraph 2, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.’ However, it is to be noted that the article does not intervene in the operation of any national legislation for the deprivation of nationality.
This is further affirmed in the General Comment on article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), where the Human Rights Committee noted that the right to enter one’s own country is more than a concept of nationality. General Comment No. 27 on the Freedom of Movement extended this view, noting that even if deprivation is possible, it will not put the individual outside the right to enter and reside in that country, as that is his ‘own country’. In this context, the deprivation of nationality can be seen as an illegitimate act for a permanent deportation. However, in legal discourse, no State has the right to hand-wash its duties to the deportee, as his right to remain in the country would exist even after his nationality is deprived. However, in the real world, this has not been the case, because the border agencies have never allowed citizens whose nationality was deprived to re-enter the country.
In cases where extradition is required under international law, the UK is obligated to extradite the person ‘without exception whatsoever and whether or not the offence was committed in its territory, to submit the case without undue delay to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution…’. Article 5 of the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT), to which the UK is a party, is one example of the international obligation to extradite a suspect. Further, the Questions Relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite case is an example of the State’s responsibility. There, Senegal was found liable for State responsibility under articles 6(2) and 7(1) of the CAT against Belgium. As such, the UK depriving nationality and deporting citizens who are potential suspects of international crimes may cause the UK to violate its obligation to extradite and may lead to its the UK’s liability for its ineffective approach to countering terrorism.
Further, the UK is one of eight parties to the 1961 Convention. Under part 14 of the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules and of the new Rule Nos 401 and 403, while an individual ‘satisfies the requirements of Article 1(1) of the 1954 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, as a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law….’ In the event when the other parties to the 1961 Convention may not receive the individual, whose nationality is deprived by the UK, the UK will be left with an obligation under the 1961 Convention to readmit the individual in order to prevent a condition of stateless to the individual. This may reflect on the reputation of the UK, on the one hand, for prosecuting an ineffective approach that deprives the nationality of the individual and, on the other hand, as a signatory without complying in good faith with the 1961 Convention.
First, the deprivation of nationality is an unprecedented blurring of the framework of security policies, as it can be invoked without any trial or criminal conviction relating to terrorism. It is on the basis of a dominant logic of prevention based on the logic of suspicion. However, it is also an echo of the colonial history of governance by racialized conception of social order, where the citizenship is not a secure status, but a reward for conformity to the bounds of defined ‘acceptable behaviour’. This resort to deprivation constitutes the securitization of citizenship as a policy, where the pre-crime preventive paradigm is encouraged as an option to counter the new definition of ‘radicalization’, which includes political violence, holding views against the government and ‘vocal opposition to (…) British values’. Although the notion of civic citizenship involves a more inclusive national identity compared to the legal definition of citizenship and belonging based on ethnicity, the deprivation of nationality as a counterterrorism measure nevertheless creates normative boundaries of exclusion and a hierarchy between the ‘good and tolerated’ citizenship and the ‘failed’ citizenship.
Second, it is the State that has the fundamental duty to provide security for its citizens. Permitting the deprivation of citizenship simply allows States to disregard the consequences. Being statelessness without diplomatic protection or conveyance by passport renders the deportee in an extremely vulnerable position to abuse. A good example is the 16 British nationals whose passports were revoked when they were abroad: two were killed in a drone attack by the US, one was kidnapped, and one was rendered by US security services. While there has been debate over whether denationalization is an appropriate punishment, the position that lets an individual remain stateless is condemnable.
Third, the deprivation of citizenship creates a situation where instead of citizens having the sovereign power to choose their government, the government chooses who they wish to govern; deprivation is no longer based on ‘conductive to the public good’, for as Lord Slynn notes in Secretary of State for the Home Department v Rehman, ‘there is no definition or limitation of what can be “conducive to the public good” and the matter is plainly in the first instance and primarily one for the discretion of the Secretary of State.’ This phrase therefore provides an ill-defined ground for the UK government to deprive nationality of an individual and at the same time create ‘a dubious and shifting hierarchy of citizenship’.
Depriving the nationality of citizens on mere suspicion for links with terrorist organisations as a counterterrorism mechanism has failed from both legal and rights-based perspectives. This essay concludes there are four main reasons that reflect the deprivation of nationality problem. First, it disrupts the UK’s international commitment to reduce statelessness, and its obligation under the UN Security Council Resolution to bring suspects of terrorism to justice. Second, it undermines the UK’s commitment to uphold human rights and the rule of law as a liberal democratic state while countering threats against its national security and national interest. Third, revoking nationality is an ineffective security strategy against terrorism because of practical implications. In the same vein, the above analysis recognises that mere banishment and deportation could be a measure that may backfire the real intention in countering terrorism because it fails to address the root cause for the radicalisation. Such avoidance in the long term may produce counter activities against the state and keep the national security at constant risk. Fourth, the power of the UK to revoke the citizenship of naturalised citizens who have no second nationality—which causes stateless—thus creates a legal black hole, into which once an individual fall he cannot be pulled out.
Compared with the deprivation of nationality, the measures proposed by sections 1 and 2 of the CTA 2015 such as seizure of passport from personnel suspected of involvement in terrorism, and temporary exclusion orders are more effective because they involve some judicial intervention and temporary suspension of individuals within the UK, which means the state will have the power to retain the suspect whenever required. There are also other counterterrorism measures that, with the adequate intervention of judiciary, have been an effective security strategy against terrorism. Thus, this essay proposes that the UK must revoke its laws concerning the deprivation of nationality as a counterterrorism measure but alternatively introduce laws that would address issuing permits to return to the terrorist suspects on individual basis, set specific obligations to the individuals after return to the UK, set tribunal that could review the decision of temporary exclusion, and strict the terrorism prevention and investigation measures with consideration of enforceability, and upholding international law and obligations in the contemporary counterterrorism context that will make the UK counterterrorism response effective.
Moscow remembers horrendous terrorist attack in Beslan
On September 3, the Russian Federation is marking a memorable date, specifically, the Day of Solidarity in the Fight against Terrorism that became part of Russian legislation in 2005, a year after a horrendous terrorist attack in Beslan that killed over 300 Russian citizens, including children. This appalling terrorist atrocity was something unprecedented in terms of its meanness and brutality, and it highlighted the need to rally the entire international community against terrorism.
“We have to state that, in the current international realities, the issue of combatting terrorism has long since lost its unifying essence. The collective West that considers itself a beacon of democracy and human rights is openly waging a hybrid war against Russia. Not only is the West using Ukraine as a geopolitical battering ram against our country, but it is brazenly turning a blind eye on the terrorist essence of the Kiev regime and is sponsoring it,” official statement, released ahead of September event, said.
At the same time, the Western line to “isolate” Russia has not been crowned with success even in such a sensitive area as the fight against terrorism. The opinion of Russia remains significant and weighty during dialogue with friendly states. The Russian Federation prioritises cooperation with friendly states in the current complicated conditions of foreign policy turbulence. For example, we are collaborating rather fruitfully with our partners at various regional associations, including the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation.
Close contacts between the security agencies of these associations’ member states are taking place under the auspices of the CIS Anti-Terrorism Centre and the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure. As for the CSTO, it can deploy its Collective Peacekeeping Forces in the shortest possible time, and this is an extremely important, effective and essential factor in facilitating counter-terrorism security in the zone of its responsibility.
Additionally, the BRICS Counter-Terrorism Working Group now ranks among the most advanced cross-regional formats. The BRICS Counter-Terrorism Strategy and the Action Plan for its implementation, drafted in 2020 and 2021 when Russia and India chaired BRICS, are the gold standard, reflecting an analytical and well-thought-out perception of real, rather than imaginary, terrorist threats.
The Russian Federation also supports constructive dialogue on counter-terrorism operations with the states of the African continent. The Declaration of the Second Russia-Africa Summit on Strengthening Cooperation in the Fight against Terrorism, signed following the Second Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg in July 2023, reflects the common approaches of our countries.
“We will continue to coordinate joint efforts in the above-mentioned multilateral formats, including those aimed at streamlining the existing mechanisms for coping with the security risks of the states involved,” the statement finally said.
The Beslan school siege and the Moscow theater siege were the toughest tests that Vladimir Putin went through during his 20 years in power. “Major terrorist attacks were the toughest to deal with. The Beslan school siege was one of them. I will never forget it. Another one was the Moscow theater siege,” Putin noted in the Kremlin.
Back in 2019, officers and rescuers who helped to release hostages from Beslan’s School No.1 in 2004 were awarded by Vyacheslav Bitarov in the Caucasus republic of North Ossetia.
More than 1,200 people were taken hostage during the terrorist attack at a school in the North Ossetian city of Beslan, which occurred on September 1, 2004, the first day of the academic year. The tragedy claimed 334 lives, including 186 children. Some 126 of these hostages became handicapped, of them 70 children.
The school, located next to the district police station, housed approximately 60 teachers and more than 800 students. Its gymnasium, where most of the hostages were held for 52 hours, was a recent addition, measuring 10 metres (33 ft) wide and 25 metres (82 ft) long.
There were reports that men disguised as repairmen had secreted weapons and explosives into the school during July 2004, something that the authorities later denied. However, several witnesses have since testified they were forced to help their captors remove the weapons from caches hidden in the school. There were also claims that a “sniper’s nest” on the sports-hall roof had been set up in advance.
The attack at Beslan was met with international abhorrence and universal condemnation. Countries and charities around the world donated to funds set up to assist the families and children that were involved in the Beslan crisis. This School No. 1 was one of seven schools in Beslan, a town of about 35,000 people in the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania in Russia’s Caucasus.
ISIS in Afghanistan exists, but the threat is overestimated
After a serious study, the UN Security Council management institutes issued a report concerning the activities of the Islamic State-Khorasan, a unit of an international terrorist organization in Afghanistan. The UNSC stated that the group is still a significant danger to the stability of the country and the Central Asia region. Despite the solid research, these conclusions seem exaggerated and alarmistic. In particular, the statistical data and the organization’s size proposed by the UN Security Council are in question. However, it is difficult to overestimate the value and importance of this report and the activities of the main UN institute. The most important thing for today is not to bypass the situation in Afghanistan and to push a diplomatic influence on the Taliban movement and its sponsors.
On the eve, the UN Security Council expressed apprehension regarding the activities of the Khorasan wing of ISIS and considered the Khorasan group “as the most serious terrorist threat in Afghanistan and neighboring Central Asian countries for nowadays.” In the UNSC report on the threats posed by ISIS, the number of militants of this group (together with their family members) is estimated from 4,000 to 6,000 people, exceeding previously published data on the number of ISIS members in Afghanistan. Some States from the Central Asian region believed that the number of Khorasan militants and their family members in Afghanistan was about 3.5 thousand people.
The report and the statement of the UN Security Council were spread in the media on August 25. “The terrorist group ISIS and its units still pose a danger in conflict zones and neighboring countries,” the statement said. It is reported that the operational capabilities of “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan” group have increased, and its attacks have become much harder.
It should be noted that the organization uses serious propaganda. For example, “The Voice of Khorasan” group produces propaganda in Pashtun, Persian, Tajik, Uzbek, and Russian to recruit new militants from ethnic groups in the region. According to the author of these lines, the organization conducted and tries to conduct propaganda in educational institutions of Afghanistan and some religious organizations and institutes.
Recall that the deadliest IS attack in the region occurred on July 30 this year at the congress of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party in Pakistan. As a result of this incident, at least 63 people were killed and more than 100 were injured. The organization also claimed responsibility for last week’s bombing in Kabul. Two people were killed, and one was injured.
The Afghan wing of IS has already been labeled in the West as IS-Khorasan. This group first declared itself in 2015. Although the main places of the organization’s activities are Afghanistan and Pakistan, the ancient Khorasan province traditionally covers the territories of modern Turkmenistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The headquarters of IG Khorasan is located in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. In January 2016, the US State Department included IG Khorasan in the list of terrorist organizations.
In the UN Security Council report, the member states of the SC called for preventing Afghanistan from becoming a hotbed of terrorism and stressed that “the Taliban should be encouraged not to deviate from its promise to destroy ISIS.” Meanwhile, the Taliban government considered the report of the UN Security Council on the threats posed by ISIS from Afghanistan to the world unfounded. “The fact that the activities of the Islamic State in Afghanistan over the past year have been reduced to zero, and the international organization publishes such undocumented and negative propaganda and cannot provide proof of this, puts the organization’s status into question,” the Taliban stated.
“The ambassadors to the UN Security Council were informed by two high-ranking counterterrorism officials about the threats posed by the IG, including the presence of 20 groups in our country, the development of weapons, and statements about increasing the operational capabilities of the IG. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan rejects these unfounded accusations again, calling for clear participation in such issues,” the Islamist movement said.
The Taliban claims that “anyone who makes such unfounded statements either has no information or strengthens the fighting spirit of the IG, which becomes bolder from this kind of propaganda, provokes instability in the region.” “The fact that the activities of the IG in Afghanistan over the past year have been reduced to zero, and the international organization publishes such undocumented and negative propaganda and cannot provide proof of this, puts the status of this organization into question,” the Taliban statement said. The Taliban claim that over the past two years, their security forces have conducted hundreds of operations against illegal armed groups and IS, “ammunition has been seized and the operational capabilities of IS have been destroyed.”
In addition, the UN report mentioned that up to 5-7 thousand people are still in terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. “Experts said that despite the counterterrorism operations against ISIS, the group still has 5-7 thousand people in Iraq and Syria, most of them are militants. However, the IG deliberately reduced the intensity of attacks in order to focus on recruiting new fighters and regrouping,” the agency notes. It follows from the UN Security Council report that despite the IG’s losses and reduced activity in Iraq and Syria, the situation is still dynamic, and the terrorists can seriously strengthen their positions again.
It should be noted that the UN Security Council report has become a significant and relevant phenomenon among social scientists, researchers of international relations, Terrorism Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies. It is clear that after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the situation with international terrorism deteriorated, as the author of these lines has repeatedly written about. For example, in neighboring Pakistan, the number of terrorist attacks increased several times, which caused the death of a large number of civilians. Despite the statements and promises of the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad and among the Pakistani military elite and the ISI intelligence services, given to the international community publicly and on the sidelines, there is no real fight against international terrorism.
At the same time, the UN Security Council statistics on the number of IS militants in Afghanistan seem to be overstated. The Taliban is still a monopoly radical terrorist organization in Afghanistan. Despite the large number of various terrorist organizations located on the territory of this country, they cannot be a significant threat or competitor to the Taliban. They have historical and fundamental support and sponsorship from the Pakistani military. In addition, the Taliban are an ethnic organization and, despite their radicalism and repression, have support among broad segments of the civilian population. As for the statements of the Taliban about their struggle and the victory over the IG Khorasan, they are not totally meaningless, but this does not deny the fact that the radical movement is not fighting other terrorists in Afghanistan.
Instability in the Sahel Flames Terror Attacks in Benin
While many international observers have been focused on the war in Ukraine, Chinese aggression towards Taiwan, the violence in Sudan, or the recent coup in Niger, there has been an alarming increase of terror activity in the West African country of Benin that could pose additional security implications for the rest of the continent.
On the night of May 1, as Labor Day celebrations were wrapping up, an unidentified armed gang entered and attacked the village of Koabagou. On May 3, approximately 30 miles to the east, the village of Toura suffered a similar attack. Reports indicate over 20 people were killed and a further number of young men kidnapped. Strikingly, many of the bodies had had their throats slit. The attacks took place in the north of Benin, specifically the area adjacent to the Pendajari and W natural parks which border Burkina Faso and Niger, which have long been used by terrorists to hide and organize attacks.
Since 2019, Benin has witnessed an increase in intensity and frequency of terrorist attacks by extremist groups. These have increased 10-fold in the period July-December 2022.  Terrorist activity had been characterized by smuggling, kidnappings, and attacks on state structures such as border posts leading to skirmishes with security forces. This has since escalated to attacks on civilian structures, such as schools, and more sophisticated assaults on security forces and park rangers. However, what makes the May attacks significant was the large scale targeting of civilians. Although at this stage no reasons have been provided, we can consider the potential implications of such violence. It is also not clear who committed the attack although it is likely to have been carried out either by Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslinn (JNIM) or by the Islamic State in Greater Sahel (ISGS) although analysts agree that violent extremist groups are often composed of sub-groups with varying degrees of autonomy.
The attacks form part of a playout of the wider conflict in the Sahel. Both JNIM and ISGS have their power bases outside Benin, in Burkina Faso and Mali respectively. Both groups also have contact with extremist groups in Nigeria, who, since 2020 have increased and expanded their presence into the north-east of the country, on the border regions with Benin and Niger.  The park areas of northern Benin have been a conduit for the groups, and it is not clear whether the attacks are a result of expansion and/or competition between them. The attacks could also signify that the drive for conflict is increasingly due to endogenous reasons leading to increased Benin fighters and that JNIM’s goals in the country are changing from a “means to an end.”
The implication being that the reasons for the spread and perseverance of the attacks have their roots in Benin. Attacks also serve to recruit fighters directly through the kidnapping of young men  but also indirectly by stoking communal tensions over resources especially with the nomadic Peul. The Peul are often regarded unfairly as “foreigners” and sympathetic to extremist groups are prime targets for recruitment by JNIM.  Ultimately, the indiscriminate attack on civilians represents a more violent phase of terrorist aggression and a challenge to the Benin state with 2023 already on track to exceed 2022, the worst year on record.
The Global Fragility Act (GFA) was passed with bipartisan support in Congress and signed into law to address the catalysts of violent conflict and extremism and identified priority countries for its implementation. The GFA is innovative in that it takes a long-term view of addressing underlying causes of instability and brings in the expertise of different agencies of the United States government to address them. One of the priority areas is a group of West African states along the coast, including Benin.  The May attacks demonstrate not only how the conflict in the wider Sahel has expanded into coastal West Africa, but also how it is unleashing communal tensions amplified by increased competition for resources – and how quickly these can take hold and propagate. This is why it is important that the issues are addressed in Benin, not only for the purposes of preventing further instability and bloodshed in the country, but in the wider sub-region.
This is not an unsolvable problem, however. There are several steps that policymakers can take to address this issue. Although combatting terrorists requires a military intervention, this cannot be the only response. A strategy to address the underlying socio-economic causes of the conflict needs to be developed and owned by the local communities most affected. The government is best placed to drive the strategy, bringing in partners with it, to listen to communities’ grievances, identify solutions and establish roadmaps to achieve them.
- According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (ACLED)
- James Barnett and Murtala Ahmed Rufa’i, “A ‘Sahelian’ or a ‘Littoral’: Crisis? Examining the Widening of Nigeria’s Boko Haram Conflict,” Hudson Institute, April 5, 2023
- Kars de Brujine, “Conflict in the Penta-Border Area: Benin’s Northern Jihad from the perspectives of its neighbours,” (Den Haag: Clingendael, December 2022)
- “84 orphans and 25 widows after the attack of Ketou”, May 16, 2023 headline of the on-line paper “24-hours Benin” indicates men were the targets of the killings and the kidnappings.
- NIM is often thought to be dominated by ethnic Peul although has proved capable of “recruiting from several different ethnic bases,” Eleanor Beevor, “JNIM in Burkina Faso: A Strategic Criminal Actor,” Global Initiative Against Transitional Organized Crime, August 2022
- Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Togo.
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