IS Bride - An Issue of Human Rights?

Edward Baker - Writer

Former Islamic State member Shamima Begum has lost her fight in returning to the UK; this defeat came from the Home Office’s harsh and rapid revocation of her citizenship. The decision has been widely accepted across media outlets and in the opinion of the general public, due to the abhorrent stigma that is attached to IS fighters and terrorism in general. On the whole it would be difficult to view why anyone would approve of a terrorist being granted permission to return to home soil after abandoning British values. However due to the quick process in which this decision has found itself, met with the facts of the Shamima case, another view could be more appealing considering a Human Rights application.

The legal basis of stripping Mrs Begum of her citizenship has been enacted solely on her supposed dual nationality with Bangladesh. Under the British Nationality Act 1981, it is possible to remove citizenship providing no statelessness occurs as a result. This statute would thereby be applicable providing that her mother’s supposed Bangladeshi nationality is legitimate. To strengthen this claim Mrs Begum’s nationality remains passive in Bangladesh till the age of 21 which then requires positive action to retain it, Mrs Begum is only 19 years of age so would therefore be applicable to retain her nationality.

Authorities in Bangladesh state there is no question of her being allowed into the country and Mrs Begum has never actually set foot in Bangladesh. The quick decision made by the Home Office shows the pressures of the case but has the potential to render Mrs Begum and her son statelessness if Bangladeshi citizenship is not established. This has opened up criticism of the decision on the basis of the UK’s obligations to the European Convention of Human Rights.

Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) states:
1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

A denial of citizenship has the potential in certain circumstances to raise an issue under Article 8 because of the impact such denial would have on the private and family life of the individual. The stance of the ECHR is shown in the case K2 v The United Kingdom which has strong resemblance to that of Mrs Begum’s situation. The applicant in this case left the UK in breach of his bail and therefore had his citizenship revoked based on public safety due to involvement with terrorist activities.

A key issue argued is the applicant’s inability to make the case from abroad due to fears from harm, the court stated that Article 8 could not be interpreted to impose an obligation for a state to facilitate the return of every person deprived from citizenship in order to appeal against the states verdict. Another issue of major importance noted by the court was the fact the applicant would not be rendered statelessness as a result. Where statelessness would take place, deprivation of citizenship would have a severe impact on the private and family life on the individual raising article 8 concerns.

Mrs Begum still has appeal routes within the UK court system available to her to contest the decision. However due to the fact Mrs Begum is only 19 and has recently given birth to her son, a violation of article 8 would be much more probable than that in K2. Furthermore, a Sudanese nationality was established in K2 before the revocation of citizenship, here it is much more of an uncertain scenario. The involvement in terrorist activities is of key importance, where a terrorist act has been performed, an application under article 8 for deprivation of citizenship would be somewhat foolish following the interests of national security and public safety. Mrs Begums role in IS will be unclear however K2s involvement shows a higher degree of involvement.

Should the UK then have a greater obligation to Mrs Begum to prevent an interference with her private and family life? From the distinct circumstances it would be unconscionable for the UK not to. The UK has a responsibility to ensure rehabilitation and delivery of justice regarding its own citizens. How far should Mrs Begum be treated differently due to the nature of her crime and is this treatment proportionate to her Article 8 rights? At the age of 15 and being groomed and exploited by IS should the UK take this into consideration as a mitigating factor. The UK legal system emphasises on youth rehabilitation, which is a prevalent aim, and yet this system has currently neglected Mrs Begum from any chance of it. The approach of depriving Mrs Begum of her citizenship is passing on the responsibility it owes to it citizens whereas the UK could attempt at rehabilitation just like it would with any other youth citizen.

The reaction of the general public makes it seem somewhat impossible for the UK to consider Mrs Begum’s situation as well as her rights under Article 8 in their entirety. Allowing Mrs Begum to enter the UK and retain her citizenship would be met with widespread issues and controversy. Despite this, the rash decision of the Home Office has shown great potential to neglect her rights for a family and private life. If the appeal process is pursued by Mrs Begum, it will be of great interest to see her legal standing in the UK and the effect of the European Convention of Human Rights on her position.

Editor's Note - This article was written before reports of the death of Shimama Begum's son on the 9th of March 2019 and therefore makes no mention of it.

Photo Credit - Annie Spratt -


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