By Julija Sardelić

The citizenship stripping of Suhayra Aden (similarly as in the Shamima Begum case), will not lead to justice or security says Julija Sardelić. 

In the last month, the question of citizenship revocation as a security measure hit the frontpages of global media once again. While the UK Supreme Court was deciding whether or not Shamima Begum (who had been stripped of UK citizenship earlier in a well-known case) could return to the UK to challenge her citizenship revocation through the judicial system, Australia has stripped the citizenship of (now former) dual Australian New Zealand citizen Suhayra Aden, who was found in Turkey and allegedly connected to the ISIS terrorist group. The UK Supreme Court decided that Shamima Begum’s return would represent a national security risk should she return to the UK (which effectively rendered her stateless). When Australia revoked 26-year-old Suharya Aden’s citizenship (without a trial), Australian Prime Minister (PM) Scott Morrison proclaimed Aden as the ‘enemy of our country’ and said that the citizenship revocation act defends ‘Australia’s national security interests’.

Citizenship revocation in the case of Aden caused a diplomatic dispute between Australia and New Zealand, as New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern claimed that Australia is avoiding responsibility for a person who has lived most of her life in Australia and became radicalised there. Judith Collins supported Australia’s PM’s decision to strip Aden of her Australian citizenship. She criticised the current New Zealand Government for not acting fast enough to strip the alleged ISIS terrorist of her New Zealand citizenship before Australia did, given that she had a very weak connection to New Zealand despite being a citizen by birth.

Further statements by National Party representatives cemented their view that the NZ Government should do more to enhance the security of New Zealand in a similar manner to what Australia has been doing.  The question at hand is: does citizenship revocation of suspected terrorists enhance security or avoid responsibility? How do scholars, especially citizenship experts, comment on this conundrum?

There is almost unanimous consensus among experts that citizenship stripping of alleged terrorists is not only dubious in terms of human rights protection, but also not particularly effective from the security perspective. As legal scholar and citizenship expert Rayner Thwaites from the University of Sydney comments, the diplomatic dispute between Australia and New Zealand did not come from the citizenship revocation itself, but when it became clear that Aden’s Australian passport was cancelled in 2020 and that she won’t be able to return to Australia, but only to New Zealand as a citizen.

As Thwaites commented, Aden lost her citizenship under a legal provision that has been since revoked: her citizenship revocation was automatic without her being convicted of terrorism through a trial (the UK has acted similarly in Begum’s case). Since then the Australian law on citizenship has changed and only dual citizens who have been convicted of being a part of a terrorist group can be stripped of citizenship. Convicted terrorists who only have one citizenship, following Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (on the right to nationality and prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of nationality), cannot be stripped of citizenship as this would leave them stateless.

This is where the United Kingdom acted against the international law, as Devyani Prabhat, law Professor at the University of Bristol, has showed, as it left Begum stateless when depriving her of her citizenship.

Similarly, Australia acted against its own legislation and international law, when it deprived Neil Prakash of his Australian citizenship. In his statement in the Australian Parliament, Peter Dutton, Minster of Home Affairs stated: “Cessation of Australian citizenship of dual nationals engaged in terrorist conduct offshore is a key part (my emphasis) of Australia’s response to international violent extremism and terrorism. Dual citizens who choose to be involved in terrorism forfeit the privileges of Australian citizenship and I remain committed to enforcing the legal provisions that remove them. Our first priority is, and will always be, the safety and security of Australians.” While Prakash had been convicted in Turkey for his terrorist activities, the Australian Government did not actually check with its Fijian counter-part if Prakash held Fijian citizenship in reality, but this was simply assumed.

The other problematic angle of citizenship stripping without a trial in some of the above mentioned cases was that by not considering all the circumstances, they violated children’s rights, as experts have warned: Begum was a 15-year old minor when she was groomed to become an ‘ISIS bride’ and Aden’s children will be deported with their mother to New Zealand, a country they have no family connections to. Furthermore, by not considering all the circumstances in each of the cases before depriving them of citizenship, the countries in question have deprived the individuals in question of a possible fair punishment (with a trial and a possible imprisonment), as Milena Tripković, criminologist citizenship expert from Edinburgh Law School has argued.

Yet the initial question was less about human rights and more about security.  Does stripping the citizenship of those alleged terrorists who are dual citizens enforce national security?

However, there has been a lot of systematic research to show that the ‘home-grown’ terrorists are a greater threat to security than foreign fighter returnees. This puts under question the policy of stripping the citizenship of dual citizens being a key part of the Australia Government’s approach to keeping their country safe. Firstly, citizenship stripping does not respond to the problem of terrorists who are not dual citizens. Furthermore, it is not clear that the threat of citizenship stripping is greater penalty than convicting someone as a terrorist in a judicial process.

While both Shamima Begum and Suhayra Aden have been allegedly a part of ISIS as women married to foreign fighters, it is not clear whether the courts would decide they could be considered as terrorists themselves and with it a security threat per se. All this would have to be proven. Because of the failure to examine the individual circumstances that led to a person who spent most of her life in Australia becoming radicalised in the first place, and making a decision to travel to Syria to join ISIS, most citizenship scholars support Jacinda Ardern’s statement that the Australian Government is avoiding responsibility by paying lip-service to national security (perhaps in the hope this will give them votes in the next election).

Finally, there is another angle where citizens might feel that their safety is endangered. Scott Morrison has proclaimed Aden as the ‘enemy of our state’ although she has not gone through a trial process where it would be shown that she acted against Australia. Similar statements have been made about Shamima Begum. Scholars have also widely researched and proven that it is only certain groups for whom their citizenship is conditional, that is primarily naturalised citizens who belong to stigmatised minorities.

The vast majority of recognised terrorist groups in Australia are connected to jihadist terrorism. It was only in March 2021 that a far right neo-Nazi group has been added to the list, while it has been clear at least since the Christchurch attack in March 2019 that white supremacy groups represent a significant similar terrorist threat. There has also been no discussion in the media of possibly stripping white supremacist terrorists of their citizenship.

While Aden was without trial proclaimed as an ‘enemy of our state’ similar statements have not been made about a white supremacist convicted for the terrorist attack in the Christchurch Mosque. In fact I could find only one case where a convicted white supremacist terrorist was stripped of his citizenship: Janusz Wallus, a formed dual Polish South African citizen, was stripped of his South African citizenship after being convicted of killing an anti-apartheid activist Christ Hani.

In conclusion, as I have argued in my previous BigQ piece, the citizenship stripping of Suhayra Aden (similarly as in the Shamima Begum case), will not lead either to justice, since she did not have a chance to stand trial, nor to security, since the underlying causes that led to her potential radicalisation remain unaddressed in the country where this happened, which was not New Zealand.


Julija Sardelić is a Lecturer in Political Science at Victoria University of Wellington. She has a general research interest in citizenship and migration including minority rights, statelessness and forced migration. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article reflect the author’s opinion and not necessarily the views of The Big Q. 

See Also:

Does stripping people of citizenship lead to security and justice?

What will migration look like after the pandemic?