UK Proposal Threatens to Undermine Global Fight against Statelessness

NEW YORK—Members of the upper house of the British parliament should reject a government proposal that would allow British citizens to be made stateless, undermining an important principle of international law, the Open Society Justice Initiative said today.

In a departure from current law, Clause 60 of the Immigration Bill, now before the House of Lords, would enable the government to strip citizenship from individuals who have acquired British citizenship by naturalization, and then acted with serious prejudice to the vital interests of the UK, even in cases where this would leave the individual stateless.

By contrast, current UK law bars the Home Secretary from making people stateless, except where British citizenship was obtained by misrepresentation or fraud.

Approval for Clause 60, which will be debated in the coming days, would signal to other countries that making people stateless is acceptable to the international community. This would undermine the principles of the 1961 UN Convention on Reducing Statelessness, to which the UK is a party.

James A. Goldston, Executive Director of the Justice Initiative, urged the United Kingdom to drop the proposal:

“The United Kingdom has been a leader in the struggle to reduce statelessness and helped write the 1961 United Nations Convention on Reduction of Statelessness. Changing UK law in the manner currently proposed would signal to other governments that creating statelessness can be an acceptable instrument of policy.”

Clause 60 is not just bad policy; it may also put the UK in breach of international law. When it joined the 1961 Convention, the UK took advantage of an exception permitting a country to preserve existing laws on deprivation of citizenship. In 2002, in a decision supported by Members of Parliament of all the leading parties, the UK Parliament repealed these laws, and thus restricted the government’s ability to make someone stateless except in the limited circumstances noted above. It is doubtful that the Convention would allow a state to go back on such a decision and reintroduce the old laws in a manner which is less protective of individual rights.

The government introduced Clause 60 after it lost a bid to strip citizenship from Hilal Al-Jedda in the UK Supreme Court last October. The Home Secretary wanted to take away British citizenship from al-Jedda, who was originally an Iraqi citizen, because of alleged terrorist activities. The court decided that Al-Jedda had already lost his Iraqi citizenship and that this meant he could not have his British citizenship taken away, because this would leave him stateless.

The Justice Initiative submitted a third party intervention in the al-Jedda case, focused on the international law on statelessness.