Blog: ‘Deprivation of nationality of Dutch IS fighters is counter-productive’

Published 4 November 2019


According to Dutch newspaper NRC, the Dutch public prosecution service and Minister Grapperhaus (Justice and Security) are taking opposing sides in the question of IS fighters. The public prosecution service wants to bring the Dutch IS fighters to justice in the Netherlands as quickly as possible, writes the newspaper, while the Minister wants to revoke the nationality of these so-called foreign fighters. This deprivation of nationality as a counter-terrorism measure is inefficient and even counter-productive, think Asser researchers Dr Christophe Paulussen and Dr Rumyana van Ark.

“It’s mainly for the stage, that states use citizenship stripping as a counter-terrorism measure, says Paulussen. “It is to show that joining IS is not tolerated. But citizenship stripping has little to do with effectiveness or problem solving. It is an illusion that a jihadist no longer poses a threat once he or she has been stripped of nationality. Current transnational terrorism does not detract from national borders. It is easy to cross borders, either via smuggling routes or with fictitious passports.”

Deprivation of nationality as a counter-terrorism measure might even be counter-productive, says Paulussen. For a start, the measure can only apply to people with dual nationality, as it is illegal under international law to deprive someone of his/her nationality if it would leave a person stateless. Paulussen: “This creates a different treatment for different population groups: while Moroccan or Turkish Dutch citizens can be deprived of Dutch citizenship, Dutch nationals without dual nationality do not face the same fate. This can lead to feelings of discrimination among minority groups”, says Paulussen, "and research shows that this is one of the factors that can play a role in further radicalisation."

Modern version of banishment
Like Paulussen, Asser researcher Rumyana van Ark believes that revoking citizenship is a highly symbolic measure. “It is basically a modern version of banishment; you are expelled on the grounds of national security or for the public good. But by revoking a citizenship, a state simply exports the potential risks to another state. This is an arguably simpler and quicker solution than engaging in an investigation to establish criminality, court proceedings and rehabilitation.” The problem is that it may also remove important jurisdictional links for prosecution, thinks Paulussen, namely the ‘active nationality principle’, which permits a country to exercise criminal jurisdiction based on the nationality of the suspect. And, adds Paulussen, we should not forget that victims of terrorism often want prosecution too; they - quite understandably - want justice to be served.”

What to do with the children?
Then there is the question whether a specific policy should apply to the children of foreign fighters. Currently there are some 180 children living in Syria and Iraq who have at least one Dutch parent, several of whom are staying in camps controlled by armed groups. More than two-thirds of these children were born in the region. Most of them are younger than nine years old, with half of these being younger than four years old. Save the Children recently indicated that there are more than 2500 children from 30 countries living in three different camps in the Northeast Syria. With the recent invasion of Turkey, and the subsequent escape of detainees, the question what to do with these children has become even more pertinent.

According to Paulussen, states have various obligations towards children under international law, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to protect them against neglect and the results of war. Paulussen: “It is a matter of discussion whether or not these provisions apply extraterritorially, but such a progressive interpretation can definitely be made.”

‘Pass the buck mentality’
Deprivation of nationality reflects a ‘pass the buck mentality’, whereas international solidarity and cooperation are crucial to counter this international problem, thinks Paulussen. “When people are expelled after they have been deprived of their citizenship, or when people are no longer allowed to re-enter their former country of origin, they simply become the problem of another state. Yes, national security may be strengthened temporarily, because people are removed from the state’s territory. But this also means you lose control. It is unclear what will happen with that person, once he or she is expelled or no longer allowed in. This may have an effect on the security of other countries and maybe even on the security of the state of origin itself, because if people want to create havoc, they will succeed, with or without a passport, and no matter how long it takes”.

Further reading
Countering terrorism through the stripping of citizenship: ineffective and counterproductive
In this perspective, Dr Christophe Paulussen examines the scope and nature of citizenship stripping as a counter-terrorism measure and argues that it stands out in comparison to other counter-terrorism measures. This is because of its highly symbolic nature, its far-reaching effects, as well as its emphasis on ‘addressing’ the problem by making it the problem of other states. (ICCT Perspective, 2018)

Citizenship stripping: Protecting national security of passing the buck?
While the United States and its allies are clearing out the last pocket of territory in Syria controlled by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS), and celebrating the end of the ‘Caliphate’, there is a debate raging in western countries about the potential return of citizens who went to fight with IS, and their families. In addition to long-running discussions about whether to repatriate the fighters to face western courts, and ‘rescue’ their wives and children, now the discussion is centred on the potential to take away their citizenships, to prevent them from returning. In this interview with Justice Hub, Dr Christophe Paulussen explains why this is now a big discussion point.

Should Europe uphold the right to return even for Daesh families?
European powers are yet to claim their citizens, who want to return home from former Daesh-held territories in Syria, posing a significant question over whether the legal principle of the right to return will be applied. An interview in TRT World, featuring Dr Christophe Paulussen.

‘Legislative fever is not a long-term solution for stopping terrorism incitement’
Legislators and policy-makers should put more emphasis, expertise, and resources towards resolving the root causes of terrorism, rather than trying to curb the spread of extremism by feverishly expanding counter-terrorism legislation. That is the main conclusion of a new ICCT Perspective ‘Incitement to Terrorism – Treating the Symptoms or Addressing the Causal Malady?’ by Asser researcher and ICCT research fellow Dr Rumyana Grozdanova.

Policy brief: ‘Counter-terrorism measures need to be evaluated’
Read the full policy brief in which Asser researcher Dr Berenice Boutin discusses methods for evaluating counter-terrorism measures and provides suggestions for policy-makers. 

Asser International Crimes Database
The International Crimes Database offers an extensive online collection of international crimes broadly defined, such as genocide, war crimes, terrorism and piracy. It provides access to a range of information, not just for scholars and practitioners (such as judges, prosecutors and defence counsel), but also for students, journalists, families and communities of victims of crimes. It also contains a specific tab dealing with cases of foreign fighters.