[EVENT] Nationality deprivation in the era of Rohingya genocide and ISIS fighters

Published 4 March 2020


Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, this event has been changed into a webinar that will take place on the same day instead. For more information and to register please follow this link



The Asser Institute will co-organise an event with the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) and Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) on 19 March ”Nationality deprivation in the era of Rohingya genocide and ISIS fighters”. To attend this event, register here.

Citizenship stripping as a counter-terrorism measure has recently received a lot of attention because of the phenomenon of (returning) ‘foreign fighters’. However, deprivation of nationality has always existed throughout the history of international law. In 1982, the Rohingya people were stripped of their citizenship, leaving them not only stateless but vulnerable to further persecution, and furthermore, states have often used this measure to silence human rights defenders. With the scope of the use of citizenship stripping measures becoming wider, the question now is what impact these measures have on the right to nationality and how they are to be understood in light of the international law prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality and onus on states to avoid statelessness? ISI and OSJI are therefore launching a Year of Action against Citizenship Stripping, which includes the publication of Principles on Deprivation of Nationality as a National Security Measure.

Principles on Deprivation of Nationality as a National Security Measure
The Principles restate international law, reflect existing standards and draw on practices that guide and limit state power to deprive persons of their nationality as a purported counter-terrorism and national security measure. Laura van Waas, Co-Director of ISI, explains that the use of nationality deprivation to protect national security has increased in the recent era, which is also characterised by the rise of “authoritarianism, growth of the security state, increasing populism, xenophobia and racism.” Yet (the right to) citizenship lies at the core of democratic societies, and its erosion is cause for concern. Van Waas says that “history tells us to be suspicious of governments seeking to instrumentalise the use of denationalisation” and therefore the aim of these Principles is to raise awareness on the international law standards states must be held to, in order to “promote a more rules-based, inclusive and rights-protecting approach.”

Security Concerns
Dr Christophe Paulussen, Senior Researcher at the Asser Institute and Research Fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, notes that citizenship stripping is not only problematic from an international law, but also from a security perspective. “Depriving for example a Dutch foreign fighter in Syria of his nationality may seem like a strong and efficient counter-terrorism measure, but it does not bring that person to justice for his alleged crimes; rather, it shoves the problem temporarily away, into the hands of actors that may have fewer or no capabilities to do something about it. Moreover, in the long term, the person could become a risk, also for the national security of the depriving country and the security of the people under its jurisdiction, in a case where that person disappears off the radar and manages to get back into the country that turned its back against him.” Politicians may state that national security will be strengthened because that person will not be allowed to re-enter the depriving country. However, according to Paulussen, this constitutes “a very narrow perspective, both in terms of time and place, of the concept of security, one that is arguably no longer in sync with the realities of our hyper-connected world”. Moreover, since citizenship stripping is only possible for people with two nationalities (often people from minority groups), people from those groups may feel unjustly singled out by a measure that is not applicable to mono-citizens of the same country, hence designating them as second-class citizens. Paulussen concludes: “One needs to be mindful that exclusion, marginalisation and (perceived) discrimination are in fact among the drivers of terrorism.”

This event is co-organised by the Asser research strand on Human Dignity and Human Security in International and European Law. This research strand adopts a human rights approach to contemporary global challenges, inter alia in the fields of counter-terrorism, especially with regard to the topic of foreign (terrorist) fighters, international and transnational crimes, new technologies and artificial intelligence, and historical memory.