The once self-styled caliphate of the so-called Islamic State is in its final days of existence. What used to span the large swaths of Syria, Iraq, and parts of Libya has now been reduced to a small area in a town known as Baghouz. The once boisterous black flag waving band of militants who threatened the rest of humanity with annihilation now finds its members holding white flags up in a sign of penitence as they stream out of this small town in search for forgiveness from the Western supported Syrian Democratic Forces.

When it all began

At its height, ISIS drew members from all over the world with some Ghanaians reported as having joined the group. The appeal of ISIS was a strange one, especially for women. Here was a group that made bloodshed and annihilation of people who did not subscribe to its ultra-extreme interpretation of its doctrine a priority. For female members, they were subjected to full covering of their bodies and relegated to domestic duties at home. The misogyny of ISIS was highly pervasive yet it continued to draw in female recruits from western countries where the autonomy of a female’s body is protected. With the caliphate now reduced to rubbles and ruins, recruits from western countries find themselves locked up in makeshift prisons (for males) and camps (for women) run by the SDF.

The Status Quo

The number of inhabitants in these camps runs into the thousands with very little resources available for their nourishment. Thus far, most western countries have been hesitant in repatriating their citizens locked up in these camps and prisons. The president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, called on countries to take back their citizens so the SDF is not overburdened with the responsibility of catering for these persons. However, when a female recruit from Alabama, Hoda Muthana asked to be returned to the USA, the Trump administration stated that she was not a US citizen. This is despite the fact that she holds a US passport and was indeed born in the USA which essentially settles the question of her citizenship as the US has a jus soli policy (which makes you a citizen by birthright that is where you were born).


The Curious Case of Shamima Begum

The United Kingdom’s Home Office is also currently embroiled in a saga over its withdrawal of the citizenship of a female ISIS recruit, Shamima Begum. 19 years and with a daughter, the UK Home Office withdrew her citizenship because of her ties with ISIS but the withdrawal was after she gave birth to her son which meant the baby was still a citizen. Unfortunately, the baby died this week and it once again brought to the fore the question of whether a country could withdraw the citizenship of its citizen and render the person stateless. The UK however contends that Shamima has not been made stateless as she has Bangladeshi citizenship via her parents. Bangladesh on the other hand stated that Shamima has no such citizenship rights in their country.

What International Law Says

The 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless persons defines a stateless person as person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law. From the definition, it thus become clear that having your citizenship revokes by country A does not necessarily make you stateless. There needs to be established further that you are not a citizen of any other country. That is why the UK Home Office is insisting on the citizenship of Shamima in Bangladesh so she will not be said to be stateless.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination stated on 1 October 2014 that the “deprivation of citizenship on the basis of race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin is a breach of States’ obligations to ensure non-discriminatory enjoyment of the right to nationality”. It could be argued that returning ISIS recruits are not being denied their citizenship on the basis of any of the above identifiers but on grounds of criminal conduct. However, such a punishment is said to be cruel and unusual punishment. This was the holding of the U.S. Supreme Court in Trop v. Dulles, a case that was cited in the famous Ghanaian case of Fattal and Another v. Minister for Internal Affairs and Another.

To withdraw or not to withdraw citizenship

It therefore cannot be the case that states have the right to withdraw the citizenship of persons from their countries who fight for ISIS or any other terrorist group. That will be wrong under international law and constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Even beyond the legality of it all, it is very desirable to repatriate these persons into the criminal justice system of the countries they are citizens of for the purpose of rehabilitation. With the ever increasing number of inmates and inhabitants of these prisons and camps, re-indoctrination is a huge risk. There is also the risk of uprisings in these places as the SDF which mans these incarceration centers have been complaining of being understaffed.