The rushed-through changes that allow the Australian and UK authorities to bar people who travelled to Syria (for example) to return home to their respective countries, even if only for a limited period – say, for two years – is illegal and a contravention of international law. By placing a ban on someone returning in this way or suspending their use of a passport, this would render that person stateless, which is not allowed under UN conventions.
The measures were announced by British Prime Minister David Cameron not in the British Parliament but in the Australian Parliament in Canberra (Australia had already introduced similar measures a fortnight earlier).
Today, Liberty, the UK civil rights organisation, issued a statement saying that these measures would be open to legal challenge either in the UK courts (and presumably in the Australian courts too) or in the international courts. Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty said: “Dumping suspected citizens like toxic waste, abdicating your responsibilities to the international community, is a very strange way of promoting the rule of law”.
Sara Olgivie, on behalf of Liberty, added: If individuals are not allowed back…they will be de facto stateless… The UK [and Australia] has a number of international obligations not to render people stateless and it is difficult to see how [these measures] would not violate them.”
Last month Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney-General expressed his reservations about such measures.
Another organisation, the Quilliam Foundation, stated that alternative measures “should encourage [British] citizens to return and face due process rather than force them to stay in a crisis zone and further radicalise themselves or others in the UK through their online activities”. It added: “We should not develop legislation that assumes individuals are guilty until proven innocent”, which is a basic tenet of English law.
People go to Syria and its border areas for a myriad of reasons: including to provide aid to those victims of ISIS violence or of the Assad regime, or to provide support to those fighting ISIS or the Assad regime (but not as part of ISIS or its affiliates) such as the Free Syrian Army or the Kurdish militias . Some may also go to the war zone but become disillusioned by what they find and wish to return home. In Denmark the policy there is to be discriminating about those who return and not to make assumptions. Intelligence – in both senses of the word – is key here.
Meanwhile, stand by for legal challenges.