Recently the UK supreme court ruled against IS bride Shamina Begum's attempt to return to the UK to fight her citizenship being revoked.

As I understand it, what happened here was that the UK wanted to disown Shamina Begum after she joined the Islamic State. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights held that she cannot made stateless, but Shamina Begum held dual nationality, making it possible for the UK to revoke her citizenship and make her another country's responsibility (in this case Bangladesh). This seems rather silly to me, because it makes it an arms race to see who can revoke her citizenship faster. On the other hand, why can't the UK just revoke Shamina Begum's citizenship even if she held no other citizenship, since she evidently identified as an Islamic State citizen? Could the UK have done so without violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Only thing I can see is that doing so would constitute de facto recognition of IS as a sovereign country, but even then I don't see why it would be a problem, given that there are other states the UK does not recognize that control territory, e.g. Taiwan.


6 Answers 6


Because recognizing another entity as a country entails admitting it's legally entitled to hold some territory. So the next question would have been: what territory is ISIS legally entitled to hold/control?

No country wanted to admit ISIS was legally entitled to any territory.

For example this was the US position, no doubt reflected by many/most other Western countries:

On the eve of the 13th anniversary of 9/11, Obama finally issued a statement which purported to define ‘ISIL’. Yet both the timing and the content, with a brief reference to location, only reinforced the abstraction:

ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq– Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. [...]

At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain. And one of those groups is ISIL—which calls itself the ‘Islamic State’.

  • 6
    Why can't a country recognize another as legally entitled to hold territory while simultaneously looking to destroy the country? I'm sure it has happened in the past, e.g. during the Korean war or Qin's wars of unification in ancient China.
    – Allure
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 3:34
  • 10
    @Allure: Qin wars are irrelevant to the 20th-21st century conception of a state. As for Korea, if you're sure, write your own answer. If that's actually a[nother] question, ask separately, either here or on history SE. Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 4:04
  • 5
    Unfortunately, I can't write my own answer to this question because I don't know what the answer is.
    – Allure
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 4:04
  • 33
    @Allure ISIS is a terrorist organisation. You imply it's more than just that if you recognise it as a country and doing so adds to its legitimacy (which is bad). Trying to wipe out another country probably also isn't the best political position to put yourself in. A country implies there are a lot of innocent people just trying to live their lives and they are justified in defending themselves (to a large degree). I'm also pretty sure that a country, by its very definition, needs to consist of some land (not just have a theoretical right to own some); who's land are you going to give to them?
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 9:36
  • 10
    @NotThatGuy Nitpicking a bit, but many countries recognize the Sovereign Military Order of Malta as being sovereign and legitimate, though it neither holds nor claims territory. I'm not sure to what degree it's considered a "country" with "citizens", but it does issue passports at least
    – Sara J
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 11:04

Clever arguments don't really matter that much, it doesn't make the problem disappear, from either a political or human rights perspective. Some countries have revoked citizenship in similar conditions, if you are prepared to do it and do not fear the local court system, you don't need to be cute about it. Conversely, if you care even a little bit about the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the criticism you might get from NGO, it's not clear what this sleight of hand would buy you.


Your question is predicated on an entirely false assumption, namely:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights held that she cannot made stateless

The UDHR is merely a declaration, and as such is not legally binding. The 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness are treaties, which are legally binding, and which both Bangladesh and the United Kingdom have ratified (and hence are legally bound by).

Article 8 of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness specifies the following:

Contracting States shall not deprive people of their nationality so as to render them stateless. (Exceptions: where otherwise provided in the Convention; where nationality has been acquired by misrepresentation or fraud; disloyalty to the Contracting State).

Begum's actions quite evidently fall under the highlighted exception.

Further, the UK explicitly catered for this scenario in its laws via the 2014 Immigration Act, which amended the 1981 British Nationality Act. Section 66, "Deprivation if conduct seriously prejudicial to vital interests of the UK":

... that does not prevent the Secretary of State from making an order under subsection (2) to deprive a person of a citizenship status if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person, while having that citizenship status, has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, any of the Islands, or any British overseas territory...

Again, Begum's actions can easily be categorized as the bolded section.

In short, both in terms of UN and United Kingdom law, there was nothing illegal about the UK's action in depriving Begum of British citizenship. The fact that doing so ostensibly left her a Bangladeshi citizen is irrelevant; her Bangladeshi citizenship lapsed once she turned 22 (another consequence of the 1961 Convention) and there is no requirement for Bangladesh to extend that citizenship to prevent her from being made stateless.

  • According to the article linked in the question, Begum is 21. The problem is that Bangladesh is on the record as saying that she is not and never had been a citizen of Bangladesh, and UDHR aside, there are IIRC provisions in UK law protecting people from being made stateless.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 22:17
  • 4
    Furthermore, you have misquoted the amendment to the 1981 nationality act that is made by the 2014 Immigration Act. There are three elements to 4A, and all of them must be true for 4A to apply. The first element is "the citizenship status results from the person's naturalisation," which appears not to be the case. Therefore, 4A does not apply to Shamima Begum. Another problem with this answer is that it seems to say that the government was within its right to deprive her of her citizenship, but that is not what the supreme court said. This answer is fundamentally incorrect.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 22:46
  • Another problem here: Bangladesh has not signed either of the conventions, much less ratified them, in contrast to the claim in this answer.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 11:26

Frame shift (but not defending ISIS members in the least).

(for clarity: "citizenship" below refers only to Western citizenship. ISIS is not, and should not be considered, a state).

If one defines citizenship as, among other things, the capacity to return to one's country of citizenship, it seems that, in practice, rather than fine legal details, Western states are already largely curtailing recognizing citizenship with regards to ISIS members.




Searching for "ISIS citizen repatriation" and you will see many such articles - Western countries are often not taking back their citizens.

Should they? That's another question, but I certainly feel the countries which are serving as involuntary hosts are being ill-treated.

  • 1
    The difference between absolutely refusing and not actively “repatriating” citizens is not merely a fine legal detail.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 19:46
  • @Relaxed perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the meaning of largely curtailing Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 19:49
  • Can you clarify how this answer is related to the question in the OP?
    – Allure
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 3:14
  • @Allure In practice, though they don't formalize it by law, a number of Western countries are already largely not recognizing the rights of their citizens who fought for ISIS. I am not expressing approval, or disapproval, of this approach, only remarking that the OP's question is already somewhat superseded/sidestepped by actual practice. Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 4:25
  • 1
    "western citizenship"? Is citizenship of an Asian country such as China or Laos somehow different from citizenship of a western European country such as the UK or Spain?
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 22:14

I'm the opposite of an expert, so I could easily be missing some nuance here, but it appears the UDHR is not legally binding

Although not legally binding, the contents of the UDHR have been elaborated and incorporated into subsequent international treaties [...]

Emphasis mine.

There's no reason for the UK to recognise the so-called IS as a state to play lawyer chess when they're fully within the law to just delete her citizenship, as described by Ian Kemp.

  • Mrs. Begum is a person who arguably had another citizenship, so the question doesn’t really apply to her. It applies much more to hundred others in a similar position with only UK citizenship.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 10:19
  • Which doesn't invalidate my answer at all, there's no reason for the UK to play lawyer chess in any way because the UDHR is not legally binding. Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 13:02
  • The UDHR isn't binding, but the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness is binding on the UK, and the UK's own laws about nationality implement its requirements, which is why the "lawyer chess" is in fact necessary.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 11:31
  • @phoog I notice you're making a great deal of comments here disagreeing with answers, but no answers yourself. Perhaps you should. Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 12:17

It's quite simple: you can't be a citizen in a country that doesn't exist. Admitting that they had become a citizen of the Islamic State would necessarily entail admitting that the Islamic State is, in fact, a state (rather than merely a terrorist group), which is a non-starter for most western countries.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .