Jawad Fairooz, Salam Chairman speech in opening session of Arbitrary Revocation of Citizenship Seminar

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues and friends,

I am delighted and honoured to host today’s seminar on the International Human Rights Challenge of Arbitrary Revocation of Citizenship. I wish to extend a warm welcome to fellow speakers and audiences from various countries.

Most of us take our citizenship for granted. Since we were born, we belong to a state or two. This belonging largely represents a significant part of our identity and enables us to maintain our daily life under the protection of the state.

But imagine what if, one morning, you suddenly wake up stateless.

Having your citizenship taken away can be a powerful blow to your life. If you lose your citizenship, you cannot simply do anything in your day-to-day life, which used to be just ordinary and usual thing to do. If you lose your citizenship, you would immediately lose your job, you cannot access public services, you cannot travel, and you cannot vote. Your identity paper becomes no longer valid, meaning that you are basically invisible person in the eye of the law. Without the identification, you cannot open a bank account, you cannot buy or sell any of your properties and you cannot register to get married. You no longer feel security, and rather, may be considered an illegal immigrant, and are treated like a criminal in your own country. You are more likely to be forced to leave the country in the end, where you were born, raised and lived for your whole life, leaving your beloved ones behind at home.

The impacts of citizenship revocation are especially harmful to children. They may be born stateless or fall into such predicament later in life, as a result of the revocation of a parent’s legal status. They become deprived of fundamental rights to safety and security, and denied access to basic medical care and education.

This is exactly what more than 340 Bahrainis, including myself and my family, have been going through in recent years. Most of the Bahrainis stripped of their citizenship had not formally received any prior notice of such government decision. They found out they were no longer Bahraini citizens, only from the media, while they were travelling, while they were fishing for a livelihood, and while they were renewing their driving license, as a surprise. There were no explanations, and no chances of appeal and fair trial.

The intensified wave of repressive measures against its own citizens, under the pretext of national security, has deeply hurt many Bahrainis. They have witnessed their political and religious leaders, teachers, journalists, activists, and their families and friends forced to leave the country. Under the threat of citizenship revocation, Bahrainis have been restricted to exercise their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, and freedom of religion and belief.

Making a person stateless is clearly prohibited by international law. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a nationality” and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.”

Nevertheless, the nationality revocation is not limited as an issue of one country, or a specific region. As we will discuss during this seminar today, the arbitrary revocation of citizenship and related legislation expanding power to cancel one’s citizenship is an ongoing process not only in Bahrain and the Gulf states, but in Myanmar, Dominican Republic, Canada and beyond. It often follows and is followed by arrests, detentions, interrogations, and criminal charges, causing serious human rights violation. The citizenship revocation has profoundly affected the lives and well-being of hundreds and thousands of people throughout the world. But this is no time for despair, but for resolve. It is indeed the time for the international community to raise and discuss the issue, and cooperate to fight against the discretionary revocation of citizenship.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Citizenship is the most basic and fundamental right of every individuals. Losing one’s nationality means a social death. The possession of citizenship should not be understood as privilege or reward for allegiance, and its revocation should not be wielded as a weapon of control and oppression. The citizenry is above government, not vice versa. Citizenship revocation only enhances the discretionary and arbitrary power of the executive authority.

In closing, I wish to express my gratitude to our team leader Drewery Dyke from Amnesty and his colleagues, all speakers for their contribution today, and our joint organisers, Human Rights Watch, Article 19, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, and Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and all Salam team.

I wish today’s seminar a very fruitful and productive.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Jawad Fairooz