SALAM and Rights Organizations Gather in an Event on Revoking Citizenships in the GCC

On March 16th, 2018, on the sidelines of the 37th Human Rights Council in Geneva, panelists aimed to discuss the existing framework and policies that sustain statelessness in the Gulf region, in an event titled “Statelessness and Revocation of Citizenship in the Gulf”. Among the contributors were Zahra Albarazi from the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI), Julia Legner from Alkarama Foundation, Safwa Aissa from the International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHaR), journalist and author Atossa Abrahamian, Yoana Kuzmova from the Boston University School of Law and Joe Odell from the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE). SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights and the Rights Realization Centre were also sponsoring the event.
Drewery Dyke from the Rights Rights Realization Centre moderated the debate. He began by noting that statelessness was a long-standing issue in the GCC, in particular in Kuwait and Bahrain.
To commence the discussion, the moderator turned to Zahra Albarazi. Joining the panel by video, she first emphasized that the GCC held one of the largest stateless population in the world. She then followed by discussing the gendered nature of discrimination in citizenship rights, highlighting that current practices were becoming increasingly exclusionary and discriminatory in the GCC, especially with regards to gender. She also noted that discrimination on the basis of religion and race was another prominent issue that needed to be addressed.
Julia Legner focused on the Bidoon population in the case of Kuwait. She stated that there was an estimated 90,000 to 200,000 stateless individuals in the country, all marginalized and deprived of basic human rights such as education, healthcare, travel or employment. She also pointed out the apparent paradox of this situation, with the Kuwaiti bidoon population living in one of the richest countries in the world yet being completely marginalized from social life. A prime example of this was Ahmad Jaber, who was unable to continue his studies abroad due to travel restrictions imposed on him because of his bidoon status.
Next speaker on the panel, Safwa Aissa provided information on the current state of legislation with regards to citizenship in the UAE. in particular, she spoke about amendments made to several articles of the Law on Nationality and Passports, allowing for the easy revocation of citizenship in the country without an independent judiciary or any guarantees of a fair trial. She concluded by urging the UAE to respect its commitments and to implement UPR recommendations regarding these issues.
Next, Atossa Abrahamian talked about her research on a largely unacknowledged topic: the case of the UAE purchasing Comorian passports in order to document its Bidoon population in bulk. The emergence of what she referred to as a “passport industry” has resulted in an increasing tendency towards deportation of the Bidoon. This led her to ask: “we talk about citizenship revocation, but what about cases in which you are forced to take up a nationality?”.
Joe Odell pointed out that citizenship revocation had been used by numerous governments of the GCC as a means to repress activists and human rights defenders, especially since the Arab Spring occurred. Focusing on the UAE and the case of Sheikh Mohamed Siddiq, he reiterated that nationality was a fundamental human right, therefore making citizenship revocation a breach of international human rights law.
Yoana Kuzmova from The Boston School of Law expanded on the issue by presenting the work of the clinic towards promoting the rights of the stateless population in the UAE. Noting that statelessness in the region had been a problem in the country since its founding, she concluded by emphasizing the uncertainty faced by stateless individuals, who are “in limbo” and in between two conditions: “Somewhere below citizens but somewhere above foreigners”.
Drewery Dyke introduced the issue of statelessness in Bahrain by emphasizing the grievous human rights violations undertaken by the government in this regard, particularly with arbitrary revocation of citizenship by decree used as a leaver to silence dissent. Pointing out that this was common practice in Bahrain, he noted that approximately 578 individuals had had their citizenship taken away since 2012. A short film from SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights was played, reminding the audience that citizenship revocation constituted a grave violation of the Bahraini Constitution and International Conventions ratified by Bahrain.
One audience member asked about the possibility of creating a Special Rapporteur on Statelessness at the United Nations, in an effort to strengthen the power of existing international mechanisms. Julia Legner partly answered this question by reminding that “it was up to states”, whereas Drewery Dyke wondered about the utility of the ever-growing number of Special Rapporteurs already in place. He concluded the discussion by reminding the audience of the importance of social mobilization.