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UN expert welcomes UK Court of Appeal decision in Shamima Begum case

16 July 2020

GENEVA (16 July 2020) – A UN human rights expert welcomed today’s ruling by the UK Court of Appeal that Shamima Begum, who left the United Kingdom for Syria as a minor to allegedly join ISIS, should be allowed to return home to challenge her deprivation of British citizenship.

“Citizenship is a gateway right, which enables and supports the right to have other rights, and without it individuals are profoundly vulnerable to harm,” said Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. “Prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of citizenship is a fundamental right under international law and is an essential protection for individuals.”

Shamima Begum was deprived of her citizenship in February 2019 by the then Home Secretary, an action taken under the British Nationality Act of 1981. 

“I commend the UK Court of Appeal for grasping the essential and absolute importance of the right to meaningfully participate in the proceedings depriving a person of their citizenship,” said Ní Aoláin.  “The independence and thoughtfulness of the Court’s review are valuable, as are its willingness to allow for a human rights intervention, and its acknowledgment of the relevance of international law to such proceedings.”

The Special Rapporteur intervened in this case because of “the severe and irreparable consequences” of depriving of citizenship a woman who was a minor when she travelled to Syria.  She described Shamima as “a child who may have been groomed online, and who had no meaningful capacity to participate in the legal proceedings depriving her of citizenship”.

Shamima was 15 years old when she left the United Kingdom for Syria, married an alleged ISIS fighter. She gave birth to two children while a minor, and a third after turning 18.  All three children perished, and the third child died while both were detained at Al-Hawl camp in northern Syria.

Ní Aoláin said she was “deeply concerned that Shamima, among other abandoned women and children, is eking out her survival in an overcrowded camp and under conditions that were inhumane and degrading that amount to torture under international law and where her right to life is under constant threat”. 

“The urgent return and repatriation of foreign fighters and their families from these conflict zones is the only international law-compliant response to the increasingly complex and precarious human rights, humanitarian and security situation faced by those women, men and children,” the Special Rapporteur said. It fulfills UN Security Council resolutions and takes into consideration the long-term security interest of States, she said.


The expert:  Ms Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin (Ireland), the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, took up her functions on 1 August 2017. She is a University Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota; holder of the Robina Chair in Law, Public Policy, and Society; and faculty director of the Human Rights Center at the University of Minnesota Law School. She is concurrently a Professor of Law at Queens University of Belfast Northern Ireland.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For further inquiries and media requests, please contact Michelle Erazo Martínez (+41 22 917 9449 / [email protected]).

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected]) and John Newland ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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