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UN experts deplore continuing failures of protection for Shamima Begum

06 March 2024

GENEVA (6 March 2024) – UN experts* today expressed deep concern following the 23 February 2024 ruling of the United Kingdom’s Court of Appeal in Shamima Begum’s case.

“Begum remains stripped of her citizenship, vulnerable, and denied assistance and protection as a possible victim of trafficking,” the UN experts said.

The experts called on the UK Government to take urgent action to provide Begum with assistance and protection, including repatriation to the UK, and to review and reconsider the decision to revoke her citizenship.

“Protections owed to victims of trafficking and those at risk of trafficking, especially children, must be respected to be meaningful,” they said.

The experts noted that in February 2023, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission had identified potential State failures, and possible violations of the State’s corollary duty to protect, to prevent serious human rights violations prior to Begum’s departure from the UK as a vulnerable child at the age of 15. “These circumstances were never properly investigated,” they said.

“There is a credible suspicion that Ms Begum was recruited, transferred and then harboured for the purpose of sexual exploitation,” the experts said. “Human trafficking is an international crime, a form of modern slavery.”

They stressed that under international, European and UK law, any supposed question of “consent or voluntariness, or use of force, deception or coercion is irrelevant, where the victim of trafficking is a child”.

The experts highlighted the strict obligation of the State to prevent trafficking and protect victims of trafficking or those at risk of trafficking, without discrimination on any grounds, including race or ethnicity, religion or gender.

“The obligation to investigate credible evidence of child trafficking is essential to ensure accountability for this heinous crime and serious human rights violation,” they said. “Implementing these obligations requires action and the courage to listen when judicial bodies make findings indicating a credible suspicion of child trafficking.”

The experts also expressed serious concern that, as Begum is not a citizen of any other country and is not currently entitled to any other citizenship, this judgment renders her effectively stateless, in violation of international law. They also expressed concern that the practice of depriving people of citizenship may have a disproportionate impact on people from non-while racial and ethnic backgrounds, especially people from Muslim communities.

“Given the continuing serious risk of irreparable harm, we urge British authorities to take steps to ensure Ms Begum’s protection and to follow the lead of many other governments who are now repatriating women and children from northeast Syria,” the experts said. “Under international law, all governments have a responsibility to take all necessary and possible measures to protect, through repatriation, their nationals detained in North-East Syria, due to the conditions there constituting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The UN experts have raised these concerns in previous communications (GBR 18/2023, 13/2022, 3/2022) to the United Kingdom and in a submission to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.


The experts: Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Mama Fatima SinghatehSpecial Rapporteur on the sale, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, Ben Saul, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

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.


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