Citizenship revocation renders citizens stateless in their own country. It has been used by many governments in a variety of different circumstances throughout the world but it has become an increasingly common practice in the Gulf States, particularly since the Arab Spring. When stripped of their citizenship, individuals can no longer enjoy all the rights that come with being a citizen and are reduced to living a life without any legal record of their existence, which makes them much more susceptible to human rights abuses.
Since 2011, the UAE has revoked the citizenship of around 200 people, 60 in 2016 alone. UAE authorities use citizenship revocation as a tool to repress activists, human rights defenders, and political opponents. In many cases, it is not the citizenship of only one individual which is revoked, but that of their whole family. Revoking someone’s citizenship drastically affects their daily life, as they cannot participate in society anymore. Access to basic public services like healthcare or education is denied, and it also affects the ability to travel, work, drive, own property or open a bank account, as all of these actions require documentation.
Individuals are usually called to the Migration Department under the pretext of document renewal and requested to bring all their official documents, such as passport or driver’s licence, which are subsequently confiscated. The procedure cannot be appealed, the decision is not justified and official records are neither kept nor communicated. Individuals are simply notified that their citizenship has been revoked and that they will be arrested for illegal stay unless they acquire a different nationality.
In Article 8 of the UAE’s constitution, it is stated that: “No citizen of the Union may be deprived of his nationality nor may his nationality be withdrawn except in exceptional circumstances which shall be defined by law.” The federal law concerning nationality and passport further explains this as “Nationality shall be withdrawn from a person [...] if he commits or attempts to commit an action which is deemed dangerous for the security or safety of the country.” This vague definition gives authorities the power to revoke citizenship from anyone they consider in opposition to them, as well as from the family members of the individual in question.
The right to nationality is a fundamental human right, as provided by Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the arbitrary deprivation thereof is banned. However, the framework of Emirati legislation does not protect the individual from statelessness and does not lay down any prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality. Using citizenship revocation to repress political activists and human rights defenders, as practised by the UAE government, is therefore in breach of international human rights law.
Without citizenship, movement between states becomes incredibly difficult and, unless the individual can obtain another nationality they become trapped in the country. This contravenes the freedom of movement protected by Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Additionally, the UAE government denies victims their right to appeal against arbitrary denial of nationality, guaranteed by Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Despite its promise to consider ratifying the aforementioned convention during the Universal Periodic Review of 2013, the UAE is yet to sign it. To end statelessness, the UN Refugee Agency designed two key conventions, of which the UAE has ratified neither. In 1954, the Status of Stateless Persons Convention was established to ensure that stateless people enjoy a minimum set of human rights, including the right to education, employment, housing as well as to identity and travel documents. In addition to that, the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness of 1961 aims to prevent statelessness and reduce it over time.
Cases of Citizenship Revocation
The case of Sheikh Mohammad Abdul Razak Mohammed Siddiq illustrates the arbitrary withdrawal of nationality that Emirati nationals are exposed to. He was born in Sharjah and is currently detained in the al-Razeen prison following a 10 year sentence in the mass trial known as the “UAE 94”. His children Asma (29), Du’a (25) and Omar (23), were asked to present themselves before the Directorate for Naturalization and Residence with their official documents, which included their passports, identity cards, driving licenses and health insurance cards. The officials claimed that their documents were going to be updated, but they were, in fact, confiscated. The three siblings were subsequently deprived of their nationality. The authorities claimed that the procedure for the withdrawal of their nationality was based on a presidential decree, which has, to date, not been named or made public. Without official documents, the three Emiratis are unlikely to gain permission to visit their father in Abu Dhabi’s al-Razeen prison.
Citizenship revocation is not the only problem concerning nationality. In most Gulf countries, there are stateless people called bidoon jinsiyya (without nationality). In the UAE, these ethnic minorities refer to either nomadic Arab groups who had lived in the area for centuries, or to the ancestors of people who travelled to the area – mainly from Iran or Southeast Asia – before the UAE was established as a country in 1971. There are around 100,000 bidoons in the UAE. The reasons for the bidoon’s statelessness are various: some of them descend from parents who did not acquire a passport when they were introduced, either because their illiteracy prevented them from understanding the importance of the matter or because of outright discrimination.
- Report by International Centre for Justice and Human Rights on citizenship revocation in the UAE: http://ic4jhr.org/en/activites/reports/619-uae-revocation-of-nationalities-in-the-united-arab-emirates-2.html
- Report by Islamic Human Rights Commission “Stripping of nationality as a weapon of political suppression” (2014): http://www.ihrc.org.uk/attachments/article/11230/Citizenship-04.pdf