Revoking citizenship to fight terrorism is misguided and reckless

Author

Christian Donny Putranto has recently completed a Master of Laws (Human Rights) at the Melbourne Law School, the University of Melbourne, as an Australian Awards Scholar. He previously worked at the UNHCR Indonesia and the International Committee of the Red Cross in Indonesia.

Photo by Flickr user Tommy Wahyu Utomo.
Stripping the citizenship of suspected terrorists could end up jeopardising Indonesia’s reputation for combatting terrorism.  Photo by Flickr user Tommy Wahyu Utomo.

 

 

The terrorist attack on Jalan Thamrin in Central Jakarta last month has spurred the government and legislature to expedite revisions to the 13-year-old anti-terrorism law. On Indonesia at Melbourne last week, Bhatara Ibnu Reza described the dangers posed by providing police or State Intelligence Agency (BIN) officials with greater powers. Of equal concern, however, is the proposal to give the government the authority to revoke the citizenship of Indonesians suspected of fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

 

Revocation of citizenship is, in fact, already described in Indonesian law. Law No. 12 of 2006 on Citizenship provides the state with the power to revoke a person’s citizenship under specific circumstances, for example, if he or she serves in a foreign country’s military or resides outside Indonesia for five consecutive years without notifying the government. But there is no provision in any national statute that allows the government to revoke an individual’s citizenship because the person supports a terrorist organisation. Since Indonesia does not recognise ISIL as a legitimate government, under the existing law, it cannot revoke a person’s citizenship just because he or she has fought with ISIL.

 

The second major concern is that international law prohibits states from formulating policies that render individuals stateless for any reason. Under Article 8 of the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, countries must not deprive a person of his or her nationality if this deprivation renders the person stateless. Although Indonesia is not a party to the Convention, preventing statelessness is considered an emerging rule of customary international law, which binds all countries, including Indonesia. Additionally, Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that everyone has the right to a nationality.

 

Indonesia appears to be trying to duplicate laws in the US and UK that allow governments to withdraw the citizenship of people on the grounds of supporting terrorist groups. But these governments’ policies come with one important caveat: revocation can only apply if the designated individual holds dual citizenship. If a person is stripped of his or her citizenship, he or she will still have the other nationality and will not be rendered stateless.

 

A similar proposal to revoke the citizenship of Australians suspected of terrorism – even if they were sole nationals – was put forward by Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton with the support of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in May 2015. The proposal was rejected by members of the prime minister’s own cabinet over its potential to render Australian people stateless.

 

This is where the problem lies for Indonesia. The Indonesian government does not recognise dual citizenship. Accordingly, if it forges ahead with plans to strip the citizenship of people who have pledged allegiance to ISIL, Indonesia will produce hundreds of new stateless people.

 

Not only will this violate these people’s right to a nationality, it could be a dangerous contribution to global terrorism. If their citizenship is revoked, the Indonesians who have travelled abroad and joined ISIL will then become the responsibility of other governments. And by cutting the ties of these alleged terrorists to Indonesia, the Indonesian government will ensure that they have nothing to lose: why not commit to the ISIL cause if no other options are available? In doing so, Indonesia will also jeopardise its well-earned reputation for responding to the threat of terrorism. Instead of joining the international community in combatting terrorism, Indonesia risks contributing further to the problem.

 

Revoking citizenship could also open up new divisions in Indonesian society and lead to serious problems for the families that suspected terrorists leave behind. If an individual’s citizenship is revoked, his or her family members could also be branded terrorists or traitors of the nation. As the experience of relatives of the victims of 1965 violence has demonstrated, this type of social stigma can last decades.

 

These concerns do not mean that Indonesia should not revise the 2003 Law on Terrorism. Rather, they should be a reminder that in protecting the society from terrorism, the government must be mindful of any repercussions from its policies. Indonesia does not need to see a repeat of the experience of 2004, when Law No. 16 of 2003 on the Eradication of Terrorism was repealed over concerns that the law’s retroactive principle violated the Constitution.

 

The tragic events of 14 January showed that Indonesia needs to do more to address the threat of terrorism. But the government should adopt a more prudent approach to reform. Stripping the citizenship of suspected terrorists is a step too far.