Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Visiting Scholar, Jason Tucker: "Introducing myself and my research"

I have been asked to use this blog as an opportunity to introduce myself, my background and my current research.  My area of interest lies particularly within the field of migration studies. In the past I have worked on human trafficking in the Indonesian and US contexts and with informal civil society organisations for Sudanese refugees in Cairo. For several years now though I have focused specifically on statelessness. I began my PhD at the University of Bath, in the U.K, in 2010 and have just entered my final year.  My thesis looks at the concepts of global citizenship and how they are being used to address statelessness.

Exploring the magnitude of the literature and theoretical debate surrounding global citizenship would pose an unrealistic challenge due to the restrictions of the size of this post. Several key areas though can be highlighted to reflect the breadth of this debate and its relevance to the statelessness discourse. When the concept of global citizenship (sometimes referred to as cosmopolitanism) is introduced it is often the case that the audience, if not versed on the topic, will either conceptualise it as future ‘world citizenship’ with various manifestations such as a world passport and/or a world government, or on the other hand think of it as a vacuous buzz word, thrown around by activists, politicians, businesses and anyone who wants to jump on the global citizenship band wagon. In both cases it is easy to dismiss it as either overly idealistic or so vaguely defined as to be insignificant. 

While these two conceptualisations are not totally without merit they by no means even begin to scratch the surface of the depth and nuances of the debate on global citizenship. To mention but a few ways that this expanded moral obligation has been theorised we can see Nussbaum’s (1996) ‘cosmopolitan education’, Buchanan’s (2004) focus on legal cosmopolitanism, Held’s (1999) argument that international institutions should internalise cosmopolitan principles and enforce them through international laws, Linklater’s (1999) claim it should be realized through trans-state dialogue in international institutions and the idea of ‘deliberative democracy’ put forward by such scholars as Habermas.

So then how do these concepts relate to the statelessness discourse? Examples of this are few and far between. But they do exist. For example, Byers (2005:2 my emphasis) noted:

“There are tens of millions of stateless persons in the world today. They have no right to reside, vote, express opinions, associate or travel anywhere at all. Their lack of national citizenship, and their consequential, desperate need for governmental assistance and accountability, makes them the most obvious candidates for global citizenship”.

My thesis aims to begin to explore the relationship between global citizenship and the addressing of statelessness, with a specific focus on Lebanon. My research arose due to the assumptions made by several scholars that the stateless, having none of the normal channels through which to participate in the nation-state system, could benefit from global citizenship, as Byers’ quote reflects. This however was the limit of his theoretical reflection, and more generally the assumed relationship has not been based on empirical foundations but remains abstract and normative. Finding this a highly interesting, though as of yet a greatly under-researched and theorized idea, I decided to contextualise this assumption in a country with multiple, vast, protracted and varying stateless communities and persons, namely Lebanon. This highly complex national environment allowed me to draw on comparisons between the actors addressing the statelessness of the different stateless groups in the country, with the aim of reaching a more grounded understanding of the use of global citizenship upon which to base future debate. To do this I spent three months in Lebanon at the beginning of the year interviewing those working with the stateless in the country, based out of the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

I am currently working through and analyzing all the data that I collected from my time in Lebanon and am unable to provide a conclusive set of findings at this moment. I can, however, reflect on a few broad topics that have arisen so far.  The data highlights how the various stateless groups reflect on the concepts of citizenship and nationality, how the government use the concept of the suspension of judicial order in certain spaces inhabited by the stateless, with these ‘stateless spaces’ being the subject of multiple and partial sovereignties as developed by Giorgio Agamben (1993,1998, 2005), and finally the claim of the ‘natural’ statelessness of the Bedouin.  Following a detailed analysis of the conceptualisations of the nation-state and citizenship and relating this statelessness focused assessment to the state-nation-territory trinity in the first two analytical chapters of my thesis, the final chapter focuses specifically on global citizenship, trying to draw out a relatively inclusive understanding of what form of it is being used to address statelessness in Lebanon. One line of thinking that I am developing at the moment is the concept of the paradox of defining the Palestinians NGOs and activists as global citizens, since their moral obligation only extends to fellow Palestinians and they are using it for reductionist ends, namely to regain citizenship within a Palestinian state. To reconcile this theoretical concern, I argue that we need to shift our understanding of global citizenship away from the claim that it can only manifest itself as the actions of an individual with an expanded sense of moral obligations to that of global citizenship as a means to create a space for dialogue.

Following my time in Lebanon earlier this year I transferred to the Statelessness Programme for six months at the beginning of October, which is where I am currently working through my data, as well participating in other projects taking place here. During my time in Tilburg I have developed my understanding of statelessness under international law and how to situate this legal understanding back within more sociological debates.  By drawing on the internationally recognised legal definition of statelessness in sociological research we open an under utilised avenue to understanding the phenomenon with the view to more effectively addressing it. Further to this, my time here has allowed me to better understand the development of the stateless discourse within the UNHCR, the problems they face, and how some of these hurdles have been overcome.

Jason Tucker, Visiting scholar with the Statelessness Programme


References / further reading

Agamben, 1993, Beyond Human Rights [online], Available from: http://www.skor.nl/_files/Files/OPEN15_P90-95(1).pdf, [Accessed 9/11/2011]

Agamben, G. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. D. Heller-Roazen, Trans. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Agamben, G., 2005, State of Exception, Kevin Attell Trans, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Byers, M., 2005, Are You a Global Citizen? [online], The Tyee, Available from: http://thetyee.ca/Views/2005/10/05/globalcitizen/, [Accessed 14/2/2011]

Held, D., 1999, Transformation of Political Community: Rethinking Democracy in the Context of Globalization, In: I, Shapiro and C, Hacker-Cordón (eds), Democracy's Edges, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Linklater, A., 1999, Cosmopolitan Citizenship, In Kimberly Hutchings and Roland Dannreuter (eds), Cosmopolitan Citizenship, Houndsmill: Macmillan, pp.35-59

Nussbaum, M., 1996, Reply, In Cohen, J., (ed) For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism, Boston: Beacon Press

Friday, 16 November 2012

Denationalizing Bahrainis, ousting the opposition

This month, the volatile situation that has existed across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) since the start of the Arab Spring saw a new development in Bahrain which has highlighted a worrying trend spreading across the region.  The Bahraini government ordered 31 of its citizens, all of them prominent opposition figures, to be stripped of their Bahraini nationality.  According to most reports only six of them hold another nationality (Bahrain does not generally recognize dual nationality), which means that an estimated 25 new cases of statelessness have resulted from this act. This decision follows high-profile denationalizations of several Emirati citizens in the UAE over the last year, prompting the worry that MENA States may revert to the practice of denationalizing citizens in response to broad ‘security concerns’ more frequently in the future.   

The Bahraini Ministry of Interior explained that it had exercised its powers under Article 10 of the country’s 1963 nationality law which allows the withdrawal of nationality under extreme circumstances. The 31 individuals concerned had been accused of 'undermining the security of the state’, which is a recognised ground for deprivation of nationality under this provision of the law. 

Whilst it is the sovereign right of any state to determine the conditions upon which nationality can be acquired or lost, the withdrawal of nationality from citizens must be undertaken with caution and must be done in adherence to both domestic and international regulations. Otherwise it would be at the discretion of any ruling political power to redefine its citizenry, denationalizing for example a section of society who they feel may not vote for them, or a section of society whose religious beliefs differs from theirs.

Article 10. 4 of the Bahraini law indeed allows the withdrawal of nationality when someone 'causes harm to the security of the State.' Whether the 31 individuals targeted in this instance have been found to seriously undermine the security of the State – and on what basis exactly – is not clear due to the lack of transparency of this decision.  There has been instability in the country, with a spate of bombings in the weeks leading up to this decision. Nevertheless, most indications show that this act of denationalisation was purely a political move.  One of the affected, lawyer Taimoor Karimi, was quoted by Human Rights Watch as saying that he had first heard about the decision through the media and had not been aware of any such impending process, highlighting this lack of transparency.  This suggests that what would be considered an accepted threshold of 'undermining the security' has not been met.  The government immediately publicly listed the names of the accused, including figures such as former MPs of the leading opposition movement, al-Wifaq, the head of the Bahrain Freedom Movement, and three Shiaa clerics - Hussein Mirza, Khaled Mansour Sanad and Alawi Sharaf.  Although no conclusion can be made without a full investigation, these individuals - all leading, opposition members - seem unlikely to have instrumented extreme militant acts.  Rendering them non-citizens is an attempt to de-legitimise criticisms against the government as it is now seen that they no longer belong to that State. 

Bahrain has declared that those affected would have the right to appeal this decision in national courts.  Article 11 of the same nationality legislation allows for restoration for those whose nationality was withdrawn.  However the likelihood of this being an independent and effective review is small.  Only a few days following this decision in Bahrain, the news from the Emirates was that its courts had rejected the appeal of the seven Emiratis who had their nationality stripped, again for 'threatening the security of the state,' setting a troubling precedent.

Perversely, the Bahraini Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Al Khalifah further stated that one of the reasons behind this action was that the country had seen repeated abuse by these individuals 'of the rights to freedom of speech and expression,' which they deemed could no longer be accepted.  It is not in any way clear how they came to the interpretation that these individuals had been enjoying too much of this fundamental right.  They have shown no evidence of the need to derogate from this right, but instead are claiming that the individuals somehow overstepped some necessary self-imposed limitations of this right which justified the withdrawal of nationality.  Besides the absurdity of the claim that someone has been practising too much of their right to freedom of speech,  any withdrawal of nationality in response to the legitimate exercise of a fundamental freedom should, by definition, be deemed arbitrary under international law. This stands at odds with the Interior Ministry’s official statement and comments on State TV in which he declared that citizenship  would be revoked 'in conformity with the kingdom's commitments under international law.' At the same time, the authorities’ belief that rendering the activists stateless would exclude them from the enjoyment of the right to freedom of speech is worrying and shows a significant lack of understanding with regard to the content of Bahrain’s international human rights obligations. 

It is unclear what will now happen to these former citizens, specifically the majority who still reside in Bahrain.  An individual who has no legal link to any country often is unable to access many basic rights, such as healthcare, access to documentation, travel and education, thus there is a risk of further, subsequent violations of international law. Other questions arise such as possible limitations on residency in Bahrain. As prominent activists, many of those affected have been very outspoken since this decision, and it is clear that they are acutely aware of the possible detrimental outcomes.  

In Bahraini State media we are now witnessing a vilification of these affected individuals – a traditional tool used by states to popularize support for decisions to disqualify certain individuals as citizens.  There are many accusations being used to justify why they have ceased to deserve having membership in the Bahraini citizenry. One example is the circulation of a picture of one of these denationalized stepping on his Bahraini ID card.  The media, in this case, is being used as a channel to communicate to the general public why these high-profile individuals no longer deserve to be nationals.

Worryingly, all of the denationalized are of the Shiaa confession, highlighting suggestions floating in the media that members of this sect are more likely to be loyal to foreign states – namely Iran.  This is a dangerous speculation that alienates and isolates this sector of society, and certainly does not address the prevalent socio-political problems of the country.  This move may also – probably one of the state’s objectives - instil a sense of fear in other opposition elements, especially those from the Shia sect, who would worry that if they continue to voice criticism they may also face this fate.

A broader reflection: is denationalisation a growing trend in the MENA?

Exclusionary citizenship ideologies and denationalization are not new concepts in the MENA region. Underlying factors for such policies range from delicate confessional demographics to the Palestinian presence, from Pan-Arab ideologies to a fear of changing the cultural make-up of a population.  To these motivations, we must evidently add the mechanism of using citizenship policy as a political tool: to quell opposition and silence minority voices. 

Unfortunately, although one of the few collective initiatives, this move is not an isolated one. The GCC, in particular, have not shied away from using this mechanism, targeting a specific confession or political ideology, to de-legitimize any sort of vocal opposition. This both discounts opposition figures from the national debate and often scares others into silence.  Already in Bahrain’s history, 1954 saw the denationalization of Abdul Rahman Al-Baker, a political leader whose activities were not appreciated by the ruling powers.  There have been other situations where Bahrainis studying abroad were not allowed to return and their passports were not renewed.  Although in 2001 the country saw a spate of political reforms, amongst them the restoration of the nationality of many who had in decades before seen their nationality revoked, this does not seem likely to develop as a norm under the current political tensions.

If States continue to see denationalization as a powerful mechanism, the worry is that we may see an expansion of targeted withdrawal of nationality in response to all manner of broad security or public order concerns which many MENA countries face today. This concern is especially acute where we are now seeing problems developing from the polarization of states, such as Libya or Syria. 
Zahra Albarazi, MENA Nationality and Statelessness Project Coordinator, Statelessness Programme

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

GUEST POST: The Palestinians are de jure stateless: Centralising them in the discourse as a means to better address statelessness.

The core perspective of this post is to question what developments in the statelessness field we are missing by sidelining the Palestinians. Before doing so however it is important to make several things clear about the Palestinians.  First, approximately 5 million Palestinians are de jure stateless as defined by Article 1(1) of the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (1954 Convention), as “people who are not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law” - the Palestinian Occupied Territories not yet having attained the status of a state. Those Palestinians who have acquired nationality of somewhere else are not included in this definition. (Any reference to ‘the Palestinians’ hereafter will refer exclusively to these five million de jure stateless Palestinians). Second, the Palestinians have remained stateless since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Third, the Palestinians continue to suffer greatly due to their statelessness, though this differs depending on the country in which they find themselves. Their situation is intricate, highly politically charged and emotive.

Despite the Palestinians being such a significant stateless group they are excluded from the statelessness discourse. Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories are in the Middle East, as are most of the states where the majority of the Palestinians can be found. In spite of this they are rarely mentioned in regional reports on statelessness, or they are highlighted as a special case, amalgamated and homogenised into a separate regional issue and detached from the national contexts where they are found. They have even been afforded their own United Nations (UN) body namely the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which facilitates further justification of their exclusion. International organisations, non-governmental organisations and individual advocates specialising on statelessness shy away from the Palestinians for various reasons that shall be left for future posts. Yet, despite these concerns the Palestinians are stateless and they need to be considered as such. As will be drawn out below, this is because by excluding the Palestinians from the statelessness discourse we are missing a significant opportunity to learn from their situation and further develop theoretical and pragmatic aspects of addressing statelessness for the Palestinians as well as other stateless groups. The Palestinians, as such a significant stateless population, should therefore be repositioned to have a more prominent role in the dialogue on statelessness, rather than being continuously pushed to the periphery. While this post is not the place to produce a comprehensive list of the possible opportunities to advance the statelessness field through a better understanding of the Palestinians as seen through the analytical lens of statelessness, a few examples can highlight this perspective.

Let us begin by considering UNRWA. The role of UNRWA has meant that the Palestinians are excluded from assistance and protection under the 1954 Convention in the countries where UNRWA operates and that the Palestinians do not generally receive assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) except when they are outside of UNRWA’s areas of operation. This is a unique opportunity for reflection, as no other stateless population has its own dedicated UN body to identify, assist and protect them. While there are criticisms of the low level of provision, there are also claims that the Palestinians are relatively privileged because of the organisations existence. UNRWA was a response to a refugee situation that turned into a statelessness problem. The organisation has had to adapt to its changing role, how successfully it has done this with regards to the statelessness of the Palestinians needs further analysis. UNRWA is a leviathan, facing a constant struggle to maintain funding levels, while providing assistance and protection to millions of Palestinians and employing a huge number of the stateless population over whom they have a mandate. We should consider what we can learn from UNRWA about having dedicated UN agencies for large stateless populations. How have they performed in terms of identification, assistance, protection and finding a solution to statelessness? Would division of responsibility of the stateless into smaller UN agencies be a suitable and sustainable model for the future of addressing statelessness? I would say that if we critically reflect on UNRWA, the answer would have to be no. If this reflection leads to us discrediting UNRWA in terms of addressing statelessness maybe it is time to consider merging the mandates of the UNHCR and UNRWA. While being aware of the difficulties of taking such drastic action, we have to at least consider the positive outcomes that could arise from this such as reducing duplication of services, reducing funding concerns, and potentially being able to provide greater levels of assistance to the Palestinians as well as other stateless groups.

Second, in terms of addressing statelessness we cannot artificially push the Palestinians to the side because in fact the statelessness of the Palestinians, in many countries, is not neatly compartmentalised, affecting non-Palestinian spouses and children as well as being used in the political discourse to resist progressive nationality laws that would prevent and/or reduce statelessness more broadly. To more holistically approach statelessness in these contexts, should we not integrate the Palestinians situation into our rhetoric on statelessness? Are we harming rather than helping the wider stateless population by excluding them, theoretically as well as pragmatically?  We can only begin to fully explore all of our options for addressing statelessness by acknowledging the statelessness of the Palestinians in the general discourse on the issue. 

Third, it is worth noting that while two stateless situations never arise out of identical circumstances, and thus the reaction from the international community and non-governmental organisations is always different, it can be generally acknowledged that the response for the Palestinians, in terms of the international community particularly, has been woefully inadequate.  On a more theoretical level we can use the case of the protracted statelessness of the Palestinians to consider the mechanisms of how large scale statelessness happens and why nation-states should try to stop this from happening again. For example a better understanding of how statelessness relates to national and regional instability could be a vital advocacy tool to take to governments to encourage changing their nationality laws or to convince them not to denaturalise members of their population. The means by which some of the Palestinians have turned their statelessness into an instrument for empowerment to hold onto their political claims, and how other groups could utilize this strategy would also be an interesting area of research. By looking into the differing conceptions of citizenship and nationality we can also be better placed to address statelessness especially if we compare the Palestinians to other large stateless communities, such as the Bidoon of Kuwait or the Rohingya of Burma. By excluding the Palestinians we are not only doing a disservice to the statelessness discourse, but also to the Palestinians themselves. This disservice can however be reversed through their incorporation into the discourse.

The aforementioned are briefly explored examples of the potential theoretical and pragmatic ideas that we are failing to fully utilise by not embracing the Palestinians for what they are, namely a large and protracted stateless population that should be considered as such. We can not limit our understanding of the tools and methods for addressing statelessness by excluding the Palestinians from the discourse. I argue that through the incorporation of the Palestinians we would be better appointed to tackle statelessness in all its forms, including for the Palestinians themselves. 

Jason Tucker, PhD researcher University of Bath and Visiting Scholar at the Statelessness Programme, Tilburg Law School