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In February 2015, 15-year-old Shamima Begum left London to join IS in Syria. In 2019 — days after her interview with The Times had precipitated her return to public attention — the British government announced its intention to revoke her citizenship. Six years later, she is still detained in Syria’s al-Roj refugee camp.
The decision to block her entrance to the UK was upheld by the Supreme Court in February 2021. To witness the announcement of this verdict was akin to hearing the British judiciary pronounce its own epitaph. Lord Reed did not dispute Ms. Begum’s assertion that her inability to enter the UK renders her unable to mount an effective defence. Her exile was upheld nevertheless. If this ruling is final, the legacy of ‘Begum v. Home Secretary’ will be one of glaring contradiction: due process employed as a means of eroding the universal right to due process.
The Home Office has long argued that Ms. Begum’s apparent eligibility for Bangladeshi citizenship means that she is not stateless. Bangladesh’s subsequent disavowal of Ms. Begum rules the UK government’s position untenable, and positions them in violation not only of domestic but of international law.
Ms. Begum left home six months before her sixteenth birthday. When a minor is recruited by adult drug dealers, the law recognizes their status as a partial victim. It is confounding that this same consideration is not extended to Ms. Begum. Nor was she the only minor whose rights were ignored; Ms. Begum’s infant son died of pneumonia weeks after her citizenship was rescinded.
Shamima Begum has a case to answer. Her involvement in IS’ grotesque criminality deserves to be judged in court. In requesting repatriation she is not evading justice, but seeking it. Refusing Ms. Begum her right to return for a fair trial is not justice in absentia, but simply the absence of justice.