UN EXPERTS have 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, speaking on 6 March.

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 those 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.”

* Source: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights