While Latvian law states that citizenship can be revoked if a citizen serves in the armed forces or military organization of another country, it provides exemptions for several countries.
Ukraine has now been added to a list of exempt countries, which means that Latvian citizens who join the Ukrainian Armed Forces can no longer be deprived of their citizenship on this ground.
But Latvia’s policy of giving Latvian citizens the assurance that their nationality will not be revoked for fighting Russia in Ukraine is an exception that proves the rule.
The fact that an armed conflict elsewhere in Europe has had an impact on Latvian citizenship law corresponds to the global trend of the last two decades towards an increasing instrumentalization of citizenship under the pretext of national security.
As we conclude in a report to be released next week, in almost 80% of the countries of the world, citizens can be deprived of their citizenship because of their disloyalty, military or other service in a foreign country or other criminal offences.
These deprivation powers have also increased significantly in the post-9/11 era.
Our data shows that since 2000, one in five countries has added new grounds for deprivation of nationality related to national security or the fight against terrorism. More than half of these countries were in Europe, making it the epicenter of a renewed interest in citizenship deprivation.
This trend is concerning for several reasons.
Citizenship as a right
First, the withdrawal of citizenship leads to the erosion of citizenship as a right. The majority of deprivation powers target only certain categories of citizens – most often citizens by naturalization – instituting conditional second-class citizenship which can be withdrawn based on discretionary government decisions.
New powers of deprivation of nationality increase direct and indirect discrimination against minority communities, serving to reinforce and justify racist, xenophobic and populist narratives.
Secondly, the alarming position of many European states on this measure also suggests that the region is forgetting its own dark history associated with the deprivation of nationality – used in the 20th century, in particular, by totalitarian regimes as a weapon of exclusion against citizens unwanted.
The potential normalization of denationalization as a legitimate state power over its own citizens also has an international impact on efforts to protect the right to nationality and prevent statelessness.
Third, the withdrawal of citizenship invariably upsets the international law-based order.
In our report, we detail the stories of two denationalized Dutch citizens who were nevertheless deported to the Netherlands by Turkey because it still considered it their “home” country; a denationalized French citizen stuck in limbo in France due to obstacles to deportation; and a denationalized Australian citizen was finally admitted to New Zealand (the country of second citizenship) in an episode that caused diplomatic tensions between the two states.
And the list continues.
Lack of data
Publicly available statistics indicate that the number of people affected remains low (except in Bahrain and the UK where numbers number in the hundreds). But the lack of comprehensive implementation data makes it difficult to truly assess the extent to which these measures have been used in practice.
There is evidence that some states that initially adopted powers of deprivation of nationality to deal with the perceived threat of foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq, ultimately favored repatriation, rehabilitation and de-radicalization as a policy response – choosing to take responsibility for their citizens rather than to export the problem.
The latest Latvian citizenship law reform is a good example of the inconsistencies linked to the instrumentalization of citizenship for political purposes.
While a state’s position on a conflict will be determined by its foreign policy, citizens will have extremely diverse and contradictory positions and justifications when faced with the possibility of participating in an armed conflict.
The general endorsement of “just causes” by the state and the prohibition of “unjust causes” disempower the individual and obscure the fact that people will have good and bad reasons for joining the same conflict.
The disproportionate and arbitrary nature of permanent banishment from the political community for some is highlighted when laws are changed to prevent this same fate for others.
As security experts have commented, the deprivation of citizenship is a course of action by which states “essentially avoid the difficult, but necessary, responsibility of dealing with their own citizens.” [… and] will only create greater danger in the future.”
Instead, states should completely relegate this power to the history books and act responsibly in protecting citizens and prosecuting criminal behavior, including where actions against state interests are codified criminal offenses. .