Crime and Citizenship

Witnessing the large-scale displacement and conditions of statelessness in the wake of the Second World War, political theorist Hannah Arendt coined the evocative phrase “the right to have rights”, arguing that the fundamental right, from which all other rights sprung, was the right to membership of a political community. Who gets to define whether one will be a bearer of this right and under what conditions, if any, may this right be annulled or forfeited?

Historically, this privilege has been assumed by the nation-state, with little challenge to the idea that the state, acting as sovereign, has the authority to grant or exclude an individual from the rights of citizenship. The need to justify and examine the limits of this prerogative power takes on a new dimension in light of the recent spate of denationalization and revocation of citizenship measures being enacted by liberal democracies to sanction citizens who are involved in acts of terrorism, both within and outside their home countries. These laws take various forms, ranging from expatriation, to revocation of passports, to denial of re-entry to citizens returning from abroad. While countries such as the UK and Australia have already passed legislation severely restricting or even taking away the citizenship rights of those engaged in terrorist conduct, similar proposals have been made by governments and politicians in various other nations, including Canada, France, Austria, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Denmark.

This move has profound consequences for how we conceptualize the rights and duties of citizenship and the authority of the nation-state to modify or truncate these as a legitimate response to criminal conduct. In this context, the project examines how the current efforts at denationalization relate to other forms of disenfranchisement through criminal laws and measures, including the suspension of voting rights for convicted felons; collateral sanctions such as ineligibility for public funds, welfare benefits and restrictions on certain forms of employment; ancient and modern forms of civil death such as outlawry; and earlier practices of transportation, exile and banishment. It also analyzes the rationale for employing these practices as a response to the commission of offenses such as terrorism– in other words, is there something distinctive or unique about terrorism that justifies the state’s severance of its ties with perpetrator citizens? The project queries whether these measures are legally permissible and normatively defensible notwithstanding the urgency and importance of the terrorist threat faced by governments and the need to tackle it.

This project forms part of the STIAS long-term project Boundaries and Legal Authority in a Global context within the Crossing Borders research theme.

Project leader(s):
  • Neha Jain (Law School, University of Minnesota)

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