What to do about Shamima Begum?

Shamima Begum was just 15 years old when she left her home in Bethnal Green, London, to join Islamic State in Syria. Now, four years later, she has witnessed two of her children die of illness and malnutrition, and fears for the life of her third child, born in a refugee camp in Eastern Syria, from where she’s requested to return to the UK, having shown no remorse for her dealings with ISIS.

The ‘punishment’, if we can call it that, is to strip of her of UK citizenship, which the Home Secretary can only do in this case because he believes Begum has the right to apply for Bangladeshi citizenship, even though she has never visited Bangladesh.

Interestingly, the UK government isn’t simply allowed to strip an individual of their citizenship and render them stateless, they are only allowed to do so in begum’s case because her Bangladeshi heritage allows her to apply for citizenship there. However, the Bangladeshi authorities say she won’t be allowed in. 

This article in The Conversation provides an accessible insight into the legality of revoking citizenship.

Even if the UK government is legally allowed to strip Begum of citizenship, this still feels like the UK government is somehow denying responsibility for Begum – surely it would be more appropriate to bring her back to the UK, put her on trial, and actually punish her as the UK citizen she really is, rather than trying to revoke it.

The argument that she’s ‘our responsibility’ is rooted in the fact that she was radicalised in the UK and managed to leave without any effective ‘safeguarding intervention’.

What the UK government’s response shows is just how difficult it is for nation states to deal with such international criminals…. Maybe it’s because we’ve got no long-term solutions? Maybe the government doesn’t want to bring her back because the population would be so against it, as 78% of the population believe she should have had her citizenship revoked.

Shamima Begum

This could very well (probably is) an example of popular punitiveness, despite the fact that she’s not really being punished as such!

However, just passing the buck onto another country because of a legal technicality doesn’t seem right, and what kind of message does this send out about how to deal with international criminals more generally?

Whatever your opinion on the Shamima Begum case, it certainly illustrates a the problems of dealing out justice where international crimes which cross boarders are concerned, and maybe suggests that nation states are too small to deal with such criminals?

Maybe we need to take a lesson from Escape to LA? Rather than nation states dealing with them in country of origin, we just put by stateless regions on earth, and build a wall round them, and see how they get on…?

We could also film it with drones and turn it into a form of entertainment….. the scary thing is this doesn’t actually sound that far-fetched, I can actually see most people getting on board with the idea!

 

 

 

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Britain’s recent involvement in torture – a good example of a ‘state crime’

Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee It’s been 15 years since allegations first emerged of Britain’s involvement in the torture of those suspected of the 9/11 terror attacks, and earlier this month (July 2018) an official report has finally been released which reveals the ‘true’ extent of Britain’s compliance with the USA’s programme of torture.

uk torture

According to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), Britain’s involvement amounted to at least 13 occasions of British agents witnessing suspects being mistreated and having been informed (but done nothing about) of mistreatment by their foreign counterparts or detainees more than 150 times.

The report found that British agents weren’t directly involved in torture themselves, but the strategy of British intelligence was to ‘outsource’ the interrogation process to those who they knew used ‘enhanced techniques such as stress positions, sleep deprivation and beatings.

The British effectively turned a blind eye to the fact that the USA was in breach of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. They were so ‘blind’ in fact that they ignored the fact that at one detention centre detainees were kept in containers so small that they could neither stand or lie down, getting around this particular breach of human rights by simply building interrogation portacabins which were large enough to comfortably accommodate the prisoners.

So why did this happen?

Following 9/11 the security and intelligent services were under intense pressure to find and prosecute those responsible, but also to find information which might prevent future terrorist attacks. The problem with using such techniques, however, is that they might well just serve to increase recruitment to the same terrorist networks the authorities are trying to quash.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This seems to be a good example of Britain being involved in a ‘state crime’, also a good example of the extent of barriers to researching powerful actors: it’s taken 15 years for this official report to be conducted, and even this doesn’t tell us the whole story: Theresa May refused permission for four key officers to give evidence on national security grounds, so the true extent of Britain’s complicity in state crime may not surface for many years to come!

Sources:

What is State Crime?

Green and Ward (2005) define state crime as ‘illegal or deviant activities perpetrated by the state, or with the complicity of state agencies’. State crimes are committed by, or on behalf of nation states in order to achieve their policies.

Types of State Crime

Mcloughlin identifies four categories of state crime:

  1. • Crimes by security forces – e.g. genocide, torture, imprisonment without trial and disappearance of dissidents
  2. • Political Crimes – e.g. censorship or corruption
  3. • Economic crimes – e.g. violation of health and safety laws
  4. • Social and cultural crimes – e.g. institutional racism

Crimes of Security – Genocide

Genocide means any act committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group or Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. (Source – teaching genocide –).

Three of the best known genocides include The Holocaust, The Cambodian Genocide and The Rwandan Genocide

The Holocaust was a genocide in which Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed about six million Jews. From 1941 to 1945, Jews were systematically murdered in one of the deadliest genocides in history. Every arm of Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the logistics and the carrying out of the genocide. Other victims of Nazi crimes included Romanis, ethnic Poles and other Slavs, Soviet POWs, communists, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mentally and physically disabled. A network of about 42,500 facilities in Germany and German-occupied territories were used to concentrate victims for slave labour, mass murder, and other human rights abuses. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been Holocaust perpetrators.

In Cambodia, a genocide was carried out by the Khmer Rouge (KR) regime led by Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979 in which an estimated one and a half to three million people died. The KR had planned to create a form of agrarian socialism which was founded on the ideals of Stalinism and Maoism. The KR policies of forced relocation of the population from urban centres, torture, mass executions, use of forced labour, malnutrition, and disease led to the deaths of an estimated 25 percent of the total population (around 2 million people).

The Rwandan Genocide was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority. During the approximate 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994, an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, constituting as much as 70% of the Tutsi and 20% of Rwanda’s total population. The genocide was planned by members of the core political elite known as the akazu, many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national government. Perpetrators came from the ranks of the Rwandan army, the National Police, government-backed militias and the Hutu civilian population.

Political Crimes – Corruption

Political corruption can take various forms, but the most common examples appear to be politicians siphoning public money off to their private bank accounts, unfairly granting government contracts in return for bribes and electoral fraud (vote rigging).
According to the Corruption Index put together by Transparency International there seems to be a correlation between corruption, war and conflict and poverty – Somalia, North Korea, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq come out bottom of the Corruption Index, while the usual suspects – the Scandinavian countries plus Canada come out as the least corrupt.

To give you an example of how blatant corruption can get take the case of Teodoro Mbasogo who is the leader of Equatorial Guinea, one of the world’s poorest countries, but is also paradoxically one of the world’s wealthiest heads of state, with an estimated net worth of $600 million. For perspective, Barack Obama has a net worth of about $11.8 million.

Equatorial Guinea, despite having some of Africa’s largest oil reserves, has one of the most underdeveloped infrastructures and poorest populations in the world – so where does the money go?

The answer, at least from the outside, seems to be directly from the corporate accounts of Exxon Mobil and other oil companies straight into the pockets of Obiang and his family. In 2003, Obiang announced that to combat corruption in public service jobs, he would be taking full control of the national treasury. He then withdrew half a billion dollars (that’s billion with a B) in state money from the national treasury and deposited it into accounts in his own name at Riggs Bank, based in Washington D.C., effectively siphoning off all of the state’s money into his own pocket.
In addition to draining the country’s accounts, he’s also been implicated in various human rights abuses, electoral fraud, nepotism, and using security contractors to maintain control over the country.

Of course corruption doesn’t just happen in less developed countries – In 2009, the MP’s expenses scandal erupted in the UK, where numerous members of parliament and members of the house of Lords were found to be claiming expenses dishonestly. This resulted in 8 successful criminal prosecutions, any many more resignations, although most of the MPs got away with very minor punishments, as with Derek Conway MP who only received a 10 day suspension for paying his Son, Freddie, thousands of pounds for apparently doing nothing.

State Crime and Human Rights

One thing that has made it easier to hold states accountable is the emergence of the of the United Nations after the second world war, which developed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – developed after world war two, designed to protect individual citizens from oppressive regimes – this is legally binding on member states. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains a list of freedoms which states are supposed to protect such as…

  • Article 4 – No one shall be held in slavery or servitude
  • Article 5 – No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Article 20 – Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
  • Article 24 – Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable working hours and holidays with pay.

The Scale of State Crime/ Human Right’s Abuses

The fact that Nation State’s maintain power and control over large territories and populations mean that they have the potential to engage in large scale crimes which victimise extremely large numbers of people – for example the Cambodian Genocide in the 1970s is estimated to have wiped out 25% of the population.