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Jakarta Post

Stateless, hopeless

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, February 11, 2020   /   08:12 am
Stateless, hopeless In this new era of massive government surveillance, it would be very difficult for former IS fighters to drop off the radar and go rogue. (Antara/Wahyu Putro A)

Citizenship should be a basic human right and governments around the world should make it a priority to protect these rights.

“Citizenship is not a license that expires upon misbehavior,” the United States Supreme Court justices stated in 1958 when they ruled that it was unconstitutional to revoke citizenship and impose the condition of statelessness as a punishment for a crime. Only four years earlier, the United Nations adopted the 1954 Conventions on Statelessness, which was followed up in 1961 with another convention dealing with the reduction of statelessness.

Indonesia is not a signatory to either UN convention, so it has no obligation to abide by them. If anything, this could be the legal justification if and when the government finally decides to reject the return of Indonesian nationals who joined the Islamic State (IS) movement.

While there is no official decision on whether to repatriate 660 Indonesian citizens from former IS strongholds, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has signaled his disapproval of the proposal, although his religious affairs minister has said the government would keep such an option open.

But setting aside the legal and moral considerations for not allowing any individual to become stateless, repatriating these former IS fighters should have a more practical implication. If the government decides not to repatriate them, then no country might accept them and these people would become stateless and be further radicalized.

We can never know for sure about the state of mind of these former IS fighters, but we can take some comfort from the fact that some of them have expressed regret and disappointment about their decision, if not belief, to join the extremist group.

Shamima Begum, a British national who joined the IS in Syria at the age of 15, has appealed to the United Kingdom to let her return home and was quoted as saying in an interview: “I hate the Dawla [IS] so much.”

In a video published on the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) website, some Indonesians who were repatriated from Iraq recounted the horror from the war and admitted that they were deceived by the promises of life in a caliphate IS made online.

If such confessions are not persuasive enough for the Indonesian authorities to let these former IS fighters and their family members return, and the government is concerned about the prospect of these people establishing a caliphate here, then it is doubting its own capabilities.

In this new era of massive government surveillance, it would be very difficult for former IS fighters to drop off the radar and go rogue. The government also has another trick up its sleeve to deal with these former radicals. It already has a long-established deradicalization program that, despite widespread criticism of its efficacy, these former IS fighters could join.

Coordinating Politics, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD has said the government would make a decision on the fate of these former IS fighters in the next couple of months. Time is of the essence here. The more the government hesitates, the greater the prospects are of these people drifting away into the unknown.