By Susie Alegre
Mikhail Saakashvili, the former President of Georgia, came to fame leading the “Rose Revolution.” He subsequently became a prominent politician in Ukraine but was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship and forcibly abducted by Ukrainian state agents and removed from the country in 2017 and again in early 2018. He has been denied the possibility of re-entering Ukraine.
Geoffrey Robertson QC and Susie Alegre of Doughy Street International advised Mr Saakashvili of the international human rights law implications of his treatment by Ukraine and a press conference was held in the Hague in May 2018 to bring the issues to international attention.
Aside from the human rights implications around the right to liberty and degrading treatment through the forcible abduction and removal from the country, the case highlights the human rights implications of the removal of citizenship and denial of entry into one’s own country.
Removal of Citizenship
International human rights law prevents arbitrary removal of citizenship. The European Court of Human Rights has found that the revocation of citizenship may amount to an interference with an individual’s right to respect for family and private life under Article 8 ECHR (see Ramadan v. Malta, no. 76136/12, § 85, ECHR 2016). In determining whether a revocation of citizenship is in breach of Article 8, the Court has addressed two separate issues: whether the revocation was arbitrary; and what the consequences of revocation were for the applicant.
In determining whether or not the revocation of Mr Saakashvili’s citizenship was arbitrary, the Court would consider whether the revocation was in accordance with the law; whether it was accompanied by the necessary procedural safeguards, including whether Mr Saakashvili was allowed the opportunity to challenge the decision before courts affording the relevant guarantees; and whether the authorities acted diligently and in good faith (see K2 v UK, Application no. 42387/13 §52-61, ECHR 2017). The consequences for Mr Saakashvili are particularly severe because he has effectively been rendered stateless.
Ukraine has ratified the European Convention on Nationality. Article 7 of that Convention prohibits a State Party from providing for the loss of nationality in its internal law if the person concerned would thereby become stateless (except in cases of fraud which does not appear to have been alleged here). Ukraine has also acceded to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (1954) and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (1961).
Right to return to Ukraine
Article 12(4) of the ICCPR guarantees in absolute terms that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country. The Human Rights Committee in its General Comment 27 has clarified that the scope of this provision
“…is not limited to nationality in a formal sense, that is, nationality acquired at birth or by conferral; it embraces, at the very least, an individual who, because of his or her special ties to or claims in relation to a given country, cannot be considered to be a mere alien. This would be the case, for example, of nationals of a country who have there been stripped of their nationality in violation of international law…. (GC 27 § 20) There are few, if any circumstances in which deprivation of the right to enter one’s own country could be reasonable. A State party must not, by stripping a person of nationality or by expelling an individual to a third country, arbitrarily prevent this person from returning to his or her own country (GC 27 § 21).
As Mr Saakashvili had made Ukraine his home, it is his permanent residence and he has special ties with Ukraine including leadership of a political party in the country. Ukraine is bound by its obligations under Article 12(4) of the ICCPR.
The treatment of Mr Saakashvili by Ukraine raises significant concerns under international human rights law but challenges may be brought only once domestic remedies have been exhausted. Mr Saakashvili remains in exile but is continuing to challenge the actions of Ukraine through both diplomatic and legal channels.