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Fighting against statelessness
Being stateless happens when a person does not enjoy any nationality. Therefore, not having citizenship means that a person does not have
any bonds to the legal obligations and rights of any country. In a world where nations are still the dominant players, nationality is one of the core aspects of forming one’s identity. Currently, more than 10 million people around the world are stateless. It is important to see how statelessness enhances other problems, such as economic uncertainty, and how the international community acts in order to improve this situation.

Why is Statelessness a Problem?

Nationals from a country receive certain rights. Participating in political and social tasks, such as a right to social security, freedom of movement and voting are rights that citizens take for granted. However, in some countries, there are residents which are stateless and so they have no access to these basic rights. If a state denies a stateless person protection, it is denying him or her basic human rights. As a result, they have limited access to development and have challenges progressing in life successfully. This situation leads on many occasions to perpetual economic instability. Stateless people have no legal right to work in their country of residence, which makes it very difficult for them to have reliable job opportunities. Residents which the formal economy largely ignores, are vulnerable victims of exploitation such as forced labor and prostitution.

Moreover, statelessness is often the result of discriminatory laws against women. More than 20 countries around the world still have gender-discriminatory laws that make both women and children more vulnerable to becoming stateless. Unequal legislation such as the Qatari does not allow mothers to pass their nationality to their children, even if there is no recognized father and it will render the child stateless. Another example is Jordan, where women married to non-nationals cannot pass their Jordanian nationality to their children. Fighting against statelessness and avoiding the risk in countries with gender-discriminatory legislation, reduces the prevalence of other problems, such as the perpetuation of patriarchal societies and domestic violence. It also helps reduce the risk of child marriage for girls whose only opportunity is to acquire their spouse’s nationality.

International Law is a Key to Change

The main issue for people fighting statelessness is that they cannot count on the protection of a specific nation, so the international community becomes an important ally to monitor statelessness and help people going through the toughest challenges. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an agency to which The United States is the largest donor, is also dedicated to helping reduce statelessness worldwide. UNHCR drafted the 1954 and 1961 Conventions, through which stateless people received recognition and a guideline focused on reducing statelessness.

Based on Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the 1961 convention has as a core objective to avoid statelessness as a result of deprivation of nationality, as everyone has the right to a nationality. While the loss of nationality is a possibility and the national legislation contemplates it, what the 1961 Convention attempts to eliminate is the deprivation of nationality based on discriminatory laws. Therefore, based on Article 9 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention established that both men and women should have the same right to acquire and pass on their nationality.

What is Improving?

In 2014, UNHCR launched the #IBelong Campaign, an action plan focused on fighting against statelessness and optimally eliminating it within 10 years. The most important actions taken are the following:

  • Solve major cases of statelessness
  • Ensure every child has a nationality
  • Fight against gender discrimination
  • Increase the number of members to the 1961 Convention

The latest data revealed by UNHCR in 2021 shows that 96 states are party to the 1954 Convention and 77 are party to the 1961 Convention. This suggests that ever more countries worldwide are committed to the process of fighting against statelessness. Furthermore, since the #IBelong Campaign:

  • Kyrgyzstan reduced the number of statelessness cases to zero.
  • Eleven countries made significant reductions.
  • Seventeen countries implemented efforts to identify and help stateless people in their territory.
  • Twelve countries facilitated the naturalization process.
  • Fourteen countries compromised to give every child the right to a nationality.
  • Two countries improved their gender discriminatory laws in favor of mothers’ rights to transfer their nationality to their children.

Looking Ahead

Recent action regarding statelessness proves that the international community is making a significant effort to improve the situation. The extent to which international law can make a difference is limited to member states. States are independent to decide if the Conventions regarding statelessness become binding in their legislation. Thus, even though it is difficult for international law to make a difference, the growing commitment to solving statelessness is mainly what allows international law to play a crucial role in fighting statelessness globally.

– Carla Tomas Laserna
Photo: Flickr