A Rights Based Approach to the issue of Statelessness

What is statelessness?

Under international law, nationality is defined as the juridical expression of the legal, political and social bond which connects the individual with a particular country. This bond of citizenship allows the individual to acquire and exercise certain rights and responsibilities vis-à-vis their country of nationality.

Recognition of nationality serves as the key to a host of other rights, including education, health care, employment, and social services. Because of this, people without citizenship – people who are stateless – are among the most vulnerable in the world.


Human rights standards

The right to a nationality is protected under international law: the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 15), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (article 7) which provides that children who would otherwise be stateless have a right to nationality in the State in which they are born.


What is the effect on children?

There are an estimated 15 million stateless persons around the world. The consequences of statelessness among children are numerous and severe and often start before they are even born: stateless pregnant women are frequently denied adequate pre-natal and post-natal care. A few years down the line, many stateless children are denied access to primary education. Other key consequences of statelessness for children include greater likelihood of growing up in extreme poverty, restricted freedom of movement, arbitrary deportations, social exclusion, and in some cases greater vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation.


What can be done?

A rights based approach should look at the causes of statelessness. The development of any campaign will depend on whether statelessness is caused by the cost of birth registration, discrimination against persons of particular racial, ethnic, national, and linguistic origins or even gender discrimination - many countries around the world still do not have gender-neutral citizenship laws, and leave women unable to pass their citizenship to their children and foreign spouses. For example, a birth registration campaign, one of the most important means to providing children with a legal identity, will not convey nationality when statelessness is the consequence of ethnic or gender discrimination.

A rights-based approach to the right to nationality should:

·     promote a wider understanding of the different forms and grave consequences of statelessness,

·     lobby governments to respect the basic human right of all individuals to have a nationality,

·     adhere to international standards to protect stateless people,

·     reduce statelessness by facilitating acquisition of nationality,

·     allow non-citizens equal access to rights and entitlements within their borders, and

·     ensure every child is registered at birth.

But campaigning should not stop there because acquiring a nationality and obtaining documentation do not always fully remedy the discrimination, which in many cases is both a cause and at the same time a major consequence of statelessness. To make their nationality fully effective, a rights-based approach to statelessness should take into account the efforts needed to ensure the full integration of formerly stateless persons into society and the enjoyment of their rights on an equal basis with other nationals.

Read CRIN's editorial on statelessness