“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

A new toolkit for protecting the right of every child to a nationality

29 June 2016 | Laura van Waas, Co-Director of the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion
Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion - Toolkit for protecting the right of every child to a nationality

196 states have signed on to the international obligations contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). That’s as good as it gets in terms of the reach of a binding human rights treaty. So, while it is tempting to look to dedicated, technical instruments like the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (and, in Europe, the 1997 European Convention on Nationality), for the tools to tackle childhood statelessness, we would be fools to neglect the enormous potential of the CRC in protecting the right of every child to a nationality. In this blog, we explain the process of developing a toolkit for civil society actors to leverage the CRC in their work and what the toolkit has to offer.

Getting to know the Committee on the Rights of the Child

In accordance with our mission to promote a human rights-based response to statelessness, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion quickly identified the CRC as a framework to get to know better and so set about exploring engagement with the Committee on the Rights of the Child which oversees implementation of the CRC. During 2015, we partnered with other relevant civil society organisations (including ENS and individual ENS members) to develop and submit a total of six alternative reports to the Committee, focusing on gaps in respect of the fulfilment of every child’s right to a nationality – protected under article 7 CRC. We also engaged with the Committee in other stages of the reporting cycle, including by participating in the Pre-Session and by responding to the List of Issues where we felt that some additional information could be added to help the Committee with its dialogue with the state on the issue of childhood statelessness. All of this allowed us to get first-hand experience with the process, which is critical if we’re to understand how better to leverage the CRC in efforts to promote children’s right to a nationality and to advise others on how to do so.

We discovered that the route to the Committee is a very accessible one and that if you prepare and submit (in time for the relevant deadline) suitably focused, succinct and yet also detailed enough information on the problems at hand, the Committee will gratefully receive it and put it to use. They are, after all, a body of independent experts whose sole focus is the promotion of child rights. While drawn from different regions of the world, they are simply not in the position to know all that there is to know on every pertinent issue in every country, so it is for all stakeholders – not just states, but also (critically) civil society organisations – to share the responsibility of providing them with the information needed to exercise their mandate. There’s also excellent support available from Child Rights Connect, in particular, in navigating the relevant procedures or receiving advice on when and how to engage. All in all, if the information about the problems that exist in a state’s law, policy or practice is readily to hand because this is something that you confront in your day-to-day work on statelessness, engaging with the Committee when the state comes up for review is a pretty straightforward process.

Mapping the Committee’s work on the right of every child to a nationality

In parallel with the above effort to gain experience with the process of engaging with the Committee on the Rights of the Child as a civil society organisation, last year we also embarked on a project to find out more about the Committee’s work in relation to the right of every child to a nationality. Neither this issue nor article 7 CRC more broadly have, to date, been the subject of a dedicated General Comment – a tool through which the Committee helps to explain the content of the rights contained within the CRC. So, to work out what guidance the Committee has offered on this question, we created an analytical database to compile relevant extracts from Recommendations that have been issued by the Committee in the Concluding Observations that it has adopted when reviewing states’ performance under the CRC.

It turns out that a wealth of hugely valuable interpretative guidance has been produced by the Committee on the substance of the right of every child to a nationality and on the measures of implementation that states should take in order to fulfil that right. Indeed, in the 23 years of Committee reviews of State Party reports (until mid-2016), the Committee issued 126 recommendations on the content of children’s right to acquire a nationality and an additional 226 recommendations on implementing measures. In total, 89 different States have so far received relevant recommendations from the Committee. This forms an incredible basis for further engagement with and by the Committee on the issue and for further awareness raising and advocacy efforts with states to address any areas in which they fall short of fulfilling their obligations under article 7 CRC. The fact that the guidance is “hidden” amongst over 450 sets of Concluding Observations is irrelevant in terms of its validity and potential impact. Again, it is our collective responsibility as persons/organisations concerned about childhood statelessness to ensure that the CRC is used to its best effect to protect child rights, including by making more active use of the Committee’s recommendations – be it to the state in which we are working or by analogy to other states where we confront the same challenges.

Addressing the right to a nationality through the CRC: a toolkit for civil society

Having learnt a wealth of valuable lessons from the work that we did in respect of the right to a nationality under the CRC last year, over the past few months we have been working to transform this into a practical tool to help civil society better leverage this instrument in their efforts to tackle childhood statelessness (thank you to Janivo Foundation for providing the necessary financial support to kick-start this process!). With the benefit of additional suggestions, inputs and feedback from child rights experts, NGO partners and even the Committee on the Rights of the Child itself (special thanks here to Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Chairperson of the Committee who provided both guidance and a foreword), the resulting Toolkit can truly be described as the product of an incredibly rewarding and enriching, collaborative process. It tallies a total of 100 pages if downloaded as a single PDF, but is broken down into 10 sections which can also be accessed and utilised independently, depending on need.

Part 1 of the toolkit (sections 1-4) provides an explanatory narrative on key issues to help the reader understand the problem of childhood statelessness, the content of the CRC and how to engage with the Committee. This includes narrative targeted towards child rights organisations that are interested to learn more about the right to a nationality and narrative targeted towards organisations working on statelessness that would like to better understand how the CRC framework can be used to support their goals.

Part 2 of the toolkit (sections 5-7) contains a set of tools for identifying pertinent issues and preparing a submission to the Committee. Central within this – and likely a tool that will be useful also beyond the immediate context of engagement in respect of the CRC – is a 10-point checklist for identifying issues relating to the right’s right to a nationality. This set of guiding questions is accompanied by short explanations of problems that can arise, as well as examples of relevant existing Committee recommendations. Another important tool in this section of the Toolkit is the downloadable Template for reporting to the Committee on childhood statelessness. We hope that this will make it easier for civil society actors without experience in reporting to the Committee to take the decision to do so, by giving them a head start in terms of the format in which to present information and key things to consider in putting together a report that will be useful to the Committee. And of course you can download the analytical database of concluding observations to draw on for inspiration in terms of what kind of recommendations to “go for” through engagement with the Committee (we’ve added some instructions on how to navigate that too).

Part 3 of the toolkit (sections 8-10) offers a series of annexes and additional resources. There is a glossary of key terms and abbreviations, for those unfamiliar with all the concepts and actors involved; and there’s further reading lists for anyone interested to get a sense of what other UN human rights mechanisms may be of use in the fight against childhood statelessness or to simply find out more about particular problems or initiatives in relation to this issue.

Making life as easy as possible

If, when you started reading this blog, you were encouraged by the idea of engaging with the CRC to promote children’s right to a nationality, but after reading about the extensive content of the toolkit you are tempted to conclude that it is far too complicated and time-consuming: please don’t throw out the idea just yet. The toolkit is deliberately multi-faceted because different civil society actors will come to it with different needs. For instance, it may be that you know the issues you want to report on very well already and all you want is a little help with the format of how to do so, in which case simply download the Template and get started. But it may be that you are keen to do a more extensive scoping of the childhood statelessness issues in your country to get a better sense of the challenges faced, in which case some of the narrative and the checklist, for instance, will be of use to you. With the gracious help of Wolf Legal Publishers and Robiz, we’ve been able to make the Toolkit available online, in a way that we hope will be easy to navigate and allow you to pick and choose what you need: visit www.statelessnessandhumanrights.org. There’s also a 6-page summary brochure that can help you to get started and that we would ask you to share with anyone who you feel could benefit from the Toolkit. We also welcome your feedback on the utility of the materials and any experiences with using the CRC to address childhood statelessness, so that we can continue to learn about and improve the tools for engagement on this issue.

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