“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Questions of nationality and statelessness in Armenia

22 April 2014 | Marine Antonyan, RSD Consultant, UNHCR Armenia

The Republic of Armenia was one of the first republics of the former Soviet Union to ratify the two UN Statelessness Conventions, in 1994. How far has Armenia gone in giving effect to the key principles and standards enshrined in the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness? This is essentially the question a study published by UNHCR Armenia a year ago has sought to address.

 The principal focus of the study was to analyse the extent to which the scope and content of Armenia’s nationality legislation has been informed and guided by the international rules and standards set out in these treaties. It has also looked at the legislative work of the Council of Europe in the areas of nationality and statelessness.

The research shows that statelessness-related legislation in Armenia is in general consistent with the standards set out by international treaties. There are, however, gaps with respect to the acquisition and loss of Armenian citizenship, as well as the treatment of stateless persons. For example, Armenian legislation governing the acquisition of nationality at birth, being heavily based on the jus sanguinis principle, does not fully incorporate safeguards aimed at preventing statelessness at birth. More specifically, the legislation does not ensure that all children born in the territory of the State who would otherwise be stateless are granted Armenian citizenship. Furthermore, the legislative provisions allowing for loss, renunciation and termination of nationality do not provide sufficient safeguards against statelessness.

 Other problematic areas identified by the research include:

  • The definition of a stateless person in Armenian legislation is not consistent with that provided under the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons;
  • There is no national statelessness determination procedure in place;
  • No provision is made in the legislation of Armenia for the issuance of identity documents to any stateless person in the territory of Armenia;
  • The travel documents issued to stateless persons in Armenia do not meet the requirements of the Schedule to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons;
  • Children whose parents do not possess valid travel documents remain without birth registration. (UNHCR recently undertook another research devoted to this specific issue. The report of the research, once published, would provide more detailed recommendations on how to address this gap through legislative amendments).

The break-up of the Soviet Union did not result in significant stateless population in Armenia mainly owing to the inclusive definition of the initial body of citizens of Armenia. The fact that over 90 per cent of Armenia’s population at the time of independence were ethnic Armenians has largely contributed to this.

It appears, though, that a small number of non-ethnic Armenian holders of old USSR passports may be stateless in Armenia. The main problem is that there is no proper registration of and statistical information pertaining to stateless persons in the country. Generally, there is very little national awareness on the statelessness phenomena. One of the recommendations of the study was, therefore, that civil society and international organisations active in Armenia should put the issue of statelessness on their agenda, undertake research, and become involved in the shaping of the Government’s policy on the issue. The Council of Europe should actively promote Armenia’s accession to the Council of Europe nationality conventions. With a view to urging the government to bring the national legal framework relating to statelessness into line with the requirements of the statelessness Conventions, the study made more than 20 concrete recommendations on how to address the gaps identified in the report.

Although the study was published a year ago, the advantage of writing this piece now is that we can assess the impact that it has had so far, together with the advocacy that UNHCR has consistently undertaken with the government based on the findings of the study. The government has, in particular, taken two major steps in response to the recommendations to improve the legislative framework governing the prevention and reduction of statelessness and the treatment of stateless persons. It has drafted amendments to the Citizenship Law which have recently been submitted to the Parliament for approval. The amendments reflect almost all the major points raised by UNHCR.

Furthermore, with the support of UNHCR, the government has put into circulation a draft law on stateless persons which proposes to introduce formal statelessness determination procedures and regulates the status of recognised stateless persons in detail. Representatives of the relevant government institutions undertook a study visit to Spain last year to learn about the experience of Spain with statelessness determination procedures.

UNHCR will continue closely monitoring the legislative processes with respect to the two drafts with a view to supporting the government in having them passed by the Parliament in the form proposed by it. If the drafts are approved by the Parliament and become law, Armenia can take great pride in having a legislative framework in line with its international obligations as well as in demonstrating exemplary cooperation with UNHCR in addressing issues of nationality and statelessness in the country.   

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