“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Strides toward belonging: The 4th #IBelong campaign anniversary event

22 November 2018 | Radha Govil, UNHCR Senior Legal Officer, Division of International Protection
#IBelong campaign anniversary - UNHCR/ S. Hopper

Each November since 2014, UNHCR has commemorated the anniversary of the #IBelong Campaign, and November 2018 was no exception. Last week, Government representatives, sister UN agencies, civil society partners, high-level supporters  and UNHCR staff gathered in the atrium of UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland to mark 4 years since the IBelong Campaign was launched.

Highlights of the Anniversary Event

The High Commissioner for Refugees kicked off the event by highlighting the progress made in the last year, commending States that had demonstrated the requisite political will and action taken to grant or confirm nationality, reform their laws to prevent statelessness, accede to the statelessness conventions and support the goals of the Campaign. Artee Mayer, a formerly stateless young woman from the Akha Hill Tribe of Thailand, recounted her journey from being stateless to citizen, and her hopes and dreams for the future. Further, the Ambassador of Brazil recalled the emotional moment in October this year, when Maha Mamo, a formerly stateless woman from Lebanon, was officially granted Brazilian citizenship at a UNHCR Executive Committee Meeting in the Palais des Nations, leaving not a single dry eye in the meeting room.

The event also included the launch of a new Handbook for Parliamentarians on Good Practices in Nationality Laws for the Prevention and reduction of Statelessness, published jointly by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UNHCR. Given that addressing statelessness often begins with implementing effective reforms to nationality laws, it is hoped that this Handbook will serve as a handy and inspiring tool for legislators and advocates around the world.  The event continued with a performance by eShun, UNHCR’s high-level supporter from Ghana, who lifted spirits with her Afropop-inspired IBelong song. To conclude, a prize was even awarded to the winner of our statelessness quiz! There was laughter, there were tears— above all it was a celebration of a collective will to end statelessness.

‘Celebrating’ Progress

The use of the word ‘celebration’’ may seem like an odd choice in the context of a campaign that stretches the span of a decade and in which the bright rays of progress can quickly become overshadowed by major setbacks – the continued denial of citizenship to the Rohingya and their forced displacement, en masse, to Bangladesh in 2017 being the most notable of such examples. In this sense, the 4th anniversary was also a sobering reminder of the millions who remain in a situation of extreme suffering because of their statelessness and the many hurdles yet to overcome. However, the successes do count and must be counted, not least because these longstanding changes are affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who did not have any nationality, or who faced a very real risk of statelessness, before the Campaign began. These include the fact that since the launch of the Campaign:

- Hundreds of thousands of stateless people have acquired a nationality, including as a result of concerted national efforts that have been motivated by the Campaign. Countries in Latin America, Kenya and Thailand have taken significant steps towards meeting their stated goal of ‘Zero Statelessness’ by the year 2024.

- There have been 20 new accessions to the two UN Statelessness Conventions, which contain important provisions to protect stateless people and to prevent and reduce statelessness. Chile, Haiti and Spain acceded to one or both of the conventions in 2018.
Gender discrimination in nationality laws that prevents mothers from passing their nationality to their children on an equal basis as men remains an easily remediable cause of statelessness. The Campaign has helped to catalyse reforms in Madagascar and Sierra Leone, leaving only 25 States globally that still need to tackle this issue.

- Nine States have established or improved statelessness determination procedures, which can provide a vital lifeline to stateless persons in a migratory context. These include: Brazil, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Hungary (improved), Italy (improved), Kosovo (S/RES/1244 (1999)), Montenegro and Turkey.

- Virtually every region of the world has launched and begun implementing a regional declaration and action plan to end statelessness, in sync with the timeframe of the #IBelong Campaign. These regional initiatives are driving the adoption of national action plans, and encouraging the sharing of good practices and cross-border collaboration to address statelessness. Examples of regional declarations include the Brazil Plan of Action (Americas); the Abidjan Declaration of Ministers of ECOWAS Member States on the Eradication of Statelessness (West Africa); the Declaration of International Conference on the Great Lakes Region Member States on the Eradication of Statelessness (Great Lakes Region); The League of Arab States Declaration on Belonging and Legal Identity (Arab States in the Middle East, North and Sub-Saharan Africa).

- The Global Compact on Refugees, which is to be validated by the UN General Assembly by the end of this year, recognizes that statelessness can be both a cause and a consequence of forced displacement, and makes provision for States to address the issue in line with the #IBelong Campaign’s framework.

- Many more actors are taking an active role in addressing statelessness. Under the banner of the Coalition on Every Child’s Right to a Nationality, UNICEF and UNHCR operations are working jointly to address childhood statelessness in more than 20 countries. UNHCR has partnered with the World Bank, UNDP, UNICEF and the private sector to produce new Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development, to help promote the sound implementation of Target 16.9 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to ensure legal identity for all by the year 2030.

Countdown to the 2019 High-Level Event

In October 2019, States and other actors will be invited to Geneva to participate in a High-Level Event on Statelessness, which will mark the mid-point of the #IBelong Campaign.  At the event, they will have the opportunity to highlight their accomplishments in the first five years of the Campaign, in line with the 10 Actions of the Global Action Plan to End Statelessness. States will also have the chance to deliver concrete pledges for actions that they are unable to complete by 2019, but which they commit to undertaking by the end of the Campaign in 2024. UNHCR hopes that the achievements to date, and others to come, will pave the way to an impactful High-Level Event. The countdown continues!

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