“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Taking stock of State pledges to tackle statelessness?

19 September 2012 | Chris Nash, International Protection Policy Coordinator at Asylum Aid

It is now just three months short of a year since UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, hailed a “quantum leap” in global efforts to tackle statelessness at a Ministerial Meeting organised by UNHCR in Geneva to mark the 50th Anniversary of the 1961 Statelessness Convention. At this meeting 61 countries made statelessness-related pledges and 33 states committed to accede or take steps to accede to either or both conventions.

In the European context it is welcome that Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova and Portugal have since ratified both the Statelessness Conventions. Some states are in the process of doing so or are taking other measures to improve the protection of stateless persons. However, a number of states who made pledges are yet to take any concrete action.

Moreover, despite the fact that soon almost all EU states will have ratified the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, only a small handful have in place dedicated and effective procedures for identifying stateless persons. Having such mechnanisms in place is a critical first step for states to comply with their obligations under the 1954 Convention and international human rights law.

Looking ahead, several upcoming dates in the international calendar provide an early opportunity for states and other stakeholders to take stock of progress in implementing state pledges to tackle statelessness, and to focus attention and renew effort where this has not happened.

The first such opportunity arises next week with the High-Level Rule of Law meeting during the General Assembly to be held in New York on the 24th September 2012.  This forum is clearly relevant because the rule of law is undermined when individuals are made stateless and denied full equality before the law as a result of discrimination or arbitrary decision making.

 Refugees International is marking this occasion by issuing a public statement signed by dozens of NGOs (including the European Network on Statelessness) which urges member states to take advantage of pledge accession to the Statelessness Conventions, to introduce procedures to identify and protect stateless persons subject to their jurisdiction and to amend nationality laws that discriminate against women, children and specific populations based on ethnicity, religion, or other impermissible factors.

 Later in the week the focus switches from New York to Geneva for the Committee on the Rights of the Child 2012 Day of General Discussion on 28 September which focuses on “The Rights of All Children in the Context of International Migration”.  This discussion day provides an important opportunity to raise concerns about childhood statelessness, to provide documentation to the Committee in the context of its review of reports by State parties to the Convention and to push for a General Comment on Article 7 on the Convention of the Rights of the Child (the right of every child to be registered and to acquire a nationality). UNHCR has produced a leaflet which explains the link between Article 7 and the 1961 Statelessness Convention.

 The meeting of UNHCR’s Executive Committee early next month (1-5 October), also in Geneva, presents another forum for states to  critically review their progress in implementing the commitments they made at the Ministerial Meeting last year.

 All these meetings also provide civil society with an invaluable opportunity to evaluate what this means for their own campaigning and awareness-raising efforts. The European Network on Statelessness is organising an event in Budapest on 19-21 November to bring together many of its new members from across Europe in order to plan coordinated action. With over 35 new members having joined since the Network’s launch in June, we hope to be increasingly better placed to make a telling contribution.

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