‘A baby is born stateless every ten minutes’. This powerful image underlines UNHCR’s ‘I belong’ campaign, launched in November 2014, and aimed at ending the devastating legal limbo of statelessness, which affects millions of people around the world. Sixty years after the adoption of the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and half a century since the adoption of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, at least ten million people worldwide are still stateless. In the European region at least 600,000 individuals are affected by statelessness. The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (‘ENNHRI’) is deeply concerned by these numbers and calls upon European states, which have the primary responsibility, to take measures to eradicate statelessness as soon as possible.
Statelessness is essentially a human rights issue, resulting in a multiplication of human rights violations. The 1954 Convention defines statelessness as not being considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law. Often states deny stateless persons access to documentation to enter, or reside there lawfully. Not having any nationality or the necessary documentation hinders access to basic human rights, such as education and health services. It also increases vulnerability to poverty, discrimination, exploitation and marginalization. Ultimately, it encroaches on a person’s human dignity.
In April 2014 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe issued a resolution on the access to nationality. In the light of this resolution ENNHRI published a position paper with recommendations on the eradication of statelessness in Europe. In this paper, it urges European states to take steps to prevent and reduce statelessness and to provide stateless persons unlimited access to the human rights, as laid down in the 1954 Convention.
The recommendations are addressed at three distinct levels. It firstly addresses the European states, which have the primary responsibility to prevent and eradicate statelessness (see below). Secondly, it recommends the European Union to oversee the implementation of national strategies for Roma integration, which should include measures to prevent and combat statelessness among the Roma population. It urges the European Council to put identification and protection of stateless persons on its agenda. Thirdly, it calls upon the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to accept and implement the Recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly on the access to nationality and the implementation of the European Convention on Nationality.
In its reply, the Committee of Ministers stated that the legal framework is sufficient but that the implementation of existing standards in Member States should be promoted and supported. It further stated that the budgetary situation does not allow for the re-establishment of a committee of experts on nationality. Instead it invited the European Committee on Legal Co-operation for advice on the recommendation. Nevertheless, ENNHRI underlines the importance of the Committee of Ministers to take further steps, accept and implement the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly.
At the national level, ENNHRI makes four key recommendations:
1) Signature and ratification of the 1954 Convention, the 1961 Convention and the European Convention on Nationality: ENNHRI calls upon member states to sign and ratify the aforementioned conventions without restrictive reservations or declarations.
2) Stateless children: Nationality is part of a child’s identity. However, it is estimated that half of all the stateless people are children. In order to combat statelessness among children, an effective and inclusive system of birth registration is crucial. Therefore, ENNHRI calls upon European States to adopt a range of measures to facilitate birth registration and acquisition of necessary documentation in order to prevent statelessness.
3) Access to rights - a determination procedure: The 1954 Convention provides protection and access to fundamental human rights for stateless persons. To assess who has a right to access these human rights, it is important for states to identify who is stateless. The lack of an effective determination procedure leads to insufficient protection of stateless persons and hinders their access to human rights. Consequently ENNHRI calls upon European States to establish a procedure with due process safeguards, and the issuance of a residence permit once statelessness is established.
4) Raising awareness: Effective legislation and policy procedures require knowledge of the phenomenon of statelessness, and awareness raising of the specific needs and requirements of stateless persons. ENNHRI recommends a national statelessness registry with disaggregated data, as well as continuous awareness raising and training of policy makers and state officials.
Along with its position paper, ENNHRI intends to contribute to the prevention and the eradication of statelessness, and offers the technical expertise of its network to create synergies at the national and regional level. As stated above, national states have the primary responsibility to address statelessness. In this regard, ENNHRI members continue to advocate for the human rights of stateless persons at the national level, drawing on each other’s experiences and practices. Like UNHCR and many other actors in the field, ENNHRI believes that with sufficient political will, statelessness can be resolved.
The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) comprises National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) from across wider Europe. NHRIs are state funded institutions, independent of government, with a broad legislative or constitutional mandate to promote and protect human rights. ENNHRI’s main areas of work are: aiding in the establishment and accreditation of NHRIs; coordinating exchange of information and best practice between members; facilitating capacity building and training; engaging with regional mechanisms; and intervening on legal and policy developments at a European level. Its Secretariat is based in Brussels, and can be contacted at ENNHRI@cntr.be.