The Americas, lessons learned from two convergent processes

Francisco Quintana, Founder of the Americas Network on Nationality and Statelessness, Advocate, and Human Rights Expert on Latin America and the Caribbean
/ 6 mins read

A decade after the launch of UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign and Brazil’s 2014 Plan of Action, the Americas have undergone some transformative developments in the fight against statelessness. As the ten-year deadline approaches, it is important to examine the lessons learned from these co-occurring processes.


The Brazil Plan of Action and the I Belong campaign as joined opportunities

Every 10 years, the UNHCR meets with governments from Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss the state of international protection of forcibly displaced people in the Americas. This meeting is held in honour of the adoption of the 1984 Declaration of Cartagena, which established a comprehensive definition of the refugee for the region, extending the protection mechanisms provided by the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

In 2014, this decadal meeting coincided with two promising developments: the launch of UNHCR’s  ‘#IBelong Campaign’, which aims to end statelessness in ten years and, the 2014 Brazil Plan of Action  (BPA). The BPA, also known as the Cartagena +30 process, prioritised the eradication of statelessness for the first time, applying all the regionally relevant measures from UNHCR’s campaign. As a result of Brazil’s pioneering plan, several Latin American and Caribbean countries have incorporated measures to combat statelessness into their national guidelines.

Below are some of the most relevant region-wide developments from the last decade.

Achievements in Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America and the Caribbean have made significant strides towards addressing statelessness since 2014, including the accession of Chile (2018), Peru (2014), Jamaica (2014) and Belize (2015) to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Furthermore, Chile (2018), Colombia (2019), El Salvador (2015) have acceded to or ratified the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. Haiti acceded in 2018 to both Conventions on statelessness. In 2018, Costa Rica became the first Latin American country to nationalize a stateless person, reaching up to 67, and followed by Brazil who has recognized 16 people so far. Uruguay and Panama also recognized stateless status of individuals in 2020 and 2021

In the Caribbean region, as part of its pledges made in the High-Level Segment on Statelessness (HLS) in 2019, Haiti issued two decrees to address, a) late birth registration (2019), and b) national identification card (2020). Moreover, the Ministry of Justice and Public Safety and Security (MJSP) in Haiti submitted a draft bill on nationality with technical support from the UNHCR, which is currently being processed by Parliament. This bill aims to address the risk of statelessness among Haitians in Haiti and the broader Caribbean region. Cuba eliminated the requirement of “avecindamiento” (i.e. three months’ residence in the country) for the acquisition of nationality for children born abroad to a parent of Cuban nationality, benefiting 5,472 children between 2017 and 2023. The Dominican Republic enacted a legislation in 2023 on the Civil Status Acts (Law 04-23), “extending the deadline for timely registration and the facilitation of late registration through an administrative rather than a judicial process”.  As these measures were only recently adopted, there are no metrics from civil society to establish its full implementation yet.

Other countries in the region have adapted their legislation on the matter of nationality acquisition by filiation (jus sanguinis), such as Mexico, Peru and Paraguay. Some countries took a more restrictive interpretation of the exceptions concerning the acquisition of nationality by birth in the territory (ius soli), such as Argentina and Chile. The latter introduced new legislation in 2021, that expands the interpretation of exception for children of “a transient foreigner”, reflecting the restrictive policies found in the DR. On the other hand, Brazil “eliminated the requirement to renounce the nationality of origin when applying for naturalization”. After a surge of Venezuelan migration in 2017, Colombia adopted various decrees and legislation to guarantee the right to a nationality for children born in Colombia of a Venezuelan parent. According to the UNCHR, through this Children First Programme, “the fundamental right to a nationality was guaranteed for 100,387 Children” between 2015 and 2025.  The exact scope of these measures in Colombia are still being verified by civil society and the academia.

Some other notable developments include:

  • Access to late registration of births (Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador) and documentation to cross-border populations and indigenous communities (Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama).
  • Publication of guidance materials and campaigns: Panama published a book on the Prevention of Statelessness to guide stateless individuals and inform community leaders and state institutions about overcoming statelessness. Costa Rica launched a campaign “You are not invisible” with audio-visual material on existing statelessness determination procedures.
  • Facilitation of Naturalization Procedures. Several countries have adopted laws to facilitate naturalization procedures for stateless persons (Argentina Law 27512 of 2019), reducing legal requirements such as the period of residence needed before one can apply for naturalization.
  • Regional Strategic Frameworks: The General Assembly of the Organization of American States supported efforts to eradicate statelessness by adopting resolutions and inviting member states to identify challenges and actions needed to address statelessness.
  • Confirmation of Nationality Projects: Initiatives like "Chile reconoce", and "Chiriticos" in Costa Rica and Panama have been implemented to confirm nationality and issue documentation, particularly for populations at risk of statelessness, such as the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous people.
  • Human rights approaches to Statelessness by HR Bodies. Since 2014 both the I-A Court and Commission of Human Rights have incorporated different approaches in its work for a better protection against and eradication of statelessness, such as advisory opinions (OC 21/2014), cases (IA Court 2014 DR, IACHR 2022 Argentina), country reports (IACHR 2015), and its IACHR Resolution 04/2023 on the right to nationality, prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality and statelessness.
  • Participation of civil society and academia: Throughout this decade, there has been a lot of coordination between civil society and UNCHR. The BPA final report recognized the importance of strengthening national and regional civil society networks, including academia. Some noteworthy examples are the contributions of the Americas Network on Nationality and Statelessness (RED ANA) and the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network (GAI), among other initiatives. One of Red ANA’s major roles was to incorporate civil society in both processes. 

Conclusion and analysis of the impact of both processes

In summary, the inclusion of statelessness in the Cartagena Process and alignment with global initiatives, such as the #IBelong Campaign, has had a positive impact on the region, with 13 countries committing and advancing 39 concrete commitments to address statelessness by September 2023. Another lesson learned was the importance of responding at a regional level and participating jointly in global meetings and forums to strengthen the protection against and solutions to eradicate statelessness, sharing good practices developed in the region.

These co-occurring efforts show us the importance of synergies between the BPA and other global mechanisms (UNO, OAS), the achievements of which are fully laid out in the final implementation report. While these achievements are encouraging, it is important to note that in certain countries, statelessness is still firmly rooted in society.  Restrictive policies in the Dominican Republic, 218,000 stateless persons in the USA, the stripping of citizenship in Nicaragua were among the knock-backs over the past decade.  However, a recent initiative has sparked renewed hope with the initiation of a new ten-year initiative in the Americas called the Cartagena +40 and led by Chile. The world has much to learn from the Americas in the fight against statelessness.

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