Last week the Peace Institute Slovenia (a member of the European Network on Statelessness) along with the Italian attorneys Andrea Saccucci and Anton Giulio Lana received PILnet’s 2012 European Pro Bono Award for exemplary partnership in the public interest. The award honours the successful litigation before the European Court of Human Rights concerning the issue of “erased people” that Mr. Lana and Mr. Saccucci achieved in partnership with the Peace Institute in the case Kurić and other v. Slovenia.
The “erased people” of Slovenia are a group of 25.671 individuals who have been unlawfully and arbitrarily deprived of their legal status of permanent residents of Slovenia. This state measure, which was carried in 1992, became known as “the erasure”. More information about the erased people and the litigation is available at www.mirovni-institut.si/izbrisani/en.
Often the issue of erasure has been understood as statelessness problem which, however, is not the case. Statelessness in the former Yugoslavia was caused by inconsistent nationality polices and not by the erasure.
Before the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia each Yugoslav national had nationality which consisted of federal nationality as well as nationality of one of the federal republics (similarly as today each national of one of the EU member states is also an EU national). After the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia a large majority of the people who were later erased automatically received nationality of one of the other successor states of the former Yugoslavia, under the principle of continuity with their previous republican citizenship. The deprivation of permanent residence status in Slovenia (the erasure) therefore did not impact their nationality. In other words, the erasure did not cause statelessness.
However, within the group of the erased people of Slovenia there were some who were rendered stateless after the dissolution of Yugoslavia for reason of consistency problems with nationality policies of the former Yugoslavia. This problem affected particularly those who were born in Slovenia after 1965 to parents who had republican nationality of one of the other republics (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro or Macedonia). Namely, until 1965 each new-born child was inscribed into the nationality book of the republic whose nationality he or she obtained. For example, if a child was born in Slovenia to Bosnian republican nationals and received Bosnian republican nationality, his birth and nationality were inscribed into the Bosnian nationality book. However, after 1965 the federal rules changed and each new-born was inscribed into the nationality book according to the place of birth. If we use the same example, a child born in Slovenia who received Bosnian nationality was inscribed into the Slovenian nationality book as a Bosnian national. Consequently, nationality books of the republics were therefore no longer books on nationals of each republic but became books of all residents of the republic regardless of their republican nationality.
The problem was that very often the event of the child’s birth in Slovenia was not properly communicated to the respective republic whose nationality the child obtained (and this was the case for all six republics, not just Slovenia). As a consequence, when Yugoslavia dissolved these people did not automatically obtain nationality of the republic in which they lived or in the republic whose nationality they possessed, as the latter did not know that they existed. If such person also failed to apply for nationality of Slovenia because she expected to receive it automatically, she became stateless.
Some of the applicants in the Kurić case became stateless this way. While they were already hurt by statelessness which occurred in the described way, their position was worsened with the erasure. Had they retained the permanent residence status in Slovenia, they would have a chance to regulate their nationality later.
In the context of statelessness the case of the erased people shows how complex these issues are, how difficult it can be to identify statelessness and the reasons for it as well as how intertwined the nationality laws of states can be. Building on its experience with the issue of erasure the Peace Institute, encouraged by the European Pro Bono Award, is now implementing a UNHCR-supported project looking into depths of statelessness in Slovenia. Through the European Network on Statelessness it is also looking forward to contributing to and learning from the transnational knowledge about this problem.