Four reasons why the Americas could become the first region to prevent and eradicate Statelessness

Francisco Quintana - Program Director, Center for Justice and International Law and Liliana Gamboa - Program Officer, Open Society Justice Initiative
/ 5 mins read

Last year three key events took place in the Americas that highlighted the commitment of the international community, civil society and states to end Statelessness in the region. The conversations and developments that took place at these events will hopefully turn Statelessness in the region into a distant memory. Here are the top four reasons why:

First reason. On November 19, 2014, more than 200 people attended the event “Out of the Shadows: Ending Statelessness in the Americas” in Washington, D.C., the UNCHR’s regional launch of its ten year global campaign to eradicate and prevent statelessness around the world. At the event, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres stressed that the Americas could be “the first continent to eradicate statelessness”. The  combination of generous application of both jus soli and jus sanguinis provisions, and the new inclusions of important safeguards in domestic legislation, relevant to loss, deprivation and renunciation of citizenship, could demonstrate that the Americas has the potential to be free of this problem.

Second Reason: Last November too, a network of civil society organizations, academic initiatives, and individual experts committed to addressing statelessness in the Americas launched the Americas Network on Nationality and Statelessness. ANA —as it is known for its acronym in Spanish— is committed to raising awareness on this issue, identify affected people throughout the region and advocate for the recognition of the rights of stateless persons. Its members are committed to sharing knowledge surrounding the subject of statelessness in order to create a cohesive network that can best defend the human rights of stateless people, cooperate with states in order to strengthen international protection mechanisms, and exchange information with sister organizations around the world.

ANA has taken inspiration and support from the European Network on Statelessness and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion. In 2014, during the UNCHR Annual Consultation with NGOs and at the First Global Forum on Statelessness, members of both organizations discussed with ANA the benefits of working in regional coalitions and sharing similar experiences. As ENS Director Chris Nash pointed out recently: “there is real potential to develop an effective and enduring global civil society coalition committed to tackling the statelessness issue”.

Third Reason: Last December, 28 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean accompanied by the UNCHR gathered in the city of Brasilia to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees and adopted the Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action. Through this plan, participating States agreed to work together to maintain the highest standards of international and regional protection, and implement innovative solutions for refugees and displaced persons. Furthermore, it was their agreement to end the plight of stateless people face in the region that represents one of the most interesting new additions to a declaration of such hemispheric scope. The declaration dedicated an entire sixth chapter to this issue. In it, States recognized statelessness as a challenge that must be addressed and made an exceptional commitment to eradicate statelessness within ten years.

Fourth Reason: Some countries are already making great strides at achieving this. Brazil, for example, has drafted legislation which states that any person who is not considered by any State, under its own legislation, as its national, will be national of Brazil as set forth in the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and Decree No. 4246 of 2002. Furthermore, the statute would provide stateless persons special protections:  an expedite naturalization process,  a provisional residence permit and access to services granted to refugees under already existing programs for refugee sin Brazil.  This legislations is currently pending a vote before Congress

In Chile, the new administration, through internal memoranda, has adopted criteria for granting nationality to children born in the national territory of undocumented migrants, ensuring that the government does not deny Chilean nationality to children born in the territory, who could be at risk of being stateless. The government has expressed its interest in codifying this change in policy, through its inclusion in draft legislation to regulate migration, as well as a new nationality law.

Last year, Suriname’s National Assembly amended its 1975 Law on Nationality and Residence, to allow mothers to pass on nationality to their children and eliminates inequality before the law giving the same right as men to confer their nationality to their spouses. However, Suriname is not yet a party to the UN Statelessness Conventions.

Notwithstanding these positive steps and good practices in some countries, the region continues to face many challenges. In the worst cases, governments have taken nationality away from their citizens for political or discriminatory reasons. Statelessness also results from discrimination, gender inequality or gaps in citizenship laws and procedures. In other cases, governments simply lack the capacity to officially recognize and document their citizens.

It is our hope that other countries follow these good examples and that the commitments made under the Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action become tangible models for other regions to follow. In the words of Commissioner Guterres during his speech at the UNHCR even in Washington D.C., statelessness is “the most forgotten aspect of human rights in the international community, and it was indeed the most forgotten aspect in the UNHCR mandate”. Civil Society, the international community and States across the hemisphere must continue to focus on this human rights challenge. Together, we must strive to turn the Americas into a leader that helps those the men, women, and children who live in the shadow of statelessness out of the darkness.


Both the Center for Justice and International Law and the Open Society Justice Initiative are members of the Americas Network on Nationality and Statelessness

Other related recent actions in the Americas are:

Organization of American States (OAS), General Assembly Resolution, AG/RES. 2826 (XLIV-O/14) PREVENTION AND REDUCTION OF STATELESSNESS AND PROTECTION OF STATELESS PERSONS IN THE AMERICAS. (Adopted at the second plenary session, held on June 4, 2014)

 Organization of American States (OAS) and UNHCR, “Course on Fundamental Elements for Identification and Protection of Stateless Persons and Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness in the Americas”, held on February 12th, 2015.

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