More than a photo op – an opportunity for advocacy with governments on accession

Mark Manly, Senior Legal Coordinator (Statelessness) for UNHCR
/ 5 mins read

Complaints about the low number of States that are party to the UN statelessness conventions have been a constant feature of international discussions on statelessness for years. We have seen a great deal of progress on this front in the past two years and this post is intended to highlight an upcoming opportunity for treaty action by States which are not yet party – the annual United Nations Treaty Event which will be held during the General Assembly in New York.

First some background … The relatively low number of States party to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Stateless Persons has been a major weakness of the international legal framework on statelessness.  At the beginning of 2011 there were 65 parties to the 1954 Convention and 37 parties to the 1961 Convention. This is an unfortunate state of affairs because the conventions are key components of the international legal framework and a higher number of States parties would have a major impact on prevention and reduction of statelessness worldwide and the protection of stateless persons.

UNHCR therefore launched a global campaign to promote accession to both conventions. In over 80 countries we worked actively to promote accession including through dissemination of brochures on the content of the Conventions, analyses of compatibility between national legislation and the Conventions, and roundtable meetings with governments to discuss the impact of accession.  Internationally, resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, and the Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, all called upon States to consider accession. At the December 2011 ministerial meeting organized by UNHCR in Geneva, a total of 33 States pledged to accede to one or both Conventions.  Subsequently, at the 2012 United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law, the European Union pledged that Member States which had not yet done so would become parties to the 1954 Convention and consider accession to the 1961 Convention. The UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies made frequent recommendations to States to accede in the context of State reporting procedures. In addition, an increasing number of States which are already party to one or both Conventions are calling upon others to become parties. This was most evident in the context of the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council, whereby a total of 20 recommendations to accede were made to specific States in the past year, including to four Council of Europe States. CoE also made a number of such recommendations to other States.

The result of these developments was an unprecedented increase in the number of States parties to the two Conventions. There have been 26 accessions by 17 States since the beginning of 2011, with 14 accessions to the 1961 Convention and 12 to the 1954 Convention. This is more than twice as many accessions as during any previous two year period since the treaties were adopted.

These developments are very encouraging but we need to remember that priorities change and governments come and go. It is therefore essential that members of the emerging global coalition on statelessness continue to advocate with governments on concrete action to address statelessness, including accession to the two Conventions. The annual Treaty Event held at UN HQs during the General Assembly offers a useful “hook”.  This year the Treaty Event will feature both statelessness conventions, meaning that States which are not parties are invited to accede. The Event will be held on 24-26 September and 30 September-1 October. The Treaty Event is basically a ceremonial occasion during which a Head of State or Government or a Foreign Minister can deposit their State’s instrument(s) of ratification or accession to one (or both) of the Conventions. The Event is not a meeting per se but essentially an occasion at which participating government can deposit their instruments with the United Nations. Each participating government is given a designated time to do so and some governments choose to bring the press with them for the occasion. The UN also publishes photos of the event on the UN website.  The statelessness conventions were also included in the Treaty Events in 2011 and 2012 and the events proved to be an excellent vehicle for efforts to promote accessions – there were a total of four accessions each year. UNHCR is usually on hand as well and in 2011 we were lucky to have the High Commissioner present for the accession by Croatia to the 1961 Convention. Governments are aware of the details of this year’s event because a letter was sent recently by the UN Secretary General to each UN Member State. Additional details are available here

So what can you do?

UNHCR has already approached many governments about the possibility of depositing their instruments of accession at the treaty event. NGOs can also encourage governments to do so.  Probably the best approach is to focus on:

* the four Council of Europe States which made a pledge to accede at the 2011 ministerial meeting but have yet to do so;

* the four States covered by the EU pledge made at the UN Rule of Law meeting in 2012;

* the Council of Europe States which were recommended to accede by the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council (ten States received recommendations, six have yet to implement) or;

* have indicated publicly that they are interested in accession

Additional information on pledges and accessions, including maps of States parties in Europe, is available here

This blog is also available on the new ENS Facebook page at Also see the recently published ENS's 2012/13 Annual Report

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