The UN Special Rapporteur on Minorities, Fernand de Varennes, is currently in the process of compiling a thematic report on the link between statelessness and minorities for the UN General Assembly in October. At ENS we have welcomed the opportunity to feed into this process both through a joint submission with our #RomaBelong partners - European Roma Rights Centre and Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion - published today; and through the opportunity to participate in a two-day expert meeting hosted by the Special Rapporteur on this theme at the beginning of May.
I didn’t have to fight off too much competition at the ENS Secretariat for the chance to accept the Special Rapporteur’s invitation to attend the expert meeting, given it involved a three-day whirlwind trip across continents to Bangkok. For me, it was a very welcome and timely opportunity not only to visit the vibrant metropolis that is Bangkok for the first time, but more importantly, to meet global civil society actors from Australia to Canada, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand, whose work is renowned in the world of statelessness. Of course, it was very important for us to contribute the European perspective to discussions and the report, but it was also an incredible opportunity to gain unique insight from courageous activists taking daily risks to fight for the citizenship rights of Rohingya in Myanmar, to meet representatives from our sister network in Asia Pacific, SNAP, and to discuss the common challenges in our work with experienced global advocates.
The Special Rapporteur’s focus on stateless minorities has provided us at ENS with a further opportunity to reflect on our own work on statelessness and discrimination in Europe and the relevance of minority rights to our work. When examining statelessness through this lens, it’s possible to identify a link to minority rights - discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, culture, language and/or religion - in most stateless populations in Europe: Roma in the Western Balkans, ethnic Russians in the Baltic states, or stateless refugees in a migratory context such as Kuwaiti Bidoons, Syrian Kurds, or Rohingya. Yet, there was consensus during discussions in Bangkok that despite the increasing emergence of statelessness in human rights debates, there is still sometimes a tendency to work in silos, and a gap to be bridged between the minority rights and statelessness agendas.
Our #RomaBelong project has enabled us to work with our members to begin to address this gap and has led to a flourishing partnership with anti-discrimination experts, the European Roma Rights Centre, as well as the important addition to our network membership of local Roma-led organisations in Montenegro and Macedonia. Sharing advocacy spaces with communities affected by statelessness, learning from them and listening to their concerns, as well as supporting them to raise their voices and be heard on the issue of statelessness, are key priorities for us in our work going forward.
It was striking to hear in Bangkok from civil society representatives working on the other side of the globe who were articulating the very same issues that our research had uncovered in the Western Balkans and Ukraine: minority groups being unable to overcome bureaucratic hurdles to civil registration; lack of official guidance on evidential requirements; extreme marginalisation; gendered barriers; lack of trust; and the prevalence of discriminatory attitudes seeping into administrative systems. The parallels between these experiences in different parts of the world, suggest that there is value in a search for international and regional solutions to common issues, as well as learning to be shared where local good practice has developed.
We hope that the Special Rapporteur’s report will be a further catalyst for change, putting pressure on states to accede to relevant international and regional instruments, pledge their commitment to addressing statelessness and its nexus with the rights of minorities, to resource vital legal aid and civil society action at local level, and provide those spaces for dialogue and participation by affected communities in the search for sustainable solutions to guaranteeing everyone’s right to a nationality.