The State of Statelessness in the Americas: Implementing the UNHCR Action Plan

Alex McAnarney, America’s Network on Nationality and Statelessness (Red ANA) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
/ 4 mins read

In November 2014, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees launched its Global Campaign to End Statelessness in 10 Years. At the event in Washington DC, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres stressed that the Americas could be “the first continent to eradicate statelessness”. The event also marked the creation of the Americas Network on Nationality and Statelessness (Red ANA).

In the Americas, with the exception of the Dominican Republic, statelessness is rare thanks to the combined application of the principles of jus soli and jus sanguinis for the acquisition of nationality. Nevertheless, more than 215,000 thousand people in the region are affected by this phenomenon, as a result of gaps in nationality laws, arbitrary deprivation of nationality, and restrictive administrative practices. So, how are we as a region, really living up to the statement that we could be the first continent to eradicate statelessness? And are we moving forward in meeting the 10 actions of the UNHCR’s Global Action Plan launched in November 2014? Let’s take a brief look.

As mentioned before, the Dominican Republic is currently experiencing the region’s most serious situation of statelessness. On 23 September 2013, the nation’s Constitutional Court retroactively stripped more than 200,000 people of Haitian descent of their Dominican nationality, on the grounds that their parents held irregular migratory status. While the Court assumed that those affected by the decision would be entitled to Haitian nationality, gaps in Haitian nationality laws and weaknesses in Haiti’s civil registry system resulted in tens–if not hundreds–of thousands of people being left stateless as a result of the judgment. Despite legislative efforts made in 2014 by the government, the problem continues to affect scores of Dominican men, women, and children of Haitian descent.

While the Americas have virtually eradicated gender discrimination from nationality laws, the Bahamas and Barbados still prevent women from conferring their nationality to their children in the same manner as men. Additionally, the majority of legal regimes guarantee that no child is born stateless. However, certain States in the Americas provide exceptions to the jus soli principle for specific categories of children. In Chile, for example, more than 3000 children of undocumented migrants were deprived of Chilean nationality between the years 2000 and 2014 and, despite recent changes in the government’s policies, the situation of most of these children has not yet been rectified.

On the front that tackles the prevention of denial, loss or deprivation of nationality on discriminatory grounds, the Dominican Republic is the most extreme example of this problem. In Canada — where the last national household survey revealed that 1690 persons identified themselves as stateless — amendments to citizenship legislation effective as of June of 2015 created new national security grounds on which Canadian citizenship can be revoked. Additionally, in the United States, recent news stories reported on undocumented immigrants being denied the ability to obtain a birth certificate for their children born in Texas.

Finally, with the exception of Mexico and Costa Rica, most countries in the region have not yet formally adopted stateless determination procedures which would also facilitate the naturalization of stateless persons. It’s worth noting that only 13 out of 35 countries in the region have ratified both conventions on statelessness — that’s half the number of states that have ratified both Conventions on Refugees.

Clearly, there’s still a lot of work to be done in order to meet just a few of the goals outlined in the UNHCR’s action plan. But our commitment to make Commissioner Guterres’ statement a regional reality and to protect and naturalize people who are statelessness, is steadfast.

It is undeniable that statelessness is a serious violation of human rights and its consequences dire. Stateless persons are often unable to obtain identification documents, denied access to education and health care, and prevented from obtaining employment. Through information sharing and network building, Red ANA is committed to addressing regional statelessness challenges in order to eradicate this phenomenon from the hemisphere. In 2016, the Network will continue to enhance advocacy efforts and work with governments take specific actions- such as drafting legislation and enacting procedures-regarding statelessness. By doing so, we hope to make the Americas statelessness-free in 10 years.

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