Statelessness and Sustainable Development at the 2019 High Level Political Forum: A moment for reflection

Tendayi Bloom, Lecturer in Politics and International Studies at The Open University
/ 4 mins read

In July this year, UN Member States will come together to consider progress on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The 2030 Agenda, adopted by UN Member states in 2015, includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets which set out a 15-year plan for economic, social and environmental development which will ensure the human rights of all.

The High Level Political Forum

The annual High-Level Political Forum is the UN platform for reviewing implementation of the SDGs and provides a vital moment of reflection on progress towards the Sustainable Development Agenda.

Each year at the Forum, a set of goals are reviewed in detail, and a number of Member States conduct and present ‘Voluntary National Reviews’. These are State-led reviews on national and sub-national progress towards the 2030 Agenda. In Europe, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Iceland, Serbia and the UK are presenting Voluntary National Reviews at the 2019 Forum.

This year, the High Level Political Forum is considering six Sustainable Development Goals in particular:

SDG 4 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
SDG 8 Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
SDG 10 Reduce inequality within and among countries
SDG 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and impacts
SDG 16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
SDG 17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Two main considerations regarding access to citizenship arise:

(1) How to ensure that those without access to any citizenship can contribute to and benefit from global sustainable development efforts;
(2) How sustainable development efforts can produce new ways to ensure that everyone has access to citizenship.

The Sustainable Development Agenda and Statelessness

In preparing for the High Level Political Forum it is important to consider how access to citizenship may be affecting progress. Access to citizenship has a fundamental impact on the ability of States and the international community to realise the commitments in the six goals under consideration, but also affects the possibility for progress across the Agenda.

People currently without access to citizenship need to be able to obtain a quality education and proof of their educational achievements (SDG 4). Barriers to regular labour markets need to be removed, reducing the risk of trafficking and exploitation (SDG 8). Ensuring access to citizenship and addressing any related, multi-dimensional discrimination will be crucial to making societies fairer and more equal (SDG 10). In countries most at risk of the effects of climate change, stateless persons need to be supported in efforts to build resilience, and serious examination is needed of what citizenship will mean for people living in territories at risk of becoming uninhabitable (SDG 13).

Removing all barriers to free birth registration immediately after birth and programmes to provide 'legal identity' to adults that resolve the status of stateless people and those with undetermined citizenship can help to ensure that everyone can participate in sustainable development efforts (SDG 16). At the same time, seeking the perspectives of people without any citizenship, who may currently be unable to participate in the political system where they live can support sustainable development planning to be truly inclusive (SDG 16). Access to citizenship is sometimes framed as an internal matter for States but ensuring both that everyone has rights even if they have no citizenship, and that everyone has access to a citizenship requires bilateral and multilateral cooperation (SDG 17).

Statelessness and the High Level Political Forum

A new briefing ‘Why Citizenship is Relevant to Sustainable Development: Considerations for the 2019 High Level Political Forum’, produced in partnership by Khadija Badri of the European Network on Statelessness, Dr Tendayi Bloom of The Open University, Dr Bronwen Manby of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Fundación CEPAIM, suggests how to start thinking about access to citizenship in the context of each goal. It also uses these goals to indicate ways in which access to citizenship could be considered across the Sustainable Development Agenda.

The briefing document will be submitted to the HLPF, but will also be useful to others hoping to link statelessness and sustainable development. This includes those working on sustainable development who may be interested in the often hidden ways in which access to citizenship may impact upon progress. It also includes those who are interested in how their work and advocacy relating to statelessness may be relevant to the HLPF.

A short stand-alone briefing is also available for each of the six goals under review in 2019: SDG4SDG8SDG10SDG13SDG16 and SDG17.

It was agreed that the Sustainable Development Agenda should ‘leave no one behind’. In today’s world, citizenship is often required for participation in, contribution to and benefit from economic and social development. Often left out of censuses, population measures, and reporting on the development indicators, it is easy to overlook the needs of stateless people. This High Level Political Forum provides an opportunity for reflection on what it would really mean for sustainable development to leave no one behind.

The briefing is now available in Spanish as well (thank to our Spanish member Fundacion Cepaim)

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