Is my country party to international conventions dealing with statelessness? Is there any data on the stateless population? Is there a procedure to grant protection to stateless people? Are there measures to prevent arbitrary detention? What does my country do to prevent statelessness? Are there any barriers to birth registration?
It is now possible to find answers to all these and many other questions related to the problem of statelessness, in one place. The Statelessness Index, launched by ENS last week, allows you to quickly check what European countries are doing to protect stateless people and prevent and reduce statelessness. The information presented in the Index is comprehensive and detailed, but also concise and easily accessible. The comparison feature allows you not only to find out how a specific issue is regulated in different countries but to find solutions for specific problems to inform advocacy.
Serbia is one of 12 European countries currently covered by the Index. The Index data shows how despite a positive record on accession to international treaties, when it comes to fulfilling these obligations, the picture in Serbia is not always so positive. For example, on access to birth registration and measures to prevent statelessness, Serbia’s performance is mixed; and the lack of a procedure in Serbian law to identify and determine statelessness gets a negative assessment.
Praxis has provided free legal aid to people at risk of statelessness in Serbia for many years and advocated for systemic barriers to civil registration and citizenship to be removed. Despite significant progress made in recent years, the Index shines a light on what we see every day in our work: Serbia is still not fully meeting its obligations under the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The children of undocumented parents still cannot be registered at birth without undergoing lengthy and uncertain legal procedures. And children born in Serbia who would otherwise be stateless must initiate a special procedure to get their citizenship recognised before they turn 18, without guarantees they will ever succeed in practice.
Amendments to the Serbian Law on Registry Books have been announced, and Praxis intends to use the Index to advocate for a new provision to guarantee every child’s right to immediate birth registration. The examples of positive law and practice on birth registration from other countries in the Index will be particularly useful in this work. We will be able to show the Serbian Government that there is a way to guarantee this right to every child in Serbia, and that there are solutions to this problem.
We are also planning other ways to use the Index, for example, to draft a country briefing in Serbian that we can submit to the authorities when other regulations, policies, and practice come up for review; as well as for our awareness-raising, campaigning and educational programmes. In our work at Praxis, we also focus on other issues closely linked to statelessness, such as the prevention of discrimination and early and forced marriage. The Index will serve to highlight gaps in law and policy that not only increase the risk of statelessness, but also the risk of violence and exploitation, particularly affecting Roma women and girls who face barriers to regulating their legal status.
The Statelessness Index is an invaluable tool that will be highly beneficial to our ongoing work at Praxis towards achieving universal and immediate birth registration for every child born in Serbia, preventing new cases of statelessness arising, and establishing a procedure to grant protection to stateless people in Serbia.