Interview with Christophe Poirel, Director of Human Rights at the Council of Europe

/ 7 mins read

Following an important international statelessness conference organised in September by the Council of Europe and the UN Refugee Agency, ENS spoke with Christophe Poirel, the Director of Human Rights at the Council of Europe. We discussed recent actions by the Council of Europe, as well as planned future work to address statelessness in Europe.

  1. Why does addressing statelessness matter for the Council of Europe, and what motivated you to hold the recent conference in Strasbourg?

The Council of Europe is very mindful of the difficulties faced by stateless persons in exercising their rights. It is concerning to think that more than half a million persons in Europe are stateless or have undetermined nationality.

The right to a nationality is reflected in numerous international treaties, particularly in the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Nationality. The right to a nationality constitutes part of a person's social identity and is considered a gateway to the enjoyment of a range of other rights, including access to education, employment, health care, housing and freedom of movement. Although the European Convention on Human Rights does not expressly mention a right to a nationality, member States of the Council of Europe should guarantee to everyone on their territory the fundamental rights provided for in the Convention, including stateless persons.

To support the on-going efforts undertaken by member States and other European and international stakeholders in the field to eradicate statelessness, the Council of Europe made a pledge and decided to join forces with UNHCR by organising an International Conference last September to raise awareness and promote the accession of all its 47 member States to international and European conventions relating to nationality and statelessness, and to discuss implementation issues which can be overcome through close co-operation. This international conference was organised within the framework of the Council of Europe pledges made at UNHCR High Level Segment in October 2019 for the mid-term evaluation of the UNHCR #IBelong Campaign.

  1. At the conference you, along with other speakers on the high-level panel, emphasised the need for far more urgent action on statelessness. Could you tell us about concrete next steps that the Council of Europe is planning through its European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ) statelessness initiative, as agreed at the CDCJ plenary meeting earlier this month?

Yes indeed, as discussed during this event, there is a clear recognition that progress has been achieved in some countries, but also that much more needs to be done to address statelessness in Europe.  

One key issue is to adequately address childhood statelessness in order to avoid perpetuation of situations that would lead to continued statelessness in Europe. As we have seen, only half of European States have adequate legal provisions in place that guarantee that all children born on their territory, who would otherwise be stateless, acquire a nationality at birth. Much more needs to be done to introduce clear safeguards in nationality laws and also to ensure that their implementation effectively addresses childhood statelessness. Policy makers’ agenda should prioritise actions to ensure that no child grows up stateless in Europe.

In this respect, the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ) agreed at its plenary meeting on 1-3 December 2021, to prioritise as follow-up activities work to provide guidance on child sensitive procedures in administrative and migration law matters for stateless children or children at risk of being stateless as well as guidance on the establishment of nationality, in particular for children.

  1. During the event in Strasbourg, as well as when speaking at an ENS webinar shortly beforehand, you emphasised the role that the CDCJ statelessness initiative can play in facilitating technical assistance to assist more Council of Europe member states to introduce dedicated statelessness determination procedures (currently less than a quarter have these). Why is this important, and what specific action is planned to achieve this goal?

The identification and protection of stateless persons are among the priority areas of the Council of Europe to address statelessness. On several occasions, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has called upon member States to introduce or upgrade existing statelessness determination procedures in order to ensure that all stateless persons in their territories can be identified, protected and ultimately acquire nationality through facilitated naturalisation.  In 2019, a working group composed of CDCJ members and key stakeholders carried out a preliminary review of protocols and procedures used by member States to determine and resolve cases of statelessness, in particular of migrant children. This work was taken into account in a detailed analysis of current practices and challenges regarding the avoidance and reduction of statelessness in Europe.

The Council of Europe is very conscious of its role in the field of nationality and for the prevention of statelessness in Europe. We will continue to support member States to sign and ratify our conventions, to establish or improve the functioning of statelessness determination procedures, and thus to enable member States to fully implement the commitments that they have signed up to when ratifying our conventions.

We will also follow-up on the implementation of other legal instruments covering nationality aspects, such as Recommendation CM/Rec(2009)13 on the nationality of children. The focus of our work will continue to be the protection of the rights of stateless individuals, and any support measures that would enable them to access and exercise their rights.

  1. As well as a ‘whole-of-society’ approach, meaningfully addressing statelessness will require holistic concerted action by all organs of the Council of Europe, complementing work by the CDCJ. One initiative that is already in progress is the Council of Europe Action Plan on Protecting Vulnerable Persons in the Context of Migration and Asylum in Europe (2021-2025). Why is the plan significant, and how can it support efforts?

The Council of Europe Action Plan on Protecting Vulnerable Persons in the Context of Migration and Asylum in Europe (2021-2025) aims to address the main challenges and opportunities identified through the continued work of our institutions and bodies in this area. This new action plan proposes targeted measures and activities to enhance the capacity of member states to identify and address vulnerabilities in the context of asylum and migration.

This action plan proposes a targeted assistance package for Council of Europe member states in several areas. One important area is ensuring access to justice, an essential component of the rule of law, where it remains crucial to promote the legal empowerment of refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations, including for stateless persons, through the provision of information, legal aid and legal representation.

The forthcoming Council of Europe Strategy on the Rights of the Child 2022-2027 should complement existing efforts in this area, in particular as regards the prevention of statelessness of children and access to child-friendly procedures.

  1. Monitoring progress will be crucial if Europe is to end statelessness and protect the rights of stateless people living on its territory. How can initiatives such as the ENS Statelessness Index, which provides data on law, policy and practice be used by institutions such as the Council of Europe to galvanise future legal and policy reform?

I am convinced that the Council of Europe colleagues working in relevant sectors on this issue are aware and have already made use of the information collected through the ENS Statelessness Index. It is an important tool to help governments make progress in addressing statelessness across Europe. I personally find that the information contained in the Index is not only provided in a very user-friendly manner, but also very informative with respect to promising or good practices identified. This can very much encourage and inspire member States to take further action, provided that they are well aware of this tool.

In addition to the Statelessness Index, I want to congratulate the team at ENS for their numerous and relentless efforts in the field. The new Statelessness Case Law Database as well as the comprehensive briefing papers and their recommendations are also of great added value for professionals working in this field.

  1. What inspires you that eradicating statelessness is possible?

Eradicating statelessness is possible. It requires strong political will. Member States should understand that solving statelessness is a win-win situation both for stateless persons and for the countries in which they are if they allow stateless persons to contribute to their societies.

But sadly, political will is not always sufficient. As you well know, the issues and challenges in this area are complex and can only be overcome through collective effort. Joining forces, building strong partnerships with all relevant stakeholders are key for the elimination of statelessness in Europe.

I would like to emphasise particularly the importance to work with stateless individuals and to learn from their experience. This point is crucial to find adapted solutions for them, and to ensure that legal professionals fully understand the complexity of their legal situation. As it was highlighted at the international conference, “it is one thing to sympathize with people who suffer from a certain disadvantage, but it is a completely different thing to actually experience those disadvantages.”

I am continuously inspired by the people I have met, by the richness of our exchanges, by their resilience despite the enormous difficulties they experience on a day-to-day basis.  We should all be. Eradicating statelessness will make a real difference and change the course of these persons’ lives.

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