Human rights & statelessness

Statelessness is a human rights issue. Its impact can be measured in human rights terms and redressed through human rights tools. A rights-based approach to statelessness is central to the mission of the Institute. Human rights relate to statelessness in two fundamental ways. Firstly, all people have the right to a nationality. Statelessness is the worst possible result of the denial of this right. Secondly, having been denied the right to a nationality, stateless persons find themselves more vulnerable to other human rights abuses. Statelessness should not be a disadvantage in accessing other rights.

The right to a nationality

Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a nationality” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality”.

Other articulations of the right to a nationality can be found in the following international human rights treaties (as well as many regional human rights instruments):

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 [Article 24 (3)]
Every child has the right to acquire a nationality.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965 [Article 5 (d) (iii)]
States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law... [and to] the enjoyment of ... the right to nationality.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979 [Article 9]
1. States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality...
2. States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.

Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 [Article 7 & 8]
7.1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality...
7.2. States Parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.
8.1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality...
8.2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006 [Article 18]
1. States Parties shall recognize the rights of persons with disabilities to liberty of movement, to freedom to choose their residence and to a nationality, on an equal basis with others, including by ensuring that persons with disabilities:
a) Have the right to acquire and change a nationality and are not deprived of their nationality arbitrarily or on the basis of disability;
b) Are not deprived, on the basis of disability, of their ability to obtain, possess and utilize documentation of their nationality or other documentation of identification, or to utilize relevant processes such as immigration proceedings, that may be needed to facilitate exercise of the right to liberty of movement;
2. Children with disabilities shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by their parents.

The rights of stateless persons

The majority of human rights enshrined in international and regional treaties, benefit all persons, regardless of whether they have a nationality or not. There are a few exceptions – political rights associated directly with citizenship, such as the right to vote and the right to seek political office – but stateless people are entitled to all other rights on equal terms and in a non-discriminatory manner. In reality though, the lack of legal status of stateless persons is seen as a legitimate basis on which to deny them a variety of human rights. While laws, policies and practices differ across the world, it is not unusual for stateless persons to be denied rights such as education, healthcare, livelihood and movement, purely on the basis of their lack of a legal status. Similarly, the failure of states to identify and address the vulnerabilities unique to stateless can result in violations of rights such as liberty and security of the person, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, expression and association. It is not unusual in certain contexts, for the discriminatory treatment of stateless persons to escalate to persecutory treatment, resulting in forced migration seeking refuge in third countries.