- The property of being stateless.
Statelessness is the legal and social concept of a person lacking belonging (or a legally enforceable claim) to any recognised nationality. Statelessness is not always the same as lack of citizenship.
De jure statelessness is where there exists no recognised state in respect of which the subject has a legally meritorious basis to claim nationality.
De facto statelessness is where the subject may have a legally meritorious claim but is precluded from asserting it because of practical considerations such as cost, circumstances of civil disorder, or the fear of persecution.
Problems of statelessnessCommon ways people may become stateless and which are addressed by the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness are:
- Renunciation of nationality
- Deprivation of nationality (e.g. for disloyalty, for treason, for obtaining nationality by fraud, or as a consequence of marriage or divorce)
- Membership of a group which is denied citizen status in the country on whose territory they are born (e.g. Gypsy and Jews in Third Reich Germany [1935-1945]) - see Nuremberg Laws)
- Birth to stateless person parents
- Birth in disputed territories
- Birth in an area ruled by an entity whose independence is not internationally recognized (e.g. Manchukuo 1932-1945)
- Birth on territory over which no modern state claims sovereignty (e.g. the unclaimed region of Antarctica)
- By excessive fees and burdensome administrative and evidential requirements involved in claiming nationality
- By the conflict of laws between two states (e.g. between the laws of the mother's nationality and those of the father's both working to deny either nationality by descent to the child)
- Transfer of territory or sovereignty which alters nationality status of persons in the territories so transferred
- Frequently, diminished civil rights in comparison to the nationals of the states where they reside. This may be so despite the uplifting content and humanitarian purposes of the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. Stateless persons lacking identity documents may be treated as though they do not exist for administrative purposes by the various organs of the state.
- A perception that stateless persons lack loyalty and commitment to their country of residence
- Lack of the ability to endow their children and close family member with a nationality
- Inability, except through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to avail themselves of consular services when outside their country of usual residence
- No 'home' country to which they are guaranteed the unquestioned right of return
- For states, statelessness frustrates deportation action, as there is no recipient country obliged to accept the stateless person so subjected
Some advantages of statelessness:
- The stateless person may avoid obligations of citizenship, such as civil or military conscription, compulsion to vote, and compulsion to render jury service. It is worth noting that many nations retain the right to conscript permanent residents, regardless of their nationality or lack thereof. Taxes also may still be assessed.
- The status of stateless persons at least outranks that of an enemy alien in time of war
Statelessness and refugeesStatelessness most commonly affects refugees although not all refugees are stateless, and not all stateless persons may be able to qualify as refugees. Refugee status entails the extra requirements that the refugee is outside their country of nationality (or country of habitual residence if stateless), and is deserving of asylum based upon a well-founded fear of persecution for categorized reasons which make him/her unwilling or unable to avail the protection of that country.
Statelessness and childrenPrinciple 3 of the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child asserts that: "The child shall be entitled from his birth to a name and a nationality."
States bound by the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are obligated to implement policies and programs to ensure that children's families and national authorities can secure citizenship for every child in the country.
In practice, when a child’s birth is not registered that child’s existence may not be acknowledged and the child may be denied citizenship. Some governing bodies refuse to recognize births — and therefore the existence and the nationality of some children - because of race, ethnicity, or questions of "legitimacy."
Characteristics of statelessness affect Amerasian children and young adults in Southeast Asia. They are commonly fathered abroad by US servicemen and mothers of Asian nationalities.
Statelessness and womenAn attempt to reduce discrimination against women is made in the 1957 Convention on the Nationality of Married Women with its provisions to prevent the automatic acquisition of the husband's citizenship. It also intends to prevent women losing citizenship and becoming stateless if they marry a stateless man.
Statelessness prior to World War IIThe initial focus of UN Action was the sponsorship of Conventions in 1954 (the 'Status Convention') and 1961 (the 'Reduction Convention') resulting in instruments of international law. Continuing action through the UNHCR encourages member states to take up ratification and address statelessness within their own borders by programs of naturalisation and co-operation with neighbouring states. UNHCR also conducts public education campaigns to highlight the plight of stateless communities in special need.
Outside of the UN, regional initiatives to address statelessness and its associated problems can be seen in multilateral treaty instruments such as the Council of Europe Convention on Reduction of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession.
ECOSOC, The ILC, The 1951 Refugee ConventionMigrations forced by political instability during World War II and its immediate aftermath highlighted the international dimension of the problems presented by unprecedented volumes of displaced persons including those rendered effectively stateless.
Dating from December 1948 and with the imprimatur of the world communit acting through the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at Article 15 affirms that
- Everyone has the right to a nationality.
- No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
In 1949, the International Law Commission included the topic "Nationality, including statelessness" in its list of topics of international law provisionally selected for codification. At the behest of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1950, that item was given priority.
The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was done on 28 July 1951, later attracting the signatures of 145 State partiesAs of late January 2005.
The International Law Commission at its fifth session in 1953 produced both a Draft Convention on the Elimination of Future Statelessness, and a Draft Convention on the Reduction of Future Statelessness. ECOSOC approved both drafts.
A Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons was signed in September 1954. It was complemented by the 'Statelessness Reduction Convention' seven years afterwards.
Status ConventionThe 1954 Status Convention provided for the UNHCR to issue travel documents to stateless persons. It urged for stateless persons to be treated at least as fairly as aliens and in some cases to be treated the same as nationals by Contracting States (e.g. in their access to the courts, their rights to movable property, their rights to intellectual property). It also acknowledged the problem of stateless seamen by urging that states should confer their citizenship on such people according to the flags of the vessels to which they are attached. Albert Einstein was a stateless person in the period 1896-1901. In 1933 he was affected by German race laws standing him down from his professorship. He renounced his German citizenship, became a refugee, and was granted asylum in the USA. From 1940 until his death he enjoyed dual citizenship of Switzerland and the USA.
Reduction ConventionThe 1961 Statelessness Reduction Convention was a significant aspirational achievement in working to eliminate the problem of statelessness, or at least the problems associated with it. The Reduction Convention is binding on those states that have ratified or acceded to it and it also works to create norms and to codify and confirm principles of customary international law as they relate to nationality law existing at the time of its formation. Among these would be:
- States have absolute sovereignty to confer their nationality on any person for any reason
- Otherwise stateless persons may avail birthright citizenship of the place of their birth (or of the place where they were found, in the case of a foundling), otherwise they may take the nationality of one of their parents or that of another Contracting State in which they have resided for a qualifying period
- An otherwise stateless person born in wedlock shall have the right to take the nationality of their mother
- A stateless person has some time beyond attaining adulthood to seek to claim the benefit of the Convention. That time is always at least three years from the age of eighteen.
- The benefit of the Convention may be claimed by guardians on behalf of their wards.
- States may impose a period of residence qualification for granting nationality to persons who may be otherwise stateless. That period is a maximum five years immediately prior to application and maximum of ten years overall.
- Disloyal or serious criminal conduct my limit an individual's ability to avail the benefit of the Convention
- Birth on a sea vessel or aircraft presumptively attacts the nationality of the flag of that vessel or craft for an otherwise stateless person
- Overtaking of territory by states presumptively confers the nationality of the overtaking state on the inhabitants of the territory. States must work together in treaty relations to eliminate the possibility of statelessness occurring by the cession of territories to each other.
Statelessness since 19611961 marks the year from which the UN proposed to exercise a mandate over stateless persons beyond the production of travel documents upon request for them.
In 1974, the UN General Assembly requested the UNHCR to undertake the functions foreseen under the Reduction Convention.
On 13 December 1975, the 1961 Convention entered into force. There is a poor level of uptake, with only 35 state ratifications or accessions in the period to February 2007. In 1995, the UNHCR Executive Committee(ExCom) and the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) requested UNHCR to broaden its activities concerning statelessness to include all states. The office was also asked to gather and share information on the problem of statelessness globally, to train staff and government officials, and to regularly report back to the ExCom.
In 1996 UNHCR was asked by the UNGA to actively promote accession to the 1954 and the 1961 Conventions, as well as to provide relevant technical and advisory services pertaining to the preparation and implementation of nationality legislation to interested states.
Regional instruments, such as the 1997 European Convention on Nationality, have also contributed to protecting the rights of stateless persons. That document underlines the need of every person to have a nationality, and seeks to clarify the rights and responsibilities of states in ensuring individual access to a nationality.
The UNHCR has achieved some success in launching campaigns to prevent and reduce statelessness among formerly deported peoples in Crimea, Ukraine (Armenians, Crimean Tatars, Germans, and Greeks who were deported en masse at the close of World War II). Another success has been the naturalization of Tajik refugees in Kyrgyzstan, as well as the participation in citizenship campaigns enabling 300,000 Estate Tamils to acquire citizenship of Sri Lanka. The UNHCR also assisted the Czech Republic to overcome the large number of stateless persons created when it separated from Slovakia.
An internal evaluation released in 2001 suggested that UNHCR had done little to exercise its mandate on statelessness. Only two individuals were tasked with overseeing work in that area at UNHCR headquarters, though field officers had been trained to address the issue. There was no dedicated budget line. Concerned organisations such as Refugees International have advocated for the appointment of a permanent UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Statelessness
In 2004, ExCom invited UNHCR to pay particular attention to situations of protracted statelessness and explore with states measures that would ameliorate the situations and bring them to an end.
At the beginning of 2006 the UNHCR claimed to have 'on its books' 2.4 million stateless persons, and made an estimate of 11 million as the size of the stateless population worldwide.
The greatest populations (over 100,000) of stateless persons are seen to be in the Dominican Republic, Ivory Coast, Congo, Syria, Iraq, Latvia and Estonia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand and Cambodia. Statelessness is adjudged to be least significant in North America, Oceania, North Africa, Southern Africa, most of South America, and China.
Palestinians comprise the largest stateless population in the world. Abbas Shiblak Shiblak estimates that over half of the Palestinian people in the world are stateless.
Famous stateless individuals
- Full Convention text of 1961 Convention
- Map showing State Parties to 1961 Convention
- Council of Europe Convention on Reduction of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession
- http://www.unhcr.org/publ/PUBL/4538c8074.pdf UNHCR Map (21 August 2006) Stateless Persons and Populations at Risk of Statelessness
- Refugees International 'Global Review of Statelessness'