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NGO Statement on Statelessness – Delivered at UNHCR Standing Committee

STANDING Committee of the

High Commissioner’s Programme

57thMeeting

25 – 27 June 2013

 

NGO Statement on Statelessness

Agenda Item 3(b)

 

Madame Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This statement (available at: www.icvanetwork.org) is being delivered by the Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quakers).  It has been drafted in consultation with, and is delivered on behalf of, a wide range of NGOs and aims to reflect the diversity of views within the NGO community.

            NGOs are encouraged by recent developments illustrating real progress in global efforts to tackle statelessness, many of which arise from pledges made during the December 2011 Ministerial meeting organised by UNHCR to mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Statelessness Convention. At this meeting a total of 21 States pledged to ratify both the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. A further 11 States pledged to ratify the 1961 Convention, and one pledged to ratify the 1954 Convention. In 2012, five of those States acceded to the 1954 Convention and seven to the 1961 Convention.

            NGOs particularly welcome the work of some Member States towards the establishment of statelessness determination procedures, including in Brazil, Costa Rica and Uruguay in the Americas region. The recent introduction of a UK statelessness determination procedure similarly serves as a useful example to the vast majority of European states who do not yet have dedicated procedures in place, despite having ratified the 1954 Statelessness Convention. It is hoped that pledges made by the European Union at the General Assembly in October 2012 signify a sea change in the priority it affords to tackling statelessness which has hitherto been largely absent from its agenda. Also welcome are current proposals to establish a statelessness determination procedure in the U.S. as part of comprehensive immigration reform. Against the overall relatively limited progress made implementing State pledges in the Africa region, the recent reform of the Zimbabwe constitution stands out as a positive example and NGOs note that the reform of its nationality law and effective implementation will be key to ensuring that the mass statelessness issues there are resolved. Likewise to be applauded are recent improvements to Russian nationality legislation, which should help reduce statelessness in that country. At the same, it remains of significant and enduring concern that so many individuals are still stateless following the break-up of the former Soviet Union more than 20 years ago, including large numbers of ethnic Russians residing in Estonia and Latvia.

            Equally, NGOs are encouraged that over the last decade many States have reformed their nationality laws to address gender inequality, including five states from the Middle East and North Africa. At the December 2011 Ministerial Meeting, two states pledged to introduce reforms in that regard. Nevertheless, 29 States around the world – including 13 countries in the Middle East and North Africa – still discriminate against women in their right to pass their nationality on to their family, which is causing statelessness or at least contributing to its perpetuation in many situations. We encourage all countries to reform their nationality laws to lift gender discrimination in line with international standards.              

            NGOs expect that UNHCR will continue to address the massive and protracted statelessness problems worldwide through adequate programming and staff resources, even as the organization struggles to deal with so many large-scale emergencies. The plight of stateless Rohingya over the past decades, culminating in the violence which began in June 2012, demonstrates the strong nexus between protracted statelessness, vulnerability to human rights abuse and discrimination, persecution, internal displacement and forced migration. While recognising the need for humanitarian aid and protection for displaced populations, UNHCR is also encouraged to address the root causes of arbitrary deprivation of nationality that results in statelessness for such populations in order to achieve durable solutions that respect and protect the human rights of all concerned.  

            NGOs urge UNHCR to continue its efforts to mainstream statelessness and the right to nationality in all relevant UN processes and to cooperate with its sister agencies to address this issue. In particular, NGOs encourage greater cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  We also encourage UNHCR to continue to dialogue with and provide technical assistance to States to reduce and prevent statelessness.

NGOs are encouraged by the growing interest of students, academics and research institutions in statelessness. It is hoped that the First Global Forum on Statelessness, which is to be held in September 2014 in The Hague, will serve to strengthen partnerships between academia, UNHCR and NGOs on statelessness research and capacity building activities.

However, despite progress, an estimated 12 million people are still not recognized as citizens of any country in the world. Without the protection of a government, they are stigmatized and often live in extreme poverty without access to education, health care or legal processes that shield them from abuse and exploitation. NGOs therefore applaud the recent statements by High Commissioner Guterres calling for the eradication of statelessness within a decade. Such ambition is necessary in order to mobilise the broad spectrum of international actors and resources required to make real progress towards achieving this objective. Meeting this goal will also require stronger public messaging, awareness-raising and forums to hear the voices of stateless persons themselves.        

In this regard, NGOs support the recent call for the adoption of an international day of observance on statelessness.  If implemented, this could deliver positive impact comparable to that already achieved in other fields such as through International Refugee Day. Next year, as the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Statelessness Convention, we hope that the first international day on statelessness will stand as a sign of collective resolve to reduce and prevent statelessness and to protect all stateless persons.

Finally, Madame Chair, we encourage all governments that made pledges to report on their progress at the 2013 Executive Committee meeting in three months time.

 

Thank you, Madame Chair.

 

 

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