Objectives and key provisions of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons

Statelessness, 1 October 2001


The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons is the primary international instrument adopted to date, to regulate and improve the legal status of stateless persons. The Convention sets the legal framework for the standard treatment of stateless persons. It was adopted to cover, inter alia, those stateless persons who are not refugees and who are not, therefore, covered by the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its Protocol. The 1954 Convention contains provisions regarding stateless persons' rights and obligations pertaining to their legal status in the country of residence. The Convention further addresses a variety of matters which have an important effect on day-to-day life such as gainful employment, public education, public relief, labour legislation and social security. In ensuring that such basic rights and needs are met, the Convention provides the individual with stability and improves the quality of life of the stateless person. This, in turn, can prove to be of advantage to the State in which stateless persons live, since such persons can then contribute to society, enhancing national solidarity and stability. Moreover, the potential for migration or displacement of large population groups decreases, thus contributing to regional stability and peaceful co-existence.

Key provisions

In Article 1 of the Convention, the definition of a stateless person is set out: "For the purpose of this Convention, the term 'stateless person' means a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law".

Article 3 of the Convention on non-discrimination states that "The contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to stateless persons without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin".

In Article 28 the issue of travel documents for stateless persons is addressed. An individual recognised as a stateless person under the terms of the Convention should be issued an identity and travel document by the Contracting State.

Article 31 states that stateless persons are not to be expelled save on grounds of national security or public order. Expulsions are, in principle, subject to due process of law. The Final Act of the Convention indicates that non-refoulement in relation to danger of persecution is a generally accepted principle. The drafters, therefore, did not feel it necessary to enshrine this in the articles of a Convention geared toward regulating the status of de jure stateless persons.

Article 32 of the Convention regulates the issue of naturalisation. The Contracting State shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalisation of stateless persons. They shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalisation proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings.

The Final Act of the Convention recommends that each Contracting State, when it recognises as valid the reasons for which a person has renounced the protection of the State of which he is a national, consider sympathetically the possibility of according to the person the treatment which the convention accords to stateless persons. This recommendation was included on behalf of de facto stateless persons who, technically, still held a nationality but did not receive any of the benefits generally associated with nationality, such as national protection.




UN Conventions on Statelessness

The two UN statelessness conventions are the key legal instruments in the protection of stateless people around the world.

State Action on Statelessness

Action taken by states, including follow-up on pledges made at UNHCR's 2011 ministerial meeting in Geneva.

Stateless People

Millions of stateless people are left in a legal limbo, with limited basic rights.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, UNHCR runs programmes that benefit refugees and asylum-seekers from Haiti as well as migrants and members of their family born in the country, some of whom could be stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Many live in bateyes, which are destitute communities on once thriving sugar cane plantations. The inhabitants have been crossing over from Haiti for decades to work in the sugar trade.

Among these initiatives, UNHCR provides legal aid, academic remedial courses and vocational training for refugees and asylum-seekers. They also support entrepreneurial initiatives and access to micro credit.

UNHCR also has an increased presence in border communities in order to promote peaceful coexistence between Dominican and Haitian populations. The UN refugee agency has found that strengthening the agricultural production capacities of both groups promotes integration and mitigates tension.

Many Haitians and Dominicans living in the dilapidated bateyes are at risk of statelessness. Stateless people are not considered as nationals by any country. This can result in them having trouble accessing and exercising basic rights, including education and medical care as well as employment, travel and housing. UNHCR aims to combat statelessness by facilitating the issuance of birth certificates for people living in the bateyes.

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

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