Four States to accede to statelessness conventions today in Geneva

Briefing Notes, 1 July 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 1 July 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR and the UN Office for Legal Affairs are holding a special treaty event this afternoon in Geneva at which Belgium, Gambia, Georgia and Paraguay are expected to accede to one or both of the UN statelessness conventions. Today's event is the largest number of accessions on a single occasion ever. It reflects growing recognition among governments that international action is needed to address statelessness, which is an overlooked source of suffering and denial of human rights for at least 10 million people worldwide.

UNHCR is promoting accession to the two conventions in the lead-up to our planned launch on 15 September of a worldwide campaign to end statelessness. Increasing the number of States parties to the two conventions is a key part of that campaign. With today's accessions, there will be 82 States party to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and 58 States parties to its sister Convention, the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Today's treaty event will bring to 24 the number of States that have acceded to one or both conventions since 2011. This recent increase is due in large part to the impact of advocacy with governments since UNHCR organized a ministerial meeting on refugees and statelessness in December 2011. Thirty-four governments made pledges to accede in 2011 and 40 per cent of those will have so far been implemented. UNHCR encourages governments that have pledged to accede to accelerate their efforts to finalize accession, and we urge all States that have yet to do so to bring their nationality laws into line with these conventions.

Statelessness, in UNHCR's view, ought not to exist in the 21st century. Most stateless people live in the shadows, with little or no access to education, health care, social services or employment. Many are unable to move freely because of the lack of identity documents. The 1954 Convention which is 60 years old this year is designed to ensure that stateless persons enjoy a minimum set of rights until such time as they can acquire a nationality. The 1961 Convention sets out rules to be implemented through States' national laws and procedures to prevent individuals from becoming stateless, reducing the prevalence of statelessness over time.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva, Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011
  • In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106
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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

Statelessness: A Message from UNHCRPlay video

Statelessness: A Message from UNHCR

An address from UNHCR's Director of International Protection Volker Türk to mark International Human Rights Day and the launch of a new report on Statelessness in the United States.
UNHCR : Breakthrough on StatelessnessPlay video

UNHCR : Breakthrough on Statelessness

UNHCR's ministerial conference in Geneva takes a great step forward in resolving the issue of statelessness. On the sidelines of the meeting, Serbia and Turkmenistan acceded to the statelessness conventions.