Author: Juliet Nyamao
Human Rights Attorney, Kenyan Bar
On 31 December 2019, The World Health Organisation (WHO) was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. One week later, on 7 January 2020, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified a novel coronavirus as the cause of the pneumonia. Following this discovery, China witnessed unprecedented increase in morbidity and mortality rates of victims of the virus. Ultimately, the Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international attention under the International Health Regulations (2005), following recommendations from the members and advisers to International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee for Pneumonia. Although measures were taken to halt international travel the virus had already spread to other regions of the world including Africa. According to the John Hopkins University Corona Virus Resource Center, the pandemic has had devastating effects in Europe, Asia and the Americas with mortality rate of more than 100,000 people, with a total of more than 1.7 million confirmed cases worldwide.
‘Statelessness is a profound violation of an individual’s human rights. It would be deeply unethical to perpetuate the pain it causes when solutions are so clearly within reach.’
– Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Statelessness as a legal problem has far reaching political and economic challenges which have attracted rising attention from scholars, human rights activists and international organisations in recent years. Officially, statelessness means a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law. The UNHCR started collecting data on stateless persons in the world in 2006 and confirmed in 2011 that the number of stateless persons around the world is in excess of 10 million despite conceding that obtaining the actual statistics is difficult.
The most affected are regions that have suffered or are experiencing armed conflicts or economic migration. Large numbers of stateless population are largely due to policies and laws which discriminate against foreigners despite their deeper roots in the states concerned. For instance, more than 120 000 persons in Madagascar are stateless on the basis of discriminatory citizenship laws and administrative procedures. Moreover, about 170 000 Burundian refugees who fled their country in 1972 are recognised as stateless in Tanzania despite cogent attempts by international and local organisations to have the situation rectified.