Dealing with statelessness in sub-Saharan Africa: The way forward

michael_addaneyAuthor: Michael Addaney
Student (MPhil Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa), Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

‘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.

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Realising the right to birth registration to prevent statelessness in Africa: in the context of the General Comment on Article 6 of the African Children’s Charter

ayalew_getachew_assefaAuthor: Ayalew Getachew Assefa
Legal researcher, Secretariat of the ACERWC

As is the case with other human rights, the right to birth registration and nationality are interrelated, and the realization of these rights plays a great role in preventing statelessness. Birth registration, as an act of recording a birth of a child by a governmental authority with the effect of granting the child a legal personality, establishes the existence in law of a child. It is through birth registration and acquisition of a birth certificate that the parentage of children, their age, and their place of birth can be recorded. These elements play a significant role in according nationality for children, and hence prevent statelessness.

It is in consideration of this fact that Article 6 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC/the African Children’s Charter) recognizes three interlinked rights and imposes an obligation on State Parties to take legislative measures to prevent statelessness among children. In order to clearly spell out and explain the obligations of State Parties in implementing the provision, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), in April 2013, adopted a General Comment (the General Comment) on this particular Article. This article briefly explains the reasons why the Committee decided to develop the General Comment and the major principles included in the General Comment.

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