Ending statelessness in West Africa, the role of governments
The clarion call by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on West African States, to accede to the Conventions on Statelessness deserves total commitment from stakeholders to bring an end to the menace.
Many individuals residing in a number of countries are being denied the privileges and rights given to the population because they have no document to prove that they are citizens, and this is what UNHCR wants to end.
The victims have difficulties proving they possess links to a state due, to lack of birth registration and personal documentation that traces their origins and could confirm their identity.
Nationality is a legal bond between a person and a state, which provides people with a sense of identity but, more importantly, enables them to exercise a wide range of rights.
Without nationality, statelessness, could be harmful and in some cases devastating to the lives of the individuals concerned.
Stateless persons may find it difficult assessing job opportunities, health and educational facilities; since they cannot prove their nationalities with documents.
This could create a pool of very discontented people, who then become vulnerable to criminality and all forms of extremism; which could threaten the very existence of a state.
“Statelessness is a profound violation of an individual’s human rights. It will be deeply unethical to perpetuate the pain it causes when solutions are so clearly within reach.
“This Global Action Plan sets out a strategy to put a definitive end to this human suffering within 10 years. I count on your support to help make this ambitious goal a reality,” António Guterres, UNHCR said.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that everyone has the right to a nationality, thereby acknowledging the legal and practical importance of nationality for the enjoyment of human rights.
It is therefore, essential that West African governments work to make certain that everyone within their national borders holds a nationality.
According to the UNHCR the problem of statelessness remains a glaring anomaly with devastating impact on the lives of at least 10 million people around the world who live without any nationality of which the West African sub-region accounts for more than 750,000.
For the first time in West Africa, a Regional Ministerial Meeting on Stateless Persons was held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast from February 23- February 25, 2015, which brought together experts from all over the world to discuss the status of nationality and stateless persons.
As the UNHCR 10- year campaign to end statelessness draws to a close by 2024; there is the need for governments to step up efforts to end the problem.
The world’s 10 million stateless live a marginalised, invisible existence. Their lives have been disrupted or destroyed with incalculable social, economic or political consequences.
UNHCR campaign would harness a unique window of opportunity to garner public, national and international support to finally eradicate the scourge.
Statelessness created during a single moment in history could affect people for generations and unless action is taken, these disenfranchised populations would continue to grow.
Statelessness, however, could be resolved.
The key factor to a solution is political will; then relatively simple and low-cost reforms that could have an immediate, permanent impact.
During the past five years, UNHCR has quintupled its budget for resolving statelessness and a special mechanism created by the High Commissioner would provide increased funds for particularly promising and important projects.
It is good news that the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme has approved a budget of $ 68 million for 2015.
In addition to the agency’s own global staff network of aid workers who care for and protect the world’s displaced and stateless people, more than 20 additional specialists have been deployed around the world to work with governments and other relevant organisations to address statelessness.
The campaign aims to fully resolve existing situations of statelessness and prevent new cases during the next 10 years. Persuading and supporting states to undertake several key actions could sever the vicious cycle of statelessness that affects millions of people globally.
The actions include ensuring that every birth is registered; thereby helping to establish legal proof of parentage and place of birth—key elements of proof necessary to establish a nationality.
It also aims to ensure that all children are granted nationality if they would otherwise be stateless for example, if their parents are already stateless and removing gender discrimination from nationality laws so that women could pass on their nationality to their children on an equal basis as men.
The assurance given by Mr James Agalga, Ghana’s Deputy Minister of the Interior, during the first ever ministerial conference on the issue in Abidjan; that Ghana has started initiatives that would provide the necessary impetus for it to accede to the United Nations’ conventions on Statelessness by 2016, is a step in the right direction.
According to him, along aside these initiatives, government recognises the need to develop an appropriate legal and political policy framework for preventing statelessness and protecting stateless persons.
Such a legal and policy initiatives should streamline current birth registration arrangements and also the timely registration of refugees and asylum seekers.
In fact, there is the need, for Ghana in collaboration with the UNHCR and other stakeholders to be able to come out with statistics on the number of stateless persons in the country.
Identifying who is stateless, and evaluating the size and characteristics of the stateless population are prerequisites for effective advocacy and the creation of programmes to address the problem.
The adoption of declaration by ECOWAS Ministers in the context of the UNHCR’s campaign, gives credence to the fact that the sub-regional body is serious in resolving the nuisance.
The declaration contains 25 commitments and highlights in particular the necessity for states in the ECOWAS region to first obtain concrete information on the causes of statelessness and the number and profile of affected persons.
The declaration invites member states who have not yet done so to accede as soon as possible to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and called upon all member states, with the support of UNHCR, to review their nationality laws and related legislation to bring them into line with the convention.
By Iddi Z. Yire