UN Calls for Action Against Statelessness Affecting Children

NEW YORK—The UN Human Rights Council today took a significant step to address the plight of stateless children by adopting its first ever resolution on the right to a nationality. The Open Society Justice Initiative welcomed the decision, which reaffirms essential protections for the five million children around the world who have no citizenship anywhere.

The resolution passed unanimously after being championed by the United States and supported by another 46 countries from all regions of the world.

“This resolution is a significant step toward bringing access to citizenship—one of the last bastions of state sovereignty—within the framework of human rights law,” said James A. Goldston, the executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. “States must grant nationality to children born on their territory who would otherwise end up stateless and vulnerable to multiple rights abuses.”

Statelessness carries devastating consequences, particularly for children. Many stateless children grow up in extreme poverty and are denied access to education and health care. Without identity documentation, their freedom of movement is limited and they are subject to arbitrary deportation and prolonged detention. They are also vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation, including child labor.

Many children end up stateless because of laws that do not allow women to pass their nationality to their children. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees 26 countries, most of them in the Middle East and in Sub-Saharan Africa, maintain nationality laws that discriminate against women.

The Human Rights Council resolution asserts the obligations of states to ensure that laws and practices related to the acquisition, conferral, and change of nationality treat women and men equally, and that any decisions regarding a person’s right to nationality must be subject to effective judicial review.

It also calls on states to ensure that all persons, regardless of whether they are stateless, are able to fully enjoy their fundamental human rights and underscores the need to guarantee access to effective remedies to anyone who has suffered a violation of her right to a nationality.

“The resolution is an important and overdue call to action for states to intensify their efforts to address and prevent statelessness,” said Goldston. “The Human Rights Council should ensure that this issue remains on its agenda and that concrete steps are taken toward full implementation of the right of every person to a nationality.”

The Justice Initiative advocates for continued commitment and action by the international community to reduce and prevent statelessness. It also seeks to bolster national and international norms through litigation and has brought cases against Kenya, on behalf of stateless Nubian children, and against the Dominican Republic, on behalf of Dominicans of Haitian descent.