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Chile’s Pledge on Statelessness Sets Global Example

NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative has welcomed a pledge by the president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, to eradicate statelessness in Chile and to move rapidly to ratify the two United Nations conventions on statelessness.

The pledge from Chile comes as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is conducting a ten-year campaign to end global statelessness by 2024, which includes a drive to expand ratification of the 1954 and 1961 statelessness conventions.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, which supports efforts to end statelessness around the world, said: “Chile’s commitment to ratify the statelessness conventions builds on its efforts to bring the application of its nationality law in line with global and regional standards—this effort stands as an example to other states in the region and around the world.”

President Bachelet was speaking on May 25 at a ceremony in the Chilean capital Santiago that marked the restoration of Chilean citizenship to a group of young people who were previously at risk of statelessness, having been born prior to a 2014 change in Chile’s previous highly-restrictive interpretation of its nationality laws.

Prior to the issuing of a directive from the Interior Ministry in August, 2014, (Order No. 27601), Chile’s civil registration authorities had denied citizenship to all children born to non-resident parents on the grounds that they were “transient”.

This exception to the constitutional right to Chilean nationality by birth on its territory (legally known as ius soli) left some, including the children of undocumented parents, at risk of statelessness. Chile estimates that over 2,000 people were in this position as of 2016.

The new directive limited the “transient” exception to cover only children of tourists or crew members.

The 2014 directive followed a ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2005, in the Yean and Bosico v. Dominican Republic case, which ruled that the migratory status of the parents can never constitute justification for the deprivation of nationality and that children cannot inherit the migratory status of their parents.

The court observed that “to consider that a person is in transit, irrespective of the classification used, the State must respect a reasonable temporal limit and understand that a foreigner who develops connections in a State cannot be equated to a person in transit.”

In affirming Chile’s commitment to eradicate statelessness, President Bachelet also officially launched an initiative, entitled Chile Reconoce (Chile Recognizes), to mobilize efforts to mend the damage caused by the previous policy.

The Justice Initiative recently produced a report, Born in the Americas: Promise and Practice of Nationality Laws in the Americas, that found that despite the apparent strong legal nationality framework in the three states reviewed—Chile, Brazil and Colombia—implementation was marked by difficulties and systemic flaws and does not guarantee nationality to everyone. These obstacles to birth registration disproportionally affect those more likely to face discrimination, such as members of indigenous and ethnic minority groups, residents of remote areas, and the children of migrants.

Changes in policy and practice are needed to address these shortcomings. The Justice Initiative urges other states from the region to follow the example of Chile, which we hope becomes the champion on eradicating statelessness in the region, to ensure that no child is denied the right to nationality and that patterns of exclusion are identified and addressed. 

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