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Step up action against statelessness

Statement
Strasbourg 03/10/2019
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Step up action against statelessness

Statelessness is the root cause of countless human rights violations. Unfortunately, it is still widespread in Europe today as at least 600 000 people do not have a nationality or identity documents that make it possible to enjoy the benefits of a nationality.

Having no nationality means you have virtually no rights in practice: stateless persons are often barred from accessing education, employment, social benefits and health care; they cannot vote and take part in political life; and they find it very difficult to obtain access to justice. They are also highly vulnerable to a range of human rights violations and abuses, from indefinite detention to labour and sexual exploitation.

Statelessness has many causes, including unresolved issues following state succession, conflicting nationality laws, lack of birth registration, and discriminatory laws and practices which prevent large groups of persons from enjoying the right to a nationality.

Therefore, statelessness in Europe is multifaceted. Cases can be found among recently arrived refugee children whose birth was not registered on their parents’ way to Europe, or who cannot be granted a nationality due to conflicting or discriminatory nationality laws. However, stateless persons are also to be found among persons who have been living in the same country for decades or were even born there. This is the case of persons belonging to some discriminated minority groups, such as Roma, who in some countries “inherit” statelessness from their parents and find it very difficult to secure the nationality of the country in which they live.

Despite the magnitude of the problem, a number of Council of Europe member states are still not parties to existing United Nations and Council of Europe instruments on statelessness and nationality: the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness; the 1997 European Convention on Nationality; and the 2006 Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession [1]

My Office has extensively worked on ways to tackle this important human rights issue, focusing especially on stateless children. It has emphasised the need to put an end to the vicious circle of perpetuation of statelessness by ensuring that all children have access to a nationality at birth.

It has also supported the ten-year campaign to eradicate statelessness in the world (#Ibelong) launched in 2014 by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Next week, on 7 October, a large number of representatives of governments will meet in Geneva to talk about the implementation of the campaign and commit to doing more to solve this problem.

On this occasion, I call on all Council of Europe member states to accede without reservations to the relevant UN and Council of Europe conventions and, thereby, express their renewed commitment to the goal of eradicating statelessness by 2024.

The ratification of these instruments is an important step forward, but it is not sufficient. Member states should take concrete measures to address existing situations of statelessness and prevent its perpetuation. These measures include: setting up statelessness determination procedures; ensuring universal birth registration; easing naturalisation procedures for stateless persons; and eliminating all undue legal and administrative obstacles preventing people from obtaining identity documents. It is also crucial to ensure that all children have access to a nationality at birth.

Eradicating statelessness by 2024 is an ambitious goal, but one that can be reached. Achievements in recent years in several member states have demonstrated that, with political will, the lives of persons without a nationality can substantially improve.


[1] As of the end of August 2019, 38 Council of Europe member states were party to the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and 32 to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. As for the relevant Council of Europe instruments, 21 member states have acceded to the 1997 European Convention on Nationality and only seven to the 2006 Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession.