ECOWAS has again restated its commitment to addressing the problem of statelessness within the region.
The assurances were given by the ECOWAS Commissioner for Gender and Humanitarian Affairs, Dr. Fatimata Dia Sow, during the 2nd anniversary of the Abidjan Declaration for the Prevention and Response to Statelessness in ECOWAS Member States in Abuja, on the 28th of March, 2017.
According to Commissioner Sow, the commitment of the ECOWAS Commission to addressing statelessness is demonstrated in by the establishment of legal and policy frameworks such as the Protocol relating to the Definition of a Community Citizen as well as development of a Draft Regional Action Plan on Eradication of Statelessness.
She disclosed further that in accordance with the ECOWAS procedures and practice, a draft Regional Action Plan will be reviewed and approved at the technical level by experts from Member States and then by the sectoral ministers responsible for nationality issues. The draft will subsequently be submitted for adoption by the ECOWAS Council of Ministers at the end of May, 2017.
This procedure she maintained ‘will strengthen the implementation process by Member States, to be accompanied by an ECOWAS close working relationship with the office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees’
The anniversary was marked in collaboration with the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) whose Deputy Representative for Protection Ms. Brigitte Mukanga-Eno submitted that because statelessness results in exclusion, it also raises issues of development, peace and security.
According to the UNHCR 2015 estimates, at least a tenth of the 10 million people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness in the world, live in West Africa.
“Stateless people do not have a nationality. It is a cause of great suffering, as stateless people are denied a large range of fundamental human rights, including the right to education, employment, heath services and dignity” She added.
All ECOWAS Member States have designated focal points to coordinate action against statelessness. While ten Countries have drafted a national action plan to end statelessness, seven States are in the process of mapping the risk of statelessness on their territories. Twelve States have acceded to the 1954 convention on the status of stateless persons and eleven others to the 1961 convention on the reduction of statelessness. Over 45, 000 people especially in Cote d’Ivoire and Benin have obtained identity or nationality documents in the fight against statelessness.
The climax of the anniversary was the signing of commitment letter tagged #IBELONG by participants which included the ECOWAS Ambassadors led by the Chair of their Committee, Ambassador Al Hassan Conteh of the Republic of Liberia. This came after a document-Reaffirming the importance of an Effective implementation of the Abidjan Declaration had been presented by Professor Adeniyi Olatunbosun of the University of Ibadan.
ECOWAS Heads of State and Government had in Accra, Ghana, in 2015, endorsed the Declaration laying down 24 concrete measures for ending statelessness.
The action of the ECOWAS leaders has a direct bearing to the Abidjan declaration which amongst others calls on States to reform their nationality legislation. It is also a commitment to eradicate statelessness in the Region within the framework of the UNHCR 10-year global campaign to end it by 2024.
Read on ECOWAS website.