Nationality is a legal bond between a person and a State. Nationality provides people with a sense of identity but, more importantly, enables them to exercise a wide range of rights. The lack of any nationality, statelessness, can therefore be harmful, in some cases devastating to the lives of the individuals concerned.
Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that “everyone has the right to a nationality”. With these words, the international community recognized that every individual, everywhere in the world, should hold a legal bond of nationality with a State. In other words, international law says clearly that statelessness should be avoided.
Despite this firm international commitment, new cases of statelessness have continued to arise. Tackling statelessness still poses a major challenge in the 21st century. There are at least 10 million stateless people around the world today.
States are responsible for conferring nationality. Each State lays down the criteria for conferral and withdrawal of nationality in its own domestic law. It is, therefore, States which must take action, alone and in cooperation with other States, to ensure that everyone has a nationality. Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights confirms that everyone has the right to a nationality, it does not set out the specific nationality to which a person is entitled. This absence of clear rules may result in statelessness. States therefore developed a series of additional standards, which were adopted in 1961 in the form of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (“1961 Convention”), in recognition of the need for further international cooperation and agreement to prevent and reduce statelessness.
A growing number of States are turning to the 1961 Convention for guidance on how to meet their international obligation to prevent statelessness. While the 1961 Convention had only 37 States Parties on 1 January 2011, 33 states pledged to accede to the Convention at the Ministerial Event organized by UNHCR in December 2011. By the end of January 2014 the number of State Parties had increased to 55. However, the influence of the Convention’s provisions is far wider because many States have drawn elements of the Convention for inclusion in their nationality legislation.