Source: UNHCR Liberia
Monrovia, Liberia, 25 February 2017 – Liberia is today commemorating the second anniver-sary of the Abidjan Declaration on the eradication of statelessness. The Declaration, adopted on 25 February 2015 by the Member States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the occasion of a ministerial conference organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and ECOWAS, contains 25 commitments of which Liberia com-mitted to seven (7). It underlines, among other things, the vital need for the States to ensure that everyone within the region has a recognized nationality.
Since the signing of the Declaration, UNHCR Liberia has worked closely with the Government of Liberia to prevent statelessness. Successful advocacy by UNHCR resulted in the ongoing review of the 1973 Alien and Nationality Law, for which UNHCR provided some financial sup-port to the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS). UNHCR advocacy aims at removing the gender bias in that law to bring it in line with the 1986 Liberian Constitution. The 1973 Alien and Na-tionality Law restricted Liberian women passing on their nationality to children born to non-Liberian fathers or born outside of Liberia, making the children at risk of becoming stateless. Four review meetings by various stakeholders were carried out in 2016. The law awaits drafting by the Law Reform Commission and UNHCR salutes the LIS and various stakeholders for the work done so far and hopes to see the new draft law completed soon.
UNHCR supported a 3-member government team to undertake missions to 6 West African countries to review the cases of former Liberian refugees who remained in their countries of asylum without Liberian documentation. They faced difficulties in establishing their nationality and integrating in their countries of asylum, as a result of not having documentary proof. The mission took the team to Ghana, The Gambia, Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Senegal to review the cases of the individuals in this situation. During 2016 the mission re-vetted a total of 709 red coded individuals, out of the 910 original ‘Red Coded’ individuals. These Liberians, who will receive passports, are no longer at risk of becoming stateless.
In the fight against statelessness, it is paramount to ensure that all children born in Liberia, both to Liberian and/or refugee parents, have access to a birth certificate. With the collaboration of the Liberian Government, the Liberian birth registration rate is steadily going up and the gov-ernment is congratulated for that. More advocacy is needed to ensure that all children born in Liberia have access to a birth certificate.
The UNHCR has supported 2 Members of the Legislature, 2 government officials from the Li-berian Immigration Services and the Ministry of Justice and 3 lecturers from the University of Liberia to attend external trainings on Statelessness. They remain as vital resources within Liberia.
A stateless person is an individual that no State recognizes as a citizen according to its laws and does not enjoy all the rights that nationals have. Nationality is often essential for the full enjoyment of human rights, including access to education, freedom of movement, health ser-vices and legal services, and its absence causes an impact on the individuals, their families, communities and countries. Today 10 million people in the world are denied a nationality, out of which, 1 million are esti-mated to be in West Africa. With discriminatory provisions within nationality laws, weak regis-trationand data collection systems, many persons fall within the statelessness gap and live their entire life being invisible to the State.
In view of the upcoming presidential and legislative elections in October 2017, UNHCR encour-ages all eligible Liberian citizens to take part in the Voters Registration exercise that started on 01 February and ends on 07 March 2017. Registration and possession of identity documents contributes to the reduction of statelessness and better access to rights and services.