Statelessness and Citizenship in the East African Community

Published: 14/Nov/2018
Source: UNHCR

By Bronwen Manby

Key findings and recommendations

Extent of statelessness

It is not possible to establish the number of stateless persons in the Partner States of the East African Community (EAC), but it is clear that there are tens of thousands of people at risk of statelessness, among them many who are actually stateless. Those who are stateless or at risk include descendants of people who have migrated from another place, often many years ago, and their children; members of cross-border populations, and children unable to establish rights derived from their parents. Many of these people are only now finding out that their citizenship is doubtful, as new identity cards are being introduced, or old systems upgraded.

The impact of statelessness

Statelessness and discrimination in access to citizenship and identity documents has a strong negative impact on the ability of individuals and groups to enjoy respect for their basic human rights and to participate fully in the economic, social and political life of a country.

Legal frameworks

Only Rwanda has a legal framework for nationality administration that generally complies with the international and African norms on the prevention and reduction of statelessness.  Most importantly, none of the other five countries has the protections against statelessness among children required by the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). While most have a foundling provision, there are few safeguard clauses for children who would otherwise be stateless.  Laws that are based purely on descent in attribution of nationality at birth, and that restrict access to naturalisation in practice, place significant numbers at risk of statelessness. This is exacerbated where the law is not clear or different laws contradict each other, which is the case in Burundi and Tanzania.  Although Partner States of the EAC host many hundreds of thousands of nomadic pastoralists, nationality laws are very poorly adapted to provide for those who do not live a settled existence.

Due process and transparency

Excessive executive discretion in deciding questions of nationality creates major risks of statelessness and violations of other rights.

Regional cooperation and efforts to reduce statelessness

There have been important efforts by Partner States of the EAC to try to resolve questions of statelessness. These efforts could be greatly strengthened through regional cooperation mechanisms, led by regional institutions such as the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).  In October 2017, the 12 Member States of the ICGLR (which include all Partner States of the EAC) adopted the Brazzaville Declaration and Regional Action Plan to eradicate statelessness.

Priorities for action

In order to strengthen nationality systems and address the risk of statelessness caused by historical and contemporary migration, the priorities for action by the EAC and its Partner States, collectively and on their own account, should be:

  • The removal of provisions in the law and requirements in administrative procedures that discriminate on the grounds of sex or birth in or out of wedlock.
  • The review of provisions in the law that discriminate on the grounds of race, religion, ethnicity or belonging to an indigenous group, to ensure that they are in compliance with international and African standards on non-discrimination.
  • Accession to the international and African conventions on the right to a nationality; the prevention and reduction of statelessness, and the protection of stateless persons.
  • The incorporation of the measures for the prevention and reduction of statelessness contained in these treaties into their national laws, especially attribution of the nationality of the country of birth to a child who is otherwise stateless.
  • The establishment of procedures within countries and in collaboration between countries to identify populations at risk of statelessness; to determine the nationality of individuals where their status is in doubt; to provide, as an interim measure, a status of “stateless person” where an existing nationality cannot be determined, and to facilitate naturalisation for those who are stateless.
  • The reform of nationality laws to create in all states at least some basic rights to nationality that derive from birth and residence as a child in that country: that is, to create a way in which the children of migrants may be integrated into the national community (even if the parents are not naturalised).
  • The reform of naturalisation procedures to make them accessible to a far wider number of people, and in particular to the nationals of other EAC Partner States, including refugees and former refugees.
  • The achievement of universal birth registration for all children born in the territory of a state.

Download: Statelessness and citizenship in the East African Community

Themes: Acquisition of nationality, Acquisition by children, Mass Expulsions, Discrimination, Ethnic/Racial/Religious, Gender, Identity Documents, Naturalisation and Marriage, ID Documents and Passports, Nationality and Refugees, State Succession, New States, Statelessness
Regions: Burundi, East Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda
Year: 2018