African standards

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights does not contain a specific provision on the right to a nationality.  Yet many complaints brought to the African Commission have concerned human rights violations that relate to the denial of a person’s nationality. The Commission has drawn on different articles of the African Charter, especially Article 5 relating to dignity and recognition of legal status, to find states in violation of their obligations in these cases (to search these cases, use the caselaw analyser of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa).

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child contains a strong endorsement of the right to a nationality in its Article 6, establishing the right of every child to a name, birth registration and to acquire a nationality. Article 6(4) adds to these commitments, which echo the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, by drawing on the provisions of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness to impose an obligation on states parties “to ensure that their constitutional legislation recognizes the principles according to which a child shall acquire the nationality of the State in the territory of which he/she has been born if, at the time of the child’s birth, he/she is not granted nationality by any other State in accordance with its laws.”

In 2014, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the treaty body responsible for monitoring compliance with the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (the African Children’s Charter), adopted a General Comment explaining the scope of State Parties’ duties in implementing the obligations under Article 6 of the African Children’s Charter, on the right to a name, birth registration and a nationality. The General Comment draws on international best practice and the Committee’s own jurisprudence to provide strong guidance to states on the necessary measures to assure respect for the right to a nationality.

In 2015, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the treaty body responsible for monitoring compliance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter), decided in its 18th extraordinary session held in Nairobi, Kenya, to adopt a draft Protocol to the African Charter on the Right to a Nationality. This decision followed two resolutions on nationality adopted in 2013 and 2014, and the commissioning of a study on nationality in Africa, formally launched in the margins of the AU summit in January 2015.  In July 2016, the Executive Council of the African Union approved the proposal from the Commission that the draft protocol enter the procedures for elaboration of legal instruments for adoption by the African Union.

At sub-regional level, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is furthest ahead in identifying problems related to statelessness and nationality. In particular, a Ministerial Conference on Statelessness in the ECOWAS region held in February 2015 adopted the important Abidjan declaration on the eradication of statelessness.

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