African Union and UNHCR push for the right to nationality in Africa

Published: 29/Jan/2015
Source: UNHCR

A protocol on the right to nationality will strengthen democracy, regional integration, and reduce conflict in Africa’, a new report states

Addis Ababa, 29 January 2015

According to a new report launched by President Alassane Ouattara from Côte d’Ivoire and UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, gaps in the citizenship laws of many African States mean that they do not guarantee the right to a nationality for everyone. Gaps in nationality laws and discriminatory legal provisions in some countries are often further compounded by a range of issues, such as changing of State borders and the practice of pastoralism and other population migrations on the continent. As a result, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Africans whose legal existence is jeopardised by the fact that they are not recognised as nationals of at least one country or are simply stateless.

“Stateless individuals and every other person in similar situation expect from our leaders nothing but the political will to translate their concerns into concrete reality,” said Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the AUC.

The report, published by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights notes that reforms of nationality laws and documentation procedures are necessary to ensure that everyone enjoys the right to a nationality in Africa. Lack of nationality often means that the people concerned do not have the right to vote, are deprived of access to public services, including education and health care. They may not be able to leave and enter their country since they do not have travel documents.

“It is disturbing to note that in the 21st century Africa, hundreds of thousands of people are denied even the right to exist, not because they are not Africans, but because some people in power say they do not deserve to be; and the fact that their primary right to exist, is discriminately applied, means that the willful act of impoverishment is systematically being perpetrated, and we need to put a stop to this,” said Mrs. Maya Fadel-Sahli, Commissioner for ACHPR and Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.

The denial of citizenship rights has been a major cause of conflict and remains an obstacle to Africa becoming a peaceful and prosperous continent. It is often a direct consequence of discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or gender. The laws of at least half a dozen countries include provisions that restrict nationality from birth to members of certain ethnic groups. In at least 10 African countries, women cannot pass their nationality on to their children on an equal basis as men, which can perpetuate the problem into the next generation.

“For many people who are unable to prove their nationality, it is as if they were invisible, as if they do not exist”, High Commissioner Guterres said. “But denying people a nationality is a missed opportunity for countries on the way to development and prosperity, as it excludes the energy and talents of hundreds of thousands of people. By tackling these issues, Africa can help lead the way in efforts to end statelessness”.

The study concludes that despite the existence of a range of human rights provisions relating to non-discrimination and the right to nationality in Africa, there is often a legal void at the national level that stops people from exercising their right to a nationality. It urges AU member States to support the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to draft a protocol on the Right to a

Nationality in Africa, which will provide the framework for countries’ nationality laws to ensure that each and every person can enjoy the right to a nationality.

Read more.

Themes: African standards, Statelessness
Regions: Pan Africa
Year: 2015