Discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, race, and religion

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which has been ratified by all African countries except Angola, South Sudan, and São Tomé and Príncipe, requires that enjoyment of the right to nationality be guaranteed to everyone “without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin” (Article 5(d)(iii)).  Recognising that some forms of discrimination are in fact the basis of nationality law, however, CERD excludes from its application “legal provisions of States Parties concerning nationality, citizenship or naturalisation, provided that such provisions do not discriminate against any particular nationality” (Article 1(2)).

In Africa, at least half a dozen countries effectively ensure that those from certain ethnic groups can never obtain nationality from birth by the provisions of their laws. At the most extreme end, Liberia takes the position that only those of “Negro descent” can be citizens, even by naturalisation. In other countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or Uganda, the nationality law establishes that only members of certain ethnic groups are automatically considered nationals.

Several North African countries discriminate on grounds of religion in their citizenship laws. For example, in Egypt, Morocco, and Libya, the rules on naturalisation and recognition or deprivation of nationality discriminate against non-Muslims, as well as non-Arabs.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has commented unfavourably on discriminatory provisions in nationality laws in the DRC and Liberia, as well as in non-African countries.  The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Human Rights Committee also expressed disquiet about discrimination in naturalisation procedures. While some language and cultural assimilation requirements are seen as reasonable in the case of naturalisation, discriminatory group preferences or exclusions are not.