Loss and deprivation of nationality

The right to a nationality requires not only that a person can acquire nationality at birth, but also that arbitrary deprivation of nationality is prohibited. The 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness establishes restrictions on states’ rights to deprive a person of nationality, while the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights creates requirements on due process that the African Commission has confirmed apply in the area of nationality rights. Since 2008, the UN Human Rights Council has adopted a series of reports and resolutions on the arbitrary deprivation of nationality, and UNHCR has also published guidance on loss and deprivation of nationality.

The 1961 Convention distinguishes between loss of nationality (that is automatic, by operation of law; for example, commonly provided for if a person acquires another nationality) and deprivation (that involves a decision by the executive; for example, if a person has committed a serious crime against the state). The laws of many African states provide for extremely broad grounds for deprivation of nationality, and some even exclude deprivation of nationality from review by the courts. In practice, African states wishing to deny a person nationality have often asserted that a person was erroneously recognised as a national to start off with: however, it is clear that such an assertion is also subject to the rules forbidding arbitrary deprivation of nationality.