Statelessness and Nationality in Côte d’Ivoire

Published: 15/Dec/2016
Source: UNHCR

By Mirna Adjami

Executive Summary

Côte d’Ivoire became party to the two international statelessness conventions in 2013 and has committed to resolving statelessness in its territory. Doing so will require uncovering and addressing the gaps in Côte d’Ivoire’s nationality system, which encompasses the laws and regulations on nationality, civil status (including birth registration), and the identification of nationals and foreigners, as well as how the laws are implemented – or not – in practice. Côte d’Ivoire’s migration and political context form the fundamental backdrop to this analysis.

Côte d’Ivoire is a country of immigration. Due to colonial forced migration policies, an estimated 13% of the country’s population at independence in 1960 were immigrants. At the time, “immigrants” referred to those deemed of “foreign origin,” i.e. who had not been born in the territory of Côte d’Ivoire but had settled there since their arrival. Net positive migration to Côte d’Ivoire continued for four decades until the end of the nineties. The majority of immigrants to Côte d’Ivoire come from neighboring West African States, in particular Burkina Faso (formerly known as Upper Volta), Mali, and Guinea. According to the 2014 census, 24% of Côte d’Ivoire’s population – i.e. 5,490,222 of a total population of 20,671,331 self-identifies as “foreign,”1 i.e. not having Ivorian nationality, although strikingly, 59% of those identified as “foreign” were born in Côte d’Ivoire.

The 1961 Nationality Code enshrined as its fundamental principle that a child must be born to at least one Ivorian parent, regardless of place of birth, to automatically acquire Ivorian nationality by origin. Furthermore, the 1961 Nationality Code contained two special avenues for foreigners to acquire Ivorian nationality: a one-year facilitated naturalization program was available for foreigners present in Côte d’Ivoire at independence, whereas the possibility of acquisition of Ivorian nationality by declaration existed for children of migrants born in Côte d’Ivoire. Amendments made to the Nationality Code in 1972 closed the possibility of acquisition of Ivorian nationality by declaration for those born in Côte d’Ivoire to foreign parents; the amendments also did away with a provision that automatically granted Ivorian nationality to children born in Côte d’Ivoire to unknown parents. In practice, not one foreigner acquired Ivorian nationality during the one-year window for facilitated naturalization and only 36 individuals acquired Ivorian nationality by declaration while the procedure was available. Yet despite the fact that few foreigners formally acquired Ivorian nationality by law, many foreign migrants and their descendants exercised the rights of Ivorian nationals and were treated as such as a result of President Houphouët-Boigny’s liberal policies from independence through the early 1990s.

Côte d’Ivoire’s laws pertaining to civil status and identification play an important role in determining nationality, but have sowed some confusion. Birth registration records a child’s place of birth and parentage. Although proof of birth registration is fundamental for any individual to either obtain proof of attribution of Ivorian nationality by origin or acquisition of Ivorian nationality by any other means, a significant part of the population born in Côte d’Ivoire have never had their births registered with civil registrars pursuant to law. For various reasons, Côte d’Ivoire’s civil status system remains weak. In parallel, Côte d’Ivoire’s systems for identification of nationals and foreigners have been subject to frequent amendment by law, and have been fundamentally arbitrary in practice over the decades. Only during two periods, namely between 1998 and 2000 and since Côte d’Ivoire began a new process of “ordinary identification” in 2014, has it been required of all individuals to present a birth certificate and a nationality certificate – the only document by law that confirms an individuals’ nationality – to obtain an Ivorian identification card.

The great divide between Côte d’Ivoire’s laws and their implementation in practice, combined with a decade of civil war and conflict, has contributed to the important prevalence of statelessness in Côte d’Ivoire. Statelessness is most likely to occur among a number of identified categories, such as: historical migrants and their descendants; children of unknown parents; border populations; refugees and returnees, particularly refugee children born abroad, and displaced persons; some categories of contemporary migrants or trafficked persons; and individuals refused Ivorian identification cards for the 2010 elections. Determining whether an individual is stateless in Côte d’Ivoire is a complex task. It requires an analysis on an individual basis, particularly given that migrants and their descendants from neighboring West African States can acquire nationality of their foreign parents by descent. As such, it is impossible to provide an accurate estimate of the numbers of stateless persons in Côte d’Ivoire.

This report sheds light on the ways statelessness can arise through the cracks in Côte d’Ivoire’s nationality system. It concludes with a number of recommendations on necessary steps – such as nationality law reform, better identification of those who are stateless or at risk of statelessness, strengthening of the civil status system, and the transparent and uniform identification of nationals and foreigners – to resolve statelessness and ensure respect for the right to nationality.

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Themes: Acquisition of nationality, Acquisition by children, Naturalisation and Marriage, Statelessness
Regions: Côte d'Ivoire
Year: 2016