Citizenship in Liberia is governed by Chapter 4 of the 1986 Constitution and the 1973 Aliens and Nationality Law, as amended in 2022. Both the constitution and the law discriminate on the basis of race, stating that “only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia.”
In 2022, the Aliens and Nationality Law was amended to remove discrimination in transmission of citizenship to children born outside Liberia. The amended law retained the statutory attribution of citizenship to every child born in Liberia (if of “negro descent”); the 1986 Constitution, however, provides explicitly for attribution of citizenship at birth only if either the father or mother is a Liberian citizen.
Until 2022, the combined effect of the Constitution and of the Aliens and Nationality Law was to prohibit dual citizenship for adults in all circumstances. A referendum held in 2020 to amend the Constitution to permit dual citizenship in all cases (among other propositions) did not succeed. The 2022 amendments to the law, however, permit a Liberian citizen who acquires another citizenship to retain Liberian citizenship. These amendments followed a 2019 Supreme Court decision which ruled that the statutory provision for automatic loss was unconstitutional. There remains ambiguity, however, in the case of a person with one Liberian and one foreign parent, required by the Constitution to renounce the other citizenship at adulthood and before the age of 23 if Liberian citizenship is to be retained.
In 2012, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed its concern about low rates of birth registration (less than 5 percent as recently as 2007; though increased to 66 percent of under fives by 2019-20), and also about the restriction of citizenship on the basis of color and racial origin. In 2015, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Against Women had also urged Liberia to remove gender discrimination in the law.
Civil war in Liberia led to large outflows of refugees to neighboring countries. Although the majority returned, a significant number remained in their host countries after UNHCR advised the invocation of the ‘ceased circumstances’ article of the Refugee Convention. Very few of these have been able to naturalise in their host countries ; some were deemed not to be Liberian citizens by the Liberian authorities and were therefore not able to regularise their status where they now live.