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Rights and Justice

No Country to Call Home: It’s Time to End Statelessness

It is very busy in New York these days as heads of state, ministers, senior government officials and civil society leaders gather for the 67th Session of the U.N. General Assembly. In conjunction with the General Assembly’s first ever high-level meeting on Rule of Law on September 24, the Women’s Refugee Commission has joined with other civil society organizations to urge all Member States to accede to the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Read the statement.

Imagine living your life as a stateless person. You are not recognized as a citizen of any country. You have none of the basic government protections the rest of us take for granted. No passport, no drivers license, no way to marry legally, work legally or even register the births of your children and enroll them in school. As estimated 12 million people live in this very precarious situation.

Stateless persons are marginalized and excluded from society. For women, this only heightens their vulnerability to sexual violence, exploitation, trafficking and other abuses. Without legal status and protection, women are not only vulnerable to attacks and abuse, they have no recourse to legal remedies—no access to justice. And without proper documentation or work permits, the only options stateless women have is to work illegally; some may be forced to turn to sex work to survive.

Gender discrimination in nationality laws is a major contributor to statelessness. There are still a number of countries around the world that prevent women from acquiring, retaining or transmitting citizenship to their children. Some nationality laws strip women of their citizenship if they marry someone from another country.

To call attention to this global human rights issue, the Women’s Refugee Commission will soon launch a project to detail the practical impact of statelessness and gender discrimination in nationality laws on the daily lives of women and their families. We will use the findings from the project to inform a global advocacy campaign to end these discriminatory practices.

At a Ministerial Event on Refugees and Stateless Persons convened last year by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to focus U.S. diplomacy on preventing and resolving statelessness among women and children. This was followed by a U.S.-led effort this past summer to pass a resolution in the Human Rights Council dealing with discrimination in nationality legislation affecting women and children and the right of every child to acquire a nationality. This is the first time the Council has approved such a resolution. The Women’s Refugee Commission commends the Administration for its strong leadership. And we hope the United States will soon join other nations in acceding to the Statelessness Conventions.

To learn more, watch “Who Is Stateless” and “What Is Statelessness,” videos by Thomson Reuters.

Rights and Justice