Monday, 9 May 2011

Citizenship in the Arab world

An introduction to a new research initiative on statelessness in the Middle East and North Africa.

MENA Statelessness and Nationality research project

After the success of the Africa nationality research project, Citizenship in Africa, the idea of launching a similar advocacy oriented research project on statelessness and nationality discrimination in the Middle East and North Africa developed, coordinated by the Open Society Foundations’ Justice Initiative and the Arab Regional Office. A look at this region showed how the issue of statelessness, flaws in nationality legislation and discrimination in citizenship matters were apparent and often extreme. Despite this, very little effort or research had been undertaken. Hence, the MENA Statelessness and Nationality research project was launched in Amman in October 2010. The launching conference, which brought together experts and potential research partners, worked on developing the idea further. It was decided that the research would constitute an analysis of the nationality law of 18 countries in the region, alongside separate studies of prevalent regional thematic issues.

Statelessness and discrimination in access to citizenship are enormous problems across the MENA region and an initial study was done to pinpoint the main problematic topics that needed to be understood and addressed. The area hosts some of the largest populations of stateless persons in the world, including Palestinians in the Levant and elsewhere, Kurds in Syria, the Bidoon of the Arabian Peninsula, stateless Sahrawi refugees in Algeria, and black Mauritanians returning to their homeland after decades of forced exile. Each State has its own respective problems with key shortcomings in nationality legislation, but there were also many common regional trends, predominantly constituting;
· Rampant gender discrimination;
· Ethnic and religious discrimination;
· Lack of due process guarantees with respect to deprivation of citizenship;
· Lack of effective remedies for affected populations;
· Lack of implementation of positive policies and legislation, often leading to ad hoc and arbitrary practices and decisions

The rights of hundreds of thousands of people across the area continue to be violated due to these shortcomings and discrimination, violations that spread across communities and generations.

Future of the project

Soon after the identification of the issues and the launch of the project, the Arab region witnessed the commencement of uprisings across the area. In the short-term this led to obstacles in the development of the project. No field research was possible in the countries affected and there were enhanced difficulties in access to resources and networks. Even in States that were not witnessing internal uprisings, the volatile regional political situation did not offer an environment to launch - often sensitive - research and studies.

Despite these setbacks the changing scene presents a hope that these sudden developments will lead to important steps, steps that would establish an environment more accommodating to improving citizenship rights in the region. It has certainly highlighted the importance of the issue of citizenship. One of the first concessions made by the Syrian government in its attempt to quell frustration was to offer Syrian citizenship to Kurds who had been denied it for generations. In Kuwait, the Bidoon community are the main force actively protesting for their civil and social rights - forcing their issue into the limelight. And in Jordan, much discussion has been surfacing on halting the longstanding practice of withdrawing Jordanian citizenship from Palestinians.

One long-term hope for changes in the region is that a more developed civil society will emerge, which would go hand in hand with the advocacy projects the regional study on citizenship hopes to initiate. The wish is that this would come alongside a more established atmosphere of transparency and accountability - helping address the problem of implementing protective legislation on the matter.

The project continues to grow and gather together a variety researchers on the issues, and now perhaps an improved future environment to engage on the issue of MENA statelessness and nationality.

Zahra Albarazi, Coordinator, MENA statelessness and nationality research project

No comments:

Post a Comment