Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A little inspiration from the UNHCR interministerial meeting!

Today was the first day of the 2-day intergovernmental meeting at Ministerial level, organised by UNHCR in honour of the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. A good number of the statements made have talked about statelessness - an achievement that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. For a little inspiration, here's the relevant statelessness extracts from the opening speeches by the High Commissioner for Refugees himself, Antonio Guterres and by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton...

Antonio Guterres:
Turning now to the problem of statelessness, I am particularly heartened with the impact that commemorations activities seem to have had so far on the thinking and practice of states. An estimated 12 million people live without a nationality worldwide – a number comparable to that of refugees. Many of them are deprived of some of their most basic human rights: they cannot get married legally, go to public schools, enrol in university, or get a job. They are unable to obtain drivers licenses, birth certificates for their children, or death certificates when their loved ones pass away.  

Despite the millions of persons affected by it, statelessness has long been neglected on the global agenda. But this now seems to be changing. Four states – Croatia, Nigeria, Panama and the Philippines – have acceded in 2011 to one or both of the two statelessness conventions. Serbia and Turkmenistan will be depositing instruments of accession at the Special Treaty Event this evening. I am pleased that many more states have indicated their intention to announce their accession during the next two days.

At the same time, several states are already amending their national legislation to prevent and reduce statelessness, for example by allowing both men and women to pass their nationality on to their children. Statelessness is now literally “on the map” everywhere, with no region untouched by progress.

UNHCR is particularly grateful to the many states who have become champions of statelessness, lending their support to our advocacy work to move forward in this area.

But together we must go beyond acknowledging the problems of stateless people. What they really need are solutions that enable them to secure a nationality and enjoy the full rights of citizens.

Hillary Clinton:
Today, 12 million people on this planet wake up every morning stateless, belonging to no country at all. Most of them are in developing countries without sufficient resources. And more than 40 million people are displaced around the world. The pledges we are all making today will be an important step in helping them build a better future.

Later, Acting Assistant Secretary Robinson from the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration will speak in some detail about the 28 pledges the United States is delivering. I would like to briefly mention one that is a particular priority for the United States, and for me personally. It concerns one of the major causes of statelessness, which is discrimination against women.

At least 30 countries around the world prevent women from acquiring, retaining, or transmitting citizenship to their children or their foreign spouses. And in some cases, nationality laws strip
women of their citizenship if they marry someone from another country.

Because of these discriminatory laws, women often can’t register their marriages, the births of their children, or deaths in their family. These laws perpetuate generations of stateless people who are often unable to work legally or travel freely. They cannot vote, open a bank account, or own property. They often lack access to health care and other public services. And without birth registration or citizenship documents, stateless children often cannot attend school.

In this compromised state, women and children are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including gender-based violence, trafficking in persons, and arbitrary arrest and detention. And that hurts whole societies—because when women are given the opportunity to participate equally, they contribute to their countries’ democratic governance, peace and stability, and economic development.

The United States has launched an initiative to build global awareness about these issues, and to support efforts to end or amend those discriminatory laws. We will work to persuade government officials and members of parliaments to change nationality laws that discriminate against women, to ensure universal birth registration, and to establish procedures and systems to facilitate the acquisition of citizenship for stateless persons.

I encourage other member states to join this effort. I am pleased that High Commissioner Guterres has signaled his support. And I encourage UNHCR to work with UN Women, UNICEF, UNDP, and other UN partners to achieve equal nationality rights for women.

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