Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Nationality. Humanity.

No piece of paper, no state, no treaty, can ever affect one’s foundation of life.  All of us are born equal, with equal rights and for this reason it is only just to be treated alike. But above all, it is human. 

A stateless person, one without a nationality, is legally defined as follows: ‘A person who is not considered a national by any state under the operation of its law.’ Being a national comes along with the practice and protection of many rights. For example the right to travel, and the right to be protected outside your own state. But when citizenship is stripped away suddenly having those rights becomes a myth because in practice the rights will often vanish. Using citizenship in order to define a person creates the theory that a non-citizen has fewer rights to practice and therefore has almost no opportunity to live life equally to a citizen. Not having citizenship affects people in a manner that degrades human integrity. But does it make people any less human?

I would argue that it doesn’t. After all, it is important to keep in mind that citizenship is only one way of categorising or defining human beings. Four other factors that play a much bigger role in defining human beings are: anatomy, history, language and culture. Let us go through these factors and at the same time make the link to statelessness.

 So, what characterizes a human being? From a biological stance, one could be inclined to answer by an array of physical features, such as two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head. Evidently there may be inconsistencies with the provided definition due to congenital factors or as the result of various events in life, but in any case this should be potentially foreseeable enough for the definition to have sufficient grounding. A stateless person does not differ at all as a human being in the sense of this definition from a national.

Then, a man’s life is influenced by the history of his birthplace, by persisting cultural norms and values, by his religious beliefs, and by his personal experiences et cetera. For this reason it is wise to also consider social aspects when attempting to define a human being.
To start off with the past: the history of the place of origin, often one’s birthplace. Even though it is difficult for a man of the 21st century to identify with his ancestors of many centuries ago, we can still speak of a certain level of sympathy towards one’s past. It provides an unmistakable identity to a large population. This way an average Egyptian could proudly speak of the civilization in the time of the pharaohs, but a Libyan will not be as touched by the Egyptian antiquity. Stateless people have this particular history too, that provides them a source of recognition. This can often be the same as people who do have a nationality. There are cases in Lebanon for example in which the mother has the nationality but the son does not, because it is the father only, who is entitled to pass on nationality. When the stateless son gets married he will not be able to pass on his nationality to his child. Even though he and his child are legally not recognized as citizens of Lebanon, they still share the same past as their mother and grandmother, and therefore they cannot be disconnected from their birthplace.
To understand your own history it is important to speak the language of your past, literally. As plenty of philosophers have noted already, people usually misunderstand each other because of their inability to fully express themselves in words. Language, therefore, is an important feature when defining a group of people simply because it does not favour nationals above stateless people.
From the evolutionary perspective, belonging to a group has always been important for the survival of humans. This survival mechanism still applies in our modern societies. A group provides security, protection, understanding, and perhaps even love. Such groupings are strongly influenced by common characteristics relating to culture. An Afghan proverb goes as follows: gar ba share yak linga rafti, ba yak ling begard. Translation: when you go to the land of the one-legged, make sure you walk with one leg. This proverb, to me, describes the core of culture, no matter where on earth people are. It implies that when you are walking on one leg, in a one-legged land, make sure that you just hide the other leg, rather than cutting it off completely. This means that wherever people go, whoever they are, own culture always distinguishes them from other groups of people. These traditions apply in the exact same manner to stateless people, because culture does not discriminate between citizens and non-citizens.

Nationality has become a great tool to categorize people and to keep societies in good order. At the same time it condemns outsiders, who have no nationality. It robs them of the practice of their rights and even touches human integrity in a severe, intolerable manner. With the four above factors I have tried to demonstrate that not having a nationality does not change a man’s humanity. Stateless people have the same limbs and they speak an understandable language. They have a particular history and culture that often is identical to their neighbours who are citizens.
Statelessness does not imply that people who do not belong to any state are supposed to live and die without leaving any trace. The origin of man gives an integral sense of dignity, and no legal definition is able to change that. 

Moshgan Wahedi, Intern, Statelessness Programme

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