The Right to Nationality is a fundamental human right. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: ‘Everyone has the right to a nationality’ and that ‘No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.’ A nationality means officially belonging to a particular country, and this is a basic human right for all individuals.
What is Statelessness?
A stateless individual is a person who does not have the nationality of any particular state. Some people are born stateless due to rules regarding citizenship. However, it is a direct violation of human rights to make someone stateless without cause, as this is depriving them of their citizenship without good reason. Statelessness is detrimental to the person as it prevents their access to other human rights, such as the right to work, the right to free election, and many others. In addition, people who are stateless cannot represent the country that they are in and so cannot actively take part in the democratic process.
Statelessness and the right to Asylum
Many people who are stateless have been made stateless as a result of political persecution. This means that their former government has violated their human rights and has deprived them of their citizenship. These people have the right to claim asylum according to article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This states: ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.’ This means that they have the right to be sheltered from danger by another country.
Another reason for statelessness is migration, where large groups of people no longer have citizenship of their homeland and do not have the right to citizenship in the country that they have settled in. An example of this are the Shona community in Kenya, who are Zimbabwean by origin. After migration, they no longer have a right to Zimbabwean citizenship and due to Kenyan citizenship laws do not have a right to Kenyan citizenship. This means that they are stateless.
What can be done about it?
Bodies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees help stateless people by helping change the laws that keep them stateless. In addition, they support stateless people and help them to access their human rights by providing legal aid and helping them fight for their citizenship and right to a nationality.