Objectives and key provisions of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness

Statelessness, 1 October 2001

Objectives

The 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness is the primary international legal instrument adopted to date to deal with the means of avoiding statelessness. The Convention provides for acquisition of nationality for those who would otherwise be stateless and who have an appropriate link with the State through factors of birth or descent. The issues of retention of nationality once acquired and transfer of territory are also addressed. The Convention does not address nationality issues within the jurisdiction of a State only, but also offers solutions to nationality problems which might arise between States. To this end, the principles outlined in the Convention have served as an effective framework within which to resolve conflicts concerning nationality.

Key provisions

Articles 1-4 of the Convention outline principles for the granting of nationality at birth to avoid future cases of statelessness.

Articles 5-7 of the Convention include regulation on the loss or renunciation of nationality and stipulate that loss/renunciation should be conditional upon the prior possession or assurance of acquiring another nationality. Articles 5 and 6 include principles of family unity in the light of avoidance of statelessness. In particular, Article 6 contains a provision of non-discrimination against family members as to the loss of nationality.

The issue of deprivation of nationality is dealt with in Articles 8-9. The basic principle is that no deprivation should take place if it will result in statelessness. Article 9 states that "A Contracting State may not deprive any person or group of persons of their nationality on racial, ethnic, religious or political grounds." Loss or deprivation of nationality may take place only in accordance with law and accompanied by full procedural guarantees, such as the right to a fair hearing by a court or other independent body.

The issue of transfer of territory is addressed in Article 10. It follows from this provision that treaties shall ensure that statelessness does not occur as a result of transfer of territory. Where no treaty is signed, the State shall confer its nationality on those who would otherwise become stateless as a result of the transfer or acquisition of territory.

Article 11 of the Convention was elaborated for the establishment, within the framework of the United Nations, of a body to which a person claiming the benefit of the Convention may apply for the examination of his/her claim and for the assistance in presenting it to the appropriate authority. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been requested, by the United Nations General Assembly, to fulfil this function.

The Final Act of the Convention delineates definitions of words used in the Convention, as well as duties of the Contracting States. It recommends that persons who are stateless de facto should as far as possible be treated as stateless de jure to enable them to acquire an effective nationality.

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Stateless People

Millions of stateless people are left in a legal limbo, with limited basic rights.

UN Conventions on Statelessness

The two UN statelessness conventions are the key legal instruments in the protection of stateless people around the world.

State Action on Statelessness

Action taken by states, including follow-up on pledges made at UNHCR's 2011 ministerial meeting in Geneva.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, UNHCR runs programmes that benefit refugees and asylum-seekers from Haiti as well as migrants and members of their family born in the country, some of whom could be stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Many live in bateyes, which are destitute communities on once thriving sugar cane plantations. The inhabitants have been crossing over from Haiti for decades to work in the sugar trade.

Among these initiatives, UNHCR provides legal aid, academic remedial courses and vocational training for refugees and asylum-seekers. They also support entrepreneurial initiatives and access to micro credit.

UNHCR also has an increased presence in border communities in order to promote peaceful coexistence between Dominican and Haitian populations. The UN refugee agency has found that strengthening the agricultural production capacities of both groups promotes integration and mitigates tension.

Many Haitians and Dominicans living in the dilapidated bateyes are at risk of statelessness. Stateless people are not considered as nationals by any country. This can result in them having trouble accessing and exercising basic rights, including education and medical care as well as employment, travel and housing. UNHCR aims to combat statelessness by facilitating the issuance of birth certificates for people living in the bateyes.

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

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