Jan 22, 2015

European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights: Statelessness Should Have a More Central Role in EU Human Rights Policy

Yesterday, 21 January 2015, The European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) held an exchange of views on statelessness and human rights implications, with a presentation of a newly published DROI study entitled 'Addressing the Human Rights Impact of Statelessness in the EU's External Action'. UNPO Programme Manager, Ms Johanna Green, who was invited to present UNPO's opinion on the study and the EU’s policy on the matter highlighted, in particular, the double injustice of being both a stateless person and a stateless people.


Statelessness is a truly global problem that is not only a human rights problem per se, but also a product and cause of other human rights issues. And yet, it lacks visibility both in the EU’s internal and external action, despite interacting with multiple EU human rights priorities, including minority protection, children's rights, gender equality, freedom of religion, and economic, social and cultural rights. As a welcome step towards addressing this lack of visibility, the DROI Subcommittee commissioned a study on statelessness which was presented at yesterday’s hearing by its author, Dr Laura Van Waas. The study analyses and provides recommendations on how the EU can intensify its internal and external action in the fight against statelessness, through, inter alia bilateral and multilateral action, as well as comprehensive institutional arrangements.


Following the presentation of the study, Mr Mark Manly, Head of UNHCR’s Statelessness Section (UNHCR has the mandate to prevent and reduce statelessness) explained that statelessness affects at least 10 million people worldwide, and about 600,000 people in Europe alone. He also drew attention to the UNHCR Campaign to End Statelessness by 2024, which was launched last year and addresses, amongst others, parliamentarians who need to gain a better understanding of the issue in order to increase political will to address it, including through supporting reforms of nationality laws and signing the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (neither of which has been ratified by all EU Member States).


The next speaker, Mr Raji Abdel Salam of the Palestinian Human Rights Organisation, an organisation focussing on the protection and defense of the human rights of Palestinian refugees in the MENA region, welcomed the report and pointed out that the human rights conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is worsening. A dialogue encompassing different key actors, including the EU, needs to kick off in order to ameliorate the situation of the Palestinians and bridge the protection gap of stateless persons.


UNPO Programme Manger, Ms Johanna Green, presented the case of the Kurds in Syria - particularly in the context of the on-going conflict in the Middle East - to illustrate the various human rights implications of statelessness as concerns stateless persons. Moreover, she raised an important issue not covered by the DROI study, namely the double challenge of being both a stateless person, and a stateless people, which is the case of many Kurds in Syria. For decades the Kurds in Syria represented the most numerous group of stateless persons, while at the same time belonging to the world’s largest stateless people – without a state of their own and with little opportunity to integrate and participate equally in the different states that covers ‘Kurdistan’. Ms Green argued that the exclusion of an entire minority group from (effective) citizenship impacts on the sense of belonging and identity, which in turn may cause further social conflicts.


While underlining different aspects and perspectives of the problem of statelessness, all four expert speakers agreed on the point that it is a man-made challenge which can be minimised and prevented through coherent and comprehensive political action addressing its numerous interlinked causes. Members of the European Parliament present at the hearing concluded that statelessness, which is an issue not only in third countries but within the EU as well, should be given a more central role in the the EU’s human rights policy.


Addressing statelessness demands an urgent response and coordinated action between the EU Parliament, the Commission, the EEAS and other actors. As the DROI study outlines, the EU has got the political and financial capacities to reduce statelessness within its own borders and to emphasise this phenomenon in its engagement with third countries.


To download the UNPO contribution please click here.