What is Statelessness? Why It is Important?

Humanity without oxygen is what a person without citizenship is like. Statelessness, a term easy to pronounce but hard to exits with. It is like a man on no man’s land. In today’s era the international bodies mainly the UNHRC is working on the term ‘Statelessness’. What does this statelessness mean? Why it is important? What happens if a man is declared as Stateless?

What does this Stateless means?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, ‘A stateless person has no country that they officially belong to’.

To brief it, when a country takes away the citizenship of a person or disowns a person, it is to be known as a person with no state/stateless.

Now, we the one who holds a citizenship of a particular nation can imagine why the international bodies like UNHRC are working on this, what facilities and recognition we get being a citizen of a nation, the stateless ones are totally deprived of that, and so is important to be a recognized citizen of a country.

Why it is important? & what will happen if a man is declared as Stateless?

Being stateless is no joke; it’s one of the most important human rights a person needs. The right to be a citizen has been called “man’s basic right for it is nothing less than the right to have rights.”[1] This indicates that the right to nationality provides the path to all other rights, rights which a person is entitled to result from possession of a nationality. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights {UDHR}, states that every person has an inherent right to a nationality. In the case of stateless persons, they have no nationality to claim rights from.

The protection by nations is effective at both a domestic & international level, as nations are able to protect their nationals in the international arena under principles of international law. Statelessness is the lack of a legal bond between an individual and any given nation. According to international law, it is for each individual nation to determine its own domestic law stipulating who are its nationals.

There are two types of statelessness; De Jure statelessness and De Facto statelessness. The De Jure statelessness is been defined in the 1954 convention. It states that ‘the term stateless person means a person who is not considered a national by any state under the operation of its law’[2] The definition in the 1954 convention excludes persons who retain the formal bond of nationality but are not able to rely upon it for protection[3]. These persons are deemed to be de facto stateless and are not protected under the 1954 convention.

Now we being having the conventions and human rights protector body at the international level, we see states action disowning their nationals and asking them to leave the country which brings us to the current examples.

There are actually no counts of stateless persons around the world but UNHRC estimates it to be around millions globally of which approx. one third are children. To brief out the examples of such nations

  • In Myanmar’s Rkhine state more than 6,00,000 people are stateless because of the current citizenship law which provides that only members of certain ethnic groups are eligible for citizenship.
  • In West Africa around 7,00,000 people are stateless in Côte d’Ivoire, many of whom are migrants of Burkinabé descent who are not eligible for Ivorian nationality after the country’s independence from France in 1960.
  • Around 6,00,000 people in Europe are stateless due to the dissolution of former states.

In addition, around 25 states globally do not allow women to transfer nationality to their children because their fathers are unknown, missing or deceased which is why the count of stateless children is comparatively more in number.[4]

Now also to look at the brighter side of the world, we also have an example of resolved stateless issues;

  • Like in 2008 the issue in Bangladesh was resolved regarding the 3,00,000 Urdu speakers (also known as Bihari’s).
  • Also, the issue of stateless children born to Brazilian parents living abroad who were unable to acquire Brazilian nationality unless they went back to live in Brazil, was resolved in 2007.

If we consider the main current issues regarding statelessness, it would definitely be about The Rohingya Crisis.

The Rohingya Crisis

The Rohingya issue is not a new issue; it’s been going on for a long time, long enough that it takes us back in britisher’s ruling period.

Rohingyas are Muslim minority who reside in the Rakhine area of Myanmar accounting for 7% Muslim population. Britishers settled them there because it was a fertile region. They started migration after the 1982 act [the citizenship law of Mynmar] which prohibited them from being citizens which ultimately made millions of Rohingya stateless. The condition is so ruined that they are denied of basic human/legal rights, no access to education/health care facility, they are not allowed to move freely and deprived of being married unless obtaining permission.

According to Govt. they are Bengali Muslims who migrated from Bangladesh to Myanmar during the colonial period whereas Rohingya consider them to be native of Myanmar. The structure of their migration is that they travel from Myanmar to Bangladesh to India, in India, they settle in the slums of J&K, Hyderabad and Delhi. Internationally they migrate to Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

The main reason behind the Rohingya issues are;

  • Britishers use to use them as soldiers in their army due to which the Rohingya supported Britishers a lot during the colonization of Myanmar and this was the reason the Rohingyas migrated to Myanmar.
  • There is also a religious tension between Buddhist and Muslims in Myanmar.
  • In the Myanmar citizenship law, the country has marked Rohingya as illegal immigrants.
  • Lack of leadership and representation

The inhuman treatment is such that the Myanmar army regularly conducts strike which kills innocent Rohingyas. Neither Myanmar nor any neighboring country such as Thailand, Bangladesh is ready or willing to accept them.

Why in News

Huge migration started after some insurgents attacked on Myanmar army post, in retaliation of which Myanmar army started an operation which leads to the death of Rohingyas. Even if we see there was Army rule in the country before 2011 but after 2011 democracy was est. and till there is no solution to Rohingya issue. Suu Kyi who is a state Counselor for Myanmar was awarded by noble peace prize said nothing about the issue not even about humanitarian assistance.

India’s Concern in the issue needs to be seen because a huge population of Rohingyas is settled on the border of India and Bangladesh. The main concerns arise with Security, economy and India-Myanmar relations. The illegal migration directly impacts the security of the nation which was seen in Bodh Gaya bomb blast case. It is said that there was the presence of Rohingyas in terrorist groups whereas it impacts the economy as it increases load for providing food and space for living on govt.

Possible Solution

In the 21st century where the world is at the developed stage, where we talk about the quality of life there we cannot live with an issue like this. We spend billions of dollars to maintain international bodies to look after such issues but we lack when we see people suffering like this. The Rohingya problem needs to be resolved as quick as possible because at someplace they reside near coastal areas where cyclones are alerted but no one comes forward to help them. The possible solutions which we can try are:

  • Moral or diplomatic pressure on Myanmar Govt.
  • Engage Dalai Lama use Buddhism as a tool
  • All neighbor country combine to resolve the issue
  • Tighten the borders

[1] Perez v Brownwell 356 U.S. 44, (1958)

[2] Article 1, 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of stateless Person.

[3] [3] (Van Waas 2008, p.20)

[4] [4] https://www.unhcr.org/statelessness-around-the-world.html

This Article is Authored by Rishi Choudhary, B.B.A. LL.B. [Hons.] Student at MIT-WPU, Pune.

Also Read – A State of the Stateless People: A Case Study of Chakmas

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