Speaking Out on the Problem of Statelessness
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
While PRM’s former Assistant Secretary and good friend Eric Schwartz has left for his new position at the University of Minnesota, we plan to carry on his tradition of writing regular letters to the community. Sharing information with our stakeholders and the public about our activities, successes, and challenges remains important to us.
In this letter I’d like to briefly highlight some of our efforts over the past week to bring attention to issues of nationality and statelessness, including by commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
The UN estimates that as many as 12 million people in the world are not recognized as citizens by any state. Stateless populations include the Rohingya in Burma and the region, persons of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, and the Bidoon in Kuwait, to name just a few. Further background on the issue of statelessness is available on PRM’s website.
The United States regards statelessness as both a human rights and a humanitarian problem. It hinders national prospects for democratization, development, and stability, and it runs roughshod over respect for individual rights and human dignity. U.S. diplomats are urging governments around the world to provide legal documentation to stateless persons, protect stateless persons from abuse, and ensure they have access to basic services. We are also advocating with other governments to amend nationality laws that create or contribute to statelessness. In fact, Secretary Clinton is leading our efforts to combat discrimination against women in nationality laws, which Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero highlighted in a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace on October 25.
Delivering remarks on statelessness and the Dominican Republic at the Georgetown University Law Center on October 26.
In addition to our diplomatic engagement on this issue, the U.S. government is also supporting the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and civil society groups who are working to prevent and reduce statelessness and protect stateless persons. A conference at the Georgetown University Law Center on October 26 brought together representatives from government, UNHCR, and civil society to address issues specific to the Dominican Republic. In my conference remarks, I noted that while the United States is a close friend of the Dominican Republic, we urge the Dominican government to prevent statelessness among Dominicans of Haitian descent by implementing new migration and nationality regulations transparently and fairly and by embracing inclusiveness.
Finally, I testified on October 26 before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 50th anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. The hearing provided an opportunity to discuss statelessness within the broader context of international protection, and to reaffirm our commitment with UNHCR and other partners to approve discriminatory nationality laws and to protect persons denied citizenship.
Statelessness is an issue that generally has not received the international attention it requires. These events were important opportunities to increase awareness about the challenges stateless people encounter, enlist others to join our efforts to prevent and resolve the problem of statelessness, and work toward a brighter future for millions of stateless people around the world.
David M. Robinson
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration