Right to a Nationality and Statelessness
The Right to a Nationality
The right to a nationality is a fundamental human right. It implies the right of each individual to acquire, change and retain a nationality.
International human rights law provides that the right of States to decide who their nationals are is not absolute and, in particular, States must comply with their human rights obligations concerning the granting and loss of nationality.
Arbitrary Deprivation of Nationality
The right to retain a nationality corresponds to the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality. Arbitrary deprivation of nationality, therefore, effectively places the affected persons in a more disadvantaged situation concerning the enjoyment of their human rights because some of these rights may be subjected to lawful limitations that otherwise would not apply, but also because these persons are placed in a situation of increased vulnerability to human rights violations.
International Legal Framework
The right to a nationality is recognized in a series of international legal instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Nationality of Married Women, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The issue of nationality is also regulated in the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
An explicit and general prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality can be found in numerous international instruments. In particular, it is worth noting that article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly provides that no one should be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality. The General Assembly, in its resolution 50/152, also recognized the fundamental nature of the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality.
The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons defines "stateless person" as “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.” The exact number of stateless people is not known, but UNHCR estimates that there are at least 10 million globally. In addition to violations of their right to a nationality, stateless persons are subject to several other human rights violations. States shall introduce safeguards to prevent statelessness by granting their nationality to persons who would otherwise be stateless and are either born in their territory or are born abroad to one of their nationals.States shall also prevent statelessness upon loss or deprivation of nationality.
The Right to a Nationality and the Human Rights Council
The Human Right Council has addressed the enjoyment of the right to a nationality and the avoidance of statelessness in several resolutions on “Human rights and arbitrary deprivation of nationality”:
OHCHR Work on the Right to a Nationality and on Statelessness
Through several of its field presences, OHCHR provides technical advice on nationality laws and policies so they are in agreement with international human rights standards.
In particular with respect to the right of women to a nationality, OHCHR advocates for reform of nationality laws that discriminate against women and impact on the enjoyment of rights of their children and spouses. In 2013, OHCHR submitted a report to the Human Rights Council on the issue, entitled, “discrimination against women on nationality-related matters” (A/HRC/23/23). The report examines how women in certain countries do not enjoy equal rights with men to acquire, change and retain their nationality and are also not allowed to transfer nationality to their children or spouses on the same basis, which very often results in statelessness. It analyses the negative impact of discriminatory nationality laws on the enjoyment of women’s rights and the rights of their children and spouses, and also includes best practices and other measures to eliminate discrimination against women in nationality laws. The report provides a comprehensive framework for pledges and action towards the full implementation of States’ human rights obligations in the area of equal nationality rights.
OHCHR supports UNHCR Campaign to End Statelessness. During the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, on 10 March 2015, OHCHR, UNHCR and UN Women co-organised a high-level panel discussion on equal nationality rights.
Regional Expert Meeting on the Human Rights of Stateless Persons in the Middle East and North Africa (PDF)