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OHCHR and the right to a nationality

About nationality and human rights

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 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.

If a person does not have a nationality, it may be impossible for them to go to school, see a doctor, get a job, open a bank account, or even get married. Millions of people around the world are in this situation; they are 'stateless'.

A stateless person is ‘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 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are at least 12 million globally.

In addition to violations of their right to a nationality, stateless persons are often subject to many other human rights violations. They may have difficulty accessing basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. 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.

OHCHR's 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 women's right to a nationality, OHCHR advocates for reform of nationality laws that discriminate against women and impact the enjoyment of rights by their children and spouses.

OHCHR supports UNHCR's Campaign to End Statelessness, and is a member of IBELONG: the Coalition on Every Child's Right to a Nationality.

Latest reports and publications

Report on the expert workshop on best practices to promote women's equal nationality rights in law and in practice (2017)

Report of the Secretary-General on the impact of the arbitrary deprivation of nationality (2015)