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UN expert points to global statelessness as a minority issue

NEW YORK (23 October 2018) – From the Rohingya in Myanmar to the Roma in Europe, minorities already vulnerable to human rights violations are being victimised further by lack of citizenship, a UN expert said today.

“A huge proportion of the world’s stateless belong to specific minorities that appear to be targeted by state policies, practices, or legislation, or at the very least are at the receiving end of discriminatory citizenship decisions,” the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues told the General Assembly.

Fernand de Varennes also urged international organisations and human rights groups not to ignore the marginalisation of minorities this entails. More than three-quarters of those who are stateless belong to minorities, he said in a report, also citing Palestinians and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Americas.

“Discriminatory practices targeting minorities remain still largely unrecognised, unappreciated and unaddressed. In all parts of the world, minorities are those who are the largest groups affected by the lack of the protection of any citizenship,” de Varennes said.

He commended the UNHCR’s recognition in 2017 of statelessness as a minority issue. “Statelessness doesn’t simply happen: it too often involves discriminatory practices and a disregard of the human rights of minorities considered unworthy or undesirable,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“It is neither accidental nor neutral: just as was the case for the Jewish minority in Germany before the Second World War, minorities continue to find themselves ‘unworthy’ of citizenship, with consequent obstacles in accessing basic public services, even including in some cases education, and the exercise of other basic human rights

De Varennes said the UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign to eradicate statelessness by 2024 has targeted areas such as the equal right for women to confer nationality on their children and spouses. A global plan for equal nationality rights for minorities was also needed to avoid escalation into large-scale humanitarian crises, radicalisation and potential threats to peace and security.

“The human rights community must focus on and address more directly the causes of most cases of statelessness, and radically reconsider and realign its approaches and strategies in relation to minorities,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur hopes a document can be drafted that formally recognises as part of customary law the obligation of granting citizenship to children born in a state who would otherwise be stateless.


Mr. Fernand de Varennes was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2017. He is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council, to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among other things.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests please contact:  Dorian Hall (+ 41 22 917 5493 /dhall@ohchr.org) or write to minorityissues@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact: Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.