Garden Court barristers join #IBelong statelessness debate

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Edward Grieves, Adrian Berry and Jo Cecil were invited to speak at a conference hosted by campaign organisations Amnesty International and SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights examining the significant international human rights issues of arbitrary revocation of citizenship and statelessness.

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Other speakers included Margaret Ferrier MP, Vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group; Hernan Vales, Human Rights Officer at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); award-winning journalist Bill Law; and Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).

The conference highlighted the stripping of citizenship, a practice that often appears to be used by governments as a tool to punish its citizens and has been seen to be used arbitrarily against minorities, political and human rights opponents and activists, and those accused and tried of crimes.

A large number of cases of citizenship deprivation are a direct consequence of discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, or gender. However, in other states, such as the UK and Canada, governments have introduced the process into legislation as a key counter-terrorism mechanism. Case studies at the conference also highlighted the practice of issuing paperless revocation decisions and failing to afford those affected a means of having such decisions judicially reviewed, whether that person is in or out of the country at the time.

What is statelessness?

Where individuals hold one nationality at the time of deprivation (that is, they are not dual nationals), revocation of citizenship will render them stateless. The UN Refugee Agency reports that at least 10 million people around the world are currently stateless and a stateless child is born every 10 minutes.

So what is the reality of losing one’s nationality?

A number of individuals from Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Myanmar presented powerful accounts of how this issue has significantly affected their lives, and the lives of their family members. These stories made clear that revocation of citizenship can have devastating and lifelong consequences resulting from the loss of access to fundamental human rights and services such as education, healthcare, employment, the right to open a bank account and the freedom to travel.

Many of those affected are exiled family members of former citizens. In some countries, whole communities have suffered. Elsewhere, those who have been tried and sentenced for crimes experience the added penalty of being stripped of their nationality, with their family members later suffering the same fate. These accounts attest to cases that Garden Court barristers have seen in practice.

Law and Resolutions

Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states, “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”

The United Nations Human Rights Committee Resolutions (UNHCR) is the primary UN agency to address statelessness. The conference highlighted a number of additional international and regional instruments intended to combat arbitrary statelessness. However, there is generally no legally-binding power to hold particular states to account, and there are many underlying political interests at play which sadly result in the continued suffering of many, both in the UK and abroad.

In an effort to put an end to this phenomenon, Garden Court Chambers wholeheartedly supports UNHCR’s #IBelong campaign – an attempt to end statelessness by 2024. Sign the open letter here.

Garden Court Chambers barristers have extensive experience in all matters relating to civil liberties and human rights, nationality, international law and public law.

Edward Grieves, Adrian Berry and Jo Cecil are members of the Administrative and Public Law Team at Garden Court Chambers, winner of the Human Rights and Public Law Set of the Year Award 2016.

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