Introducing the New ISI Database on Statelessness and Human Rights

Vera Karanika (Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion)

Under international law, every person has the right to nationality and all stateless persons have basic human rights. Statelessness is the most extreme consequence of the denial of the right to nationality, and stateless people endure systemic denial of basic human rights. In short, statelessness is a fundamental human rights issue. However, statelessness has been historically marginalised within global human rights discourse and poorly understood or viewed as a very ‘niche’ issue. The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the heightened vulnerability of stateless people and exposed the systematic failure to protect those who are already excluded or marginalized due to their lack of a nationality.

The Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) is the first and only human rights NGO dedicated to working on statelessness at the global level and has emerged as the civil society focal point for the statelessness movement. We have worked tirelessly to build and strengthen the field of statelessness, with a particular focus on increasing both the visibility and presence of statelessness on the human rights agenda and amplifying the voices of stateless activists and human rights defenders through collaboration with local partners. To achieve this, ISI engages in international human rights advocacy by preparing, in collaboration with civil society partners, country submissions on nationality and statelessness issues. Since 2015, we have engaged systematically with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), making over 70 country specific submissions and issuing more than 175 country summary documents outlining key nationality and statelessness issues. We have also made over 30 shadow reports to UN Treaty Bodies and submitted information for consultations on General Comments, Reports compiled by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the work of a number of the Special Procedures.

Why a database on Statelessness and Human Rights?

Statelessness is the most extreme violation of the right to a nationality and has severe consequences for the enjoyment of other human rights. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality. Yet, there are more than 15 million people across the globe who face a life without a nationality and every ten minutes, another child is born stateless. Moreover, while human rights law affirms the rights of all people, nationality acts as a gateway through which people can access rights and services. The stateless are vulnerable to discrimination and unequal treatment. They are denied access to education, healthcare, housing, employment, social welfare and documentation, as well as the right to own property, travel, be safe, free and equal. The stateless are also disenfranchised and their exclusion is heightened by their inability to access justice, leading to a vicious circle which is difficult to break.

As part of their mandate, UN human rights mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review and the Committee on the Rights of the Child are charged with monitoring States’ human rights records. These mechanisms can ultimately influence states’ laws, jurisprudence, policies and practices around the world. Consequently, they are potent mechanisms to enhance the visibility of statelessness as a human rights issue, improve the enjoyment of rights by stateless persons and ensure every individual’s right to a nationality. Consolidating their recommendations in one place to improve their accessibility, can feed into awareness raising, advocacy and litigation efforts regarding statelessness issues while bolstering the impact of the work of UN human rights bodies and resulting in increased momentum for action and change.

To strengthen knowledge of, engagement with and adherence to human rights standards relating to statelessness and the right to a nationality, the ISI Database on Statelessness and Human Rights is a carefully designed and user-friendly tool that offers easy access to relevant recommendations issued to States within the UN human rights system. The database enables the user to compare and analyse the data by ‘coding’ the recommendations using different filters such as country, UN body and theme. As of the time of writing, the database contains recommendations from all the available sessions of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), all the recommendations issued by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) since 2010, all the recommendations issued by Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) since 2010 and recommendations from all the available sessions of the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW). We will continue to expand the dataset to incorporate other UN bodies and expand the period covered.

Who is the database for?

The ISI Database on Statelessness and Human Rights is an ideal tool to inform and strengthen the impact of the work of numerous key stakeholders such as members of the UN Bodies, civil society organisations, legal practitioners, academics and activists to enhance the visibility of statelessness and ensure every individual’s right to a nationality.

The Database enables its users, among others, to:

  • Gain a greater understanding of the scope and content of the articles in human rights conventions related to statelessness issues and utilize them along with the relevant bodies’ recommendations in their advocacy and litigation work;
  • Conduct cross country research leading to concrete and holistic research findings;
  • Identify trends within a region and be more targeted in advocacy and litigation efforts;
  • Easily compare recommendations of different UN human rights bodies and identify patterns and whether they correlate or complement each other, also enabling complementary UN campaigns and processes and leading to consistent monitoring of states.
  • Address the lack of visibility of certain statelessness issues and increase advocacy efforts.

The Database has already been well received and hailed as a useful tool to help facilitate human rights advocacy on the issue by a number of human rights experts.

The Database is a phenomenal tool for people like me as a member of the CEDAW Committee, because it will allow me to very quickly find information that I would normally have to spend hours looking for. It will be so useful in preparing for the List of Issues and the Constructive Dialogue with States Parties. As a women’s rights activist, I can also see how powerful the information is and how the Database can be used to strengthen advocacy. It is a great resource to point journalists, students and others to for their research into statelessness and nationality.

Bandana Rana, Vice Chair of the UN CEDAW Committee

What does the database show (so far)?

The recommendations are collated and categorised in the database in order to allow the user to find and analyse UN human rights recommendations relating to citizenship and statelessness with just a few clicks.

Here are some examples of the insights offered by comparing and analysing the 1285 recommendations already included in the database:

By Theme

  • 44% of the recommendations contain a direct reference to the issue of statelessness
  • More than half of the recommendations urge the State under review to take specific and concrete action regarding the right to a nationality, statelessness prevention or protection of stateless persons
  • 765 recommendations relate to the realisation of every child’s right to a nationality and at preventing childhood statelessness
  • A quarter of recommendations include language addressing discrimination in access to nationality

By Region

  • 25% of the recommendations regard States in Africa
  • 20% of the recommendations regard States in Asia-Pacific
  • 20% of the recommendations regard States in Europe
  • 18% of the recommendations regard States in the Americas
  • 17% of the recommendations regard States in MENA

By Country

  • 48 recommendations regard the Dominican Republic
  • 36 recommendations regard Kuwait
  • 28 recommendations regard Jordan
  • 25 recommendations regard Myanmar
  • 24 recommendations regard Latvia
  • 20 recommendations regard Oman
  • 16 recommendations regard Cote d’Ivoire
  • 16 recommendations regard Estonia

In addition, users can search information by UN Body or use the free text search option to search for recommendations by using keywords, such as Rohingya, citizenship deprivation, etcetera.  More information on how to navigate the Database can be found in the Database User Guide.

The Database was developed by the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI), with support from the Janivo Stichting and the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights. You can also find more information about ISI’s human rights advocacy work and the other resources that have been developed besides the Database, here.