By Iddi Z. Yire, GNA Special Correspondent in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, Courtesy of the UNHCR
Abidjan, Feb 26, GNA – Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have adopted a declaration in the context of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) campaign to end statelessness within 10 years.
‘We recognise the importance and urgency of obtaining concrete information on the causes of statelessness and the number and profile of stateless persons in ECOWAS Member States, as well as sources of statelessness and obstacles to acquisition of nationality by stateless persons in ordered to design and implement appropriate strategies to address the phenomenon,’ the declaration said.
‘In this effort, we urge research institutes and universities to actively participate and call upon the international community, in particular the UNHCR, to support us.’
The declaration was signed in Abidjan on Wednesday at the end of the first ever Ministerial Conference on Statelessness in West Africa.
The conference on the theme ‘Partnership to Resolve Statelessness’ was organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Ivorian Government, in collaboration with the ECOWAS.
Statelessness is a situation whereby an individual residing in a state is denied all the privileges and rights given to its citizens because he or she has no document to prove that he or she is a citizen.
These individuals are typically in this situation because they have difficulties proving they possess links to a State due, for instance, to a lack of birth registration and personal documentation that traces their origins and could confirm their identity.
The Ministerial Conference, was be preceded by two days of high-level technical debates among experts in the field of nationality and statelessness, which would come up with concrete recommendations on how to prevent, reduce and resolve statelessness in West Africa.
The conference sought to promote the accession to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; among the West African countries that have ratified both conventions are Nigeria, Senegal, Benin and the Cote d’Ivoire.
The participating countries include Ghana, the Gambia, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.
According to the UNHCR, at least 750,000 people are stateless or at risk of statelessness in the region and, as such, are often subject to life in limbo, with limited access to education, healthcare, and employment.
They are also vulnerable to discrimination and abuse as they have no legal existence and are not recognized in the eyes of the law.
The declaration contains 25 commitments and highlights in particular the necessity for States in the ECOWAS region to first obtain concrete information on the causes of statelessness and the number and profile of stateless persons in the region.
The Ministers therefore, committed themselves to undertake to prevent and reduce statelessness by reforming constitutional, legislative and institutional regimes related to nationality in order to include appropriate safeguards against statelessness, in particular to ensure that every child acquires a nationality at birth and all foundlings were considered nationals of the state in which they are found.
They reaffirm their commitment to implement, as appropriate, the relevant provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and to ensure that men and women have equal rights to acquire and retain their nationality and confer nationality to their children.
The declaration invite Member States who have not yet done so to accede as soon as possible to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and called upon all Member States, with the support of UNHCR, to review their nationality laws and related legislation to bring them into line with the Convention.
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