Deepening agitation for republics of Biafra and Oodua out of Nigeria, appears to be receiving a boost with the United Nations quest to ensure the right to a nationality.
UN refugee agency, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says eradicating statelessness is more pressing than ever. The agency was speaking as it marked the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
This came as UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, urged countries to fulfil their obligations to prevent and prosecute cases of enforced disappearance, a “cowardly practice” which the COVID-19 pandemic has made even more difficult to combat.
The UN chief made the appeal in his message to mark the International Day honouring victims of this serious human rights violation that was observed on Monday. “Together, we can and we must end all enforced disappearances”, he said.
A global problem
Enforced disappearance refers to the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by agents of the State, or those acting with State authorization or support, whose whereabouts are unknown.
Once largely the product of military dictatorships, it has become a global problem, according to the UN, with hundreds of thousands of people “disappeared” in more than 80 countries. Impunity remains widespread.
While strictly prohibited under international human rights law, Guterres said enforced disappearance continues to be used across the world as a method of repression, terror, and stifling dissent.
“Paradoxically, it is sometimes used under the pretext of countering crime or terrorism. Lawyers, witnesses, political opposition, and human rights defenders are particularly at risk”, he added.
Having been removed from the protection of the law, victims, who can include children, are deprived of all their rights and are at the mercy of their captors.
They are frequently tortured and know that it is unlikely anyone will come to their aid. Some are even killed.
“Enforced disappearance deprives families and communities of the right to know the truth about their loved ones, of accountability, justice and reparation”, the Secretary-General said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the agony and anguish of enforced disappearance, by limiting capacities to search for missing persons and investigate alleged enforced disappearance.”
The International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances has been commemorated annually on August 30 since 2011.
It was established by the UN General Assembly, which adopted a resolution in December 2010 expressing deep concern about the rise in incidents in various regions, and increasing reports of harassment, ill-treatment and intimidation of witnesses of disappearances, or relatives of people who were disappeared.
The resolution also welcomed the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which calls for countries to take measures to hold perpetrators criminally responsible.
“The Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearances is indispensable in helping to tackle this cowardly practice. But it requires the will and commitment of those with the power to do so”, the UN chief said.
“States must fulfil their obligations to prevent enforced disappearance, to search for the victims, and to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators.”
Guterres reiterated his call for countries to ratify the Convention, and to work with the UN Committee that monitors its implementation, as well as the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, which assists families in determining the fate of their loved ones.
However, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said “new global challenges, such as COVID-19 and the effects of climate change, on top of persistent ones like rising forced displacement, showcase just how critical the right to a nationality is.
“Having a nationality – and the protection of a government that nationality affords – can make a life-saving difference, even more so in times of crisis, whether it’s vaccination, evacuation or providing a social safety net that is needed”.
Stateless people can fall between the cracks in conflict and displacement situations because they lack the protection of any government, they don’t have proof of their legal identity, or both, the UN agency warned.
They can also risk being excluded from accessing COVID-19 vaccinations are unlikely to be included in countries socio-economic relief packages intended to lessen the pandemic’s impact on livelihoods.
Moreover, as climate change worsens, stateless people risk being excluded from government efforts to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events, the agency added. More broadly, being stateless can mean having no access to education, medical care or legal employment.
Statelessness can hinder freedom of movement, the ability to buy property, vote, open a bank account or even get married.
Globally, 4.2 million people are known to be stateless. However, the UNHCR estimates that the true number of persons not recognized as citizens by any country is likely to be much higher, given gaps in data collection.
On the anniversary of the 1961 Convention the Agency is reminding all States that applying the treaty would help ensure that no child is born without a nationality and ultimately support the eradication of statelessness over time.
As of the end of August 2021, 77 states have joined the 1961 Convention, with increasing numbers signing up over the last decade.
Since 2010, 40 states have formalized their commitment to reduce statelessness by becoming parties, most recently Iceland and Togo. In the same period, more than 800,000 stateless people are known to have had their nationality confirmed and statelessness resolved.
Accession to the 1961 Convention is one of the 10 actions of the Global Action Plan to End Statelessness. The Plan provides a framework for States to achieve the goals of the 1Belong Campaign, which was launched by UNHCR and partners in 2014 to end statelessness within 10 years.
“In this anniversary year, UNHCR is urging all States that have not already done so, to join the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, to incorporate the safeguards of the Convention into their nationality laws, and to guarantee every person’s right to a nationality”, Grandi said.