First Global Forum on Statelessness – “New Directions in Statelessness Research and Policy”


From 15 to 17 September 2014, 3 institutions (the UNHCR, the agency mandated by the General Assembly to help states to address statelessness, and the Statelessness Programme of Tilburg University) co-hosted the first held Global Forum on Statelessness. The three-day event took place in the Academy building of the Peace Palace of The Hague, the Netherlands.

From 15 to 17 September 2014, 3 institutions (the UNHCR, the agency mandated by the General Assembly to help states to address statelessness, and the Statelessness Programme of Tilburg University) co-hosted the first held Global Forum on Statelessness. The three-day event took place in the Academy building of the Peace Palace of The Hague, the Netherlands. 

It is 60 years ago since the adoption of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons to address the problem of statelessness. Since then more and more attention has been paid to the the issue of statelessness and many governments, international, national institutions and organizations have worked together to tackle the problem of statelessness by (1) identification of stateless persons; (2) prevention of statelessness; (3) reduction of statelessness; and (4) protection of stateless persons. 

Approximately 12 million people are stateless worldwide. What does it mean to be stateless? According to the Guidance Note of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on statelessness, a stateless person is someone who is “not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.” Such a person has no nationality or citizenship anywhere. [1] 

Statelessness undermines the rule of law and it can lead to many problems, both for individuals and societies in general. Statelessness can lead to social and political pressure and conflicts. Also, it can have a negative effect on social and economic development. Stateless people have been violated in their human right to nationality and suffer from many consequences of being discriminated. They cannot enjoy equality with citizens in any country.  For example, they don't have access to identity documents, birth registration, education, health care, social security, employment, property ownership, the right to political participation, and freedom of movement. It is especially difficult for stateless women and children because they are more vulnerable to abuse and children loose the chance for a better future when their rights are being denied. [2]

There are two international legal instruments which deal specifically with statelessness: the 1954 Statelessness Convention and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of StatelessnessThe 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons deals with the rights and obligations of stateless persons regarding their legal status.  The Convention aims to ensure the basic rights and needs of stateless persons. Its goal is to improve the quality of life for the stateless person. For instance, there are provisions which are concerned with several day-to-day life matters, such as education, labour legislation, employment and social security. [3]

The  1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness complements the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. It contains rules for the prevention of statelessness and aims both to safeguard the rights of individuals and the interests of states. For example, it contains provisions dealing with the granting of citizenship to  children (that were born on their territory or to its nationals who were born in another country) in order to prevent statelessness at birth. The Convention also contains provisions which are meant to prevent statelessness later in life. The Convention also seeks to avoid statelessness which is related to the transfer of territory. [4]

During the Global Forum participants were able to present, share and discuss their research and policies concerning statelessness. The forum functioned as a platform for stateless persons and developments in acadademic research on statelessness. Three sub-themes were chosen as the main focus for this event: Statelessness and security, statelessness and children, and responses to statelessness.

Besides the three-day Global Forum also a public exhibition of Nowhere People” of Greg Constantine was hosted at The Hague. Greg Constantine created a photographic series on statelessness which has won numerous awards. In the near future a compilation of the most interesting and best research on statelessness will be published.