The Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Volker Turk said persons who lacks legal identity including nationality are more vulnerable to radicalization as he addresses 15 ECOWAS Ministers in Banjul on 9 May.
The regional ministerial-level meeting on statelessness will adopt the draft document later today.
Mr. Turk said:
“I want to underscore that the right to a legal identity is also a matter of state security, particular at a time, such as this, when the ECOWAS member states have legitimate concerns about the protection of their citizens in the face of growing threats.
“Persons who lack legal identity including a nationality are more vulnerable to radicalization, exploitation and abuse including recruitment by armed groups due to their marginalization from society. Such persons are also more difficult to identify.”
He said the situations of statelessness that remain unaddressed may contribute to inter-communal tensions or lead to forced displacement.
Turk said the ministerial meeting seeks to put an end to the scourge of statelessness, which affects more than 10 million people worldwide, including over one million in West Africa.
“This is a clear signal underlying the Gambia’s renewed commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights, including both its commitment to the protection to eradicate statelessness, and its recognition of the fundamental importance of this cause as a regional and continental priority.”
He noted that statelessness impedes access to the most fundamental rights, and services and prevents people from participating fully in society.
According to Turk`s, denying someone the right to a nationality creates suffering, exclusion and marginalization. He insists that ensuring that all persons have a nationality helps build social cohesion and integration that enables societies to capitalize on the capacities and talents of all its members.
He disclosed that up to 30% of people in the ECOWAS region lacks sufficient documentation to prove their identity and to claim their nationality.
Turk said this problem will grow as long as there continues to be high number of children born in the region who do not have access to birth certificates. He said the risk is further aggravated when people move to another country.
“Also several nationality laws in the region do not yet provide equal rights for women to pass their nationality on their children and some limit nationality on the basis of race or ethnicity.
“The reform of nationality laws and the establishment of legal guarantees to ensure that all children have a right to a nationality at birth are essential.
“This will help ensure the full realization of the values and principles that define the ECOWAS community.”
Muhamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of UN office in West Africa and the Sahel said:
“It is important to note that progress on the eradication of statelessness has neither been steady nor easy.
“It continues to face obstacles such as administrative, legislative and logistical as well as political will on the part of some key stakeholders in order to eradicate statelessness.
“It is equally significant to reveal that women and children suffer exceptionally in situations of statelessness, especially under circumstances where cultural practices of state legislation prohibit women from transferring their nationality to their children, especially born outside her home country.”
He urged the meeting to adopt the document to commit to ensure it is successfully implemented in the region.
Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang, Minister of Women’s Affairs and the overseer of the Vice Presidency said:
“Cognizant of my government’s resolve to join the international family to end all forms of injustices in our humanity, the government is resolutely committed to end statelessness in the country, in Africa and the world at large.
“We believe that after 63 years of adoption of the United Nations Convention on Status of Stateless Persons, subsequent human rights instruments and continuous dialogue at all levels, there are still enormous challenges to reduce this evil in the world especially in Africa.”
According to her before the Barrow administration took over, the Coalition promised the Gambian people that they will be committed to promote democratic values, principles of rule of law, respect for diversity, human rights and social cohesion.