By Kebba Jeffang and Rohey Jadama
The Assistant High Commissioner for protection at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Volker Turk states that persons who lack legal identity including nationality are more vulnerable to radicalization. Mr. Turk was addressing 15 ECOWAS ministers in Banjul on Tuesday 9th May 2017.
“I want to underscore that the right to legal identity, is a matter of state security, particular at a time when ECOWAS member states have legitimate concerns about the protection of their citizens in the face of growing adversity,” he said.
“Persons who lack legal identity including 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,” added Mr. Turk.
He said the situation of statelessness which remained unaddressed, may contribute to inter communal tensions which in turn can lead to force displacement.
Mr. 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 its commitment to eradicate statelessness and recognition of the fundamental importance of this cause as a regional and continental priority,” he indicated.
He said that statelessness impedes access to the most fundamental rights and services and prevents people from participating fully in society.
“Denying someone their right to nationality creates suffering, exclusion and marginalization. Ensuring that all persons have a nationality, helps build social cohesion and integration, and enables societies to capitalize on the capacities and talents of all its members,” he said.
Mr. Turk disclosed at the ECOWAS ministerial meeting that up to 30% of people in the ECOWAS region, lack sufficient documentation to prove their identity and claim nationality.
“Studies have identified similar causes of statelessness of persons in the region, in particular the lack of legal safeguards in nationality laws, and also administrative obstacles to accessing proof of nationality documentation. Up to 30% of people in the ECOWAS region do not have sufficient documentation to prove their identity and claim nationality,” he revealed.
Mr. Turk said this problem will grow as long as there is 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 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 nationality at birth is essential. This will help ensure the full realization of the values and principles that define the ECOWAS community,’’ he asserted.
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 it.”
“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 posited.
He urged the meeting to adopt the document and make commitments to ensure its’ successful implementation in the region.
Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang, Minister of Women’s affairs said: “Cognisant of my government’s resolve to join the international family to end all forms of injustices in 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.”
She said before government was elected, the coalition promised the Gambia people that they will be committed to promote democratic values, and principles, rule of law, respect for diversity, human rights and social cohesion.
“We pledged and recently adopted a Compact on good governance at a UNDP organized retreat in partnership with UNOWAS,” Madam Jallow concluded.
The regional ministerial meeting on statelessness will adopt the draft document later today.