The Government of Liberia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have celebrated the first anniversary of the Abidjan Declaration on Statelessness, in which the 16 ECOWAS States signed and committed to putting in place all measures to reduce and eradicate statelessness in the region.
A stateless person is an individual that no State recognizes as a citizen according to its laws and does not enjoy all the rights that nationals have. Nationality is often essential for the full enjoyment of human rights, including access to education, freedom of movement, health services and legal services, and its absence causes an impact on the individuals, their families, communities and countries.
A press release issued in Monrovia, says Liberia has shown full commitment in eradicating and preventing statelessness, and since 1986,the country amended her constitution to ensure that women can pass on their nationality to their children as their men.
However, discriminatory provisions in the Aliens and Nationality Law poses a contradiction that in practice makes Liberia one of the 27 countries in the world that still has laws that could prevent women from passing their nationality to their children in the same manner as men would. This added to the fact that approximately 7.7% (Unicef Report, 2013) of children born in Liberia are registered at birth, has left many children (around 92%) and adults either stateless or at risk of being stateless.
Last year, ECOWAS countries held a regional Ministerial Conference in Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire) to discuss possible solutions for stateless persons (or those at risk) in West Africa. The Abidjan Declaration was endorsed by all heads of State, including Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, during the 47th Ordinary Summit of Heads of State held in Accra, Ghana on 19 May 2015.
The country has acceded to the two conventions on Statelessness and the Abidjan Declaration, and seeks to make the necessary changes in laws and policies to reduce and prevent statelessness here. According to the release, Statelessness is a human rights and security issue. ECOWAS Member States have formally joined UNHCR’s 10 year global campaign to eradicate statelessness by 2024. Amongst other commitments, member states have agreed to drafting and endorsing a national plan of action, acceding to and implementing international Conventions on statelessness, and to reviewing their laws on nationality. Liberia has made very significant progress so far.
It is a serious issue, but also overlooked, especially in countries where documentation is not often required for many transactions. Many of the stateless persons do not realize the importance of having a nationality until it is very late.
For this reason, the government of Liberia and UNHCR call upon the general public to become aware and help sensitize the entire population so that those who have lived in the shadows of statelessness can feel they belong in Liberia.