ECOWAS members adopt a Declaration on eradication of statelessness in West Africa25 Feb, 2015
JOINT UNHCR / ECOWAS PRESS RELEASE
ABIDJAN, CÔTE D’IVOIRE, 25 February 2015
Following two days of high-level consultations on 23-24 February, Member States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted today a Declaration on the prevention, reduction and elimination of statelessness in West Africa at a joint UNHCR/ECOWAS Ministerial Conference hosted by the Government of Côte d’Ivoire.
At least 750,000 people are stateless or at risk of statelessness in the region and, as such, are often subject to life in limbo, with limited access to education, healthcare, and employment. They are also vulnerable to discrimination and abuse as they have no legal existence and are not recognized in the eyes of the law.
President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire, UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres and the Vice-President of the ECOWAS Commission Dr. Toga Gayewea Mcintosh opened the Ministerial Conference on statelessness in West Africa this morning (Wednesday 25) in Abidjan – the first of its kind in Africa.
“I am convinced that only truly cooperation will considerably reduce statelessness in our countries. Together, we can find solutions inspired by the international treaties to put an end to this plight in 10 years”, stressed President Ouattara at the Conference.
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for West Africa, Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, as well as the Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union, Dr. Aisha Abdullahi, also delivered opening remarks. The Conference convened Justice, Interior and Foreign Affairs Ministers of 15 ECOWAS countries or their representatives whose portfolios cover nationality issues.
“Having a nationality is something most people take for granted – but to those who do not have one, or who cannot prove it, this lack often sentences them to a life of discrimination, frustration and despair” said Mr. Guterres.
Representatives of international organizations, including the African Union and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, were also present as well as UN agencies, the International Organization for Migration, representatives of civil society, national human rights institutions, academics and international experts.
“Statelessness is a matter that bears not only on the humanity and dignity of thousands of our people but also on the peace and security of the region” declared the Vice President of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr. Mcintosh.
The Declaration contains 25 commitments and highlights in particular the necessity for States in the ECOWAS region to first obtain concrete information on the causes of statelessness and the number and profile of stateless persons in the region. It also stresses that every child should acquire a nationality at birth and that all foundlings should be considered nationals of the State in which they are found. It also focuses on the need to ensure that men and women have equal rights to acquire, change and retain their nationality and confer nationality to their children.
The text also stresses the importance of protecting stateless persons by restoring their dignity and, in particular, by providing them with a legal identity and documentation. It invites Member States who have not yet done so to accede, as soon as possible, to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. This Conference takes place in the context of the UNHCR’s global campaign #IBelong to eradicate statelessness by 2024.
The High Commissioner in its closing remarks acknowledged that West Africa is known throughout the world for the great hospitality of its people. “Today, the region’s commitment to ending statelessness reflects the best of that tradition”, he noted. “It recognizes that, ultimately, the concept of “belonging” goes beyond legal texts and identity documents, and also requires political will to build tolerance and acceptance, and the social and human space for all members of society to be recognized, to contribute, and to belong.”
On UNHCR Global Campaign to eradicate Statelessness
UNHCR launched in November 2014 a Campaign to Eradicate Statelessness around the world in the next ten years. This campaign is grounded in a Global Action Plan that provides a blueprint of 10 actions that need to be undertaken to resolve existing situations and prevent new cases of statelessness from arising.
A central component of this campaign is an Open Letter, which has received the support of high-profile signatories from across Africa. By signing this document, these individuals are taking a stand to end this inhumanity and are calling upon others to also make their voices heard.
Among influential policymakers who signed the letter, one can cite Archbishop Desmond Tutu; His Excellency Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and former Vice Foreign Minister of Egypt; His Excellency Dr. Samuel Nujoma, former President of Namibia; His Excellency António Manuel Mascarenhas Gomes Monteiro, former President of Cape Verde; His Excellency Benjamin William Mkapa, former President of Tanzania; His Excellency Babacar Ndiaye, former President of the African Development Bank; His Excellency General Yakubu Gowon, former Head of State of Nigeria; His Excellency Karl Offmann, former President of Mauritius; His Excellency Joaquim Alberto Chissano, former President of the Republic of Mozambique; His Excellency Nicephore Dieudonne Soglo, former President of Benin; His Excellency Professor Amos Claudius Sawyer, former President of the Interim Government of National Unity of Liberia; His Excellency Professor Alpha Oumar Konaré, former President of Mali and Chairperson of the African Union Commission; His Excellency Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, former Prime Minister of the United Republic of Tanzania and Former Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity; His Excellency Agbeyome Messan Kodjo, former Prime Minister of Togo and Former Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity; Kenneth Kaunda, former President of Zambia; Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee; and Special Adviser of the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, to name a few. Artists and musicians, such as A’Salfo, lead singer of Ivorian group Magic System; Dobet Gnahoré from Côte d’Ivoire; and Baaba Maal, Senegalese singer and composer, also leant their voice to this cause.