Information and Accession Package: The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness

“”Information and Accession Package. The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness””. UNHCR, Department of International Protection (DIP), 1996. Revised 1999.


A. The Issue of Statelessness

1. “Everyone has the right to a nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality, nor denied the right to change his nationality.” Such is the pronouncement of Article 15 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right to a nationality and the need to ensure realization of an effective nationality, of a nationality acting as a basis for the exercise of other rights, have been developed through the course of this century. This may be noted in the 1930 Hague Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws promulgated under the auspices of the League of Nations following World War I, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness promulgated under the auspices of the United Nations following World War II. The principles in these conventions have been elaborated upon and reinforced by other landmark conventions, court jurisprudence and State practice. The right to a nationality is a basic human right acting as a premise for resolution of any issues or questions pertaining to nationality.

2. Given that everyone has the right to a nationality, how is this right to be realized, how is nationality to be ascribed? International law stipulates that it is for each State to determine, by operation of internal law, who are its citizens. This determination should, however, accord with general principles of international law and, in particular, with principles relating to the acquisition, loss, or denial of citizenship. The codification of principles relating to nationality in international instruments such as the Universal Declaration has been a major development in international law.

3. Despite significant developments in international law and practice relating to nationality, however, the international community currently faces numerous situations of statelessness and the inability to establish a nationality. The problem has arisen in connection with State succession and the adoption of nationality legislation by new or restored States, but is also seen in areas of the world which have had no recent change1 in legislation and have undergone no transfer of territory. Those affected include life-long residents of a State, ethnic minorities, and in some cases women and children who are rendered stateless because their husband or father is stateless.

4. The emergence of conflicts involving ethnic groups, numerous sudden cases of State succession, and increased displacement have brought the nationality issue to the foreground. The international community is, as a consequence, turning to international instruments which reflect developments made in international law and were structured to resolve problems such as those which have arisen. The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, developed under the auspices of the United Nations, serve as the reference points for international consensus on principles relating to the problem of statelessness.

5. Nationality, and the ability to exercise the rights inherent in nationality, act as stabilizing factors and aid in the prevention of involuntary movements between States. Hence, the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness have taken on new relevance and political significance. “Orphan” conventions which, until recently, have not been actively promoted due to the lack of a supervisory body or other mechanism which might disseminate them, the 1954 and 1961 Conventions are now tools by which the international community can seek to address emerging and weighty problems relating to nationality.

6. UNHCR has been approached by both individuals and Governments seeking advice and assistance in nationality matters, including in the drafting and implementation of nationality legislation. An essential step in strengthening efforts to reduce statelessness and the inability to establish nationality, is securing accession to international instruments which ensure, as a minimum: that persons will not arbitrarily be deprived of nationality; that they will be granted a nationality under certain circumstances in which they might otherwise be stateless; and that adequate protection will be available to those who, nonetheless, remain or become stateless.

7. Accession to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons is important because it provides stateless individuals with many of the rights necessary to live a stable life. Accession to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness would, moreover, serve to resolve many of the situations which result in statelessness. The 1961 Convention, embodying principles already generally accepted under international law, is a useful reference point for nationality legislation and can help resolve certain conflict of laws problems, thereby indicating the international community’s resolve to reduce statelessness. An increase in accession to and ratification of these international instruments would act, therefore, as an impetus for all States to work toward the reduction, and eventual elimination, of statelessness.

8. Due to recent developments, statelessness, although not a new phenomenon, has taken on new dimensions. Its potential as a source of regional tension and of involuntary displacement has come to be more widely recognised. The General Assembly of the United Nations and the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme have respectively adopted resolutions and conclusions stressing the importance of the principles embodied in these instruments, and the need2 for States to adopt measures to avoid statelessness. The ability to exercise an effective nationality and the prevention and reduction of statelessness are a contribution to the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, to the security of peoples, and to stability in international relations. UNHCR is pleased to provide this Accession Package in furtherance of these goals.

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