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A Forgotten Human Rights Crisis: Statelessness

A Forgotten Human Rights Crisis: Statelessness

Scott Busby, Director, Office of Policy and Resource Planning, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Remarks to a Congressional Human Rights Caucus Members' Briefing
Washington, DC
April 19, 2005

(As prepared for delivery)

Distinguished Representatives, Colleagues from International and Non-governmental Organizations, Ladies and Gentlemen: Good Afternoon:

I am pleased to be here today to discuss with you the troubling problem of statelessness. Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that everyone has the right to a nationality and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality, as we speak, millions of persons remain stateless. I will focus on what the U.S. Government is doing to address this problem. Other members of this panel, particularly the representative from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, can best describe the reasons where statelessness persists, and why.

The United States takes very seriously the problem of statelessness and has taken a number of actions to address it. Although we are not a party to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons nor to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness for due to certain inconsistencies with our own law, U.S. law and actions have been, and remain, consistent with the principal objectives of these two instruments. Due to the close affinity between refugee issues and those of statelessness, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the organization charged by the international community with special responsibility for addressing the plight of stateless persons. Correspondingly, because my bureau -- the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) -- has lead responsibility for making contributions to UNHCR on behalf of the U.S. Government and for formulating the U.S. position on refugees, PRM has the chief duty of addressing the international phenomenon of statelessness as well on behalf of the U.S. Government. I should also note that PRM is responsible for providing the U.S. contribution to the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross on this issue.

The U.S. Government has consistently supported UNHCR's work on statelessness both through our financial contributions to the organization and through our support for UN resolutions and conclusions of UNHCR's Executive Committee. For instance, the United States actively supported and participated in UNHCR's Global Consultations on International Protection from 2001 to 2003, which, among other things, called on States, intergovernmental organizations and UNHCR to examine the root causes of refugee movements. As a result of this process, UNHCR was requested to survey States on steps taken to meet the protection needs of stateless persons and to reduce statelessness. This was the first global survey conducted of United Nations Member States on steps taken to avoid and reduce statelessness and to protect stateless persons. PRM coordinated the USG response to this questionnaire, and I have copies available should members or their staff wish to review it. We welcomed the release of UNHCR's follow-on report and recommendations emanating from this survey.

The U.S. also seeks to closely track the problem of statelessness around the world. The Department of State's annual "Country Reports on Human Rights Practice" includes information about stateless groups, and the complimentary report "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record, " among other things, discusses what actions the U.S. has taken to address the issue in specific countries.

The U.S. is actively involved in seeking durable solutions for stateless persons. For instance, the United States was a strong supporter of the 1996 United Nations Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Migration Conference, which among other things sought to anticipate and address the problem of statelessness that arose as a consequence of the break-up of the former Soviet Union. In addition to supporting the conference itself, we have funded many of its follow-on activities. For instance, last year the Bureau funded the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide legal assistance to facilitate the integration of some 300,000 stateless persons returning to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. In the Western Hemisphere, we have funded an IOM project in the Dominican Republic aimed at addressing the discrimination faced by Haitian migrants, including the problem of statelessness experienced by some Haitian children. (Although the Constitution of the Dominican Republic provides for a jus soli approach to nationality, there has been a practice of not granting automatic citizenship to Haitians born on its soil.) And in Asia, we have been extremely active in trying to broker a solution for the longstanding Bhutanese population in Nepal, which has been rendered effectively stateless by the actions of the Bhutanese government.

The United States has also directly contributed to resolving the plight of stateless people by admitting some of them to the United States through our refugee admissions program. Our FY04 and FY05 refugee resettlement program includes several of the groups identified by UNHCR and Refugees International as stateless or potentially stateless, such as the Hmong and certain groups of Burmese in Thailand and the Eritreans in Ethiopia. Last year, we initiated a resettlement program to the U.S. for Meskhetian Turks living in Krasnodar Kray, Russia. Out of an estimated population of 12,000 Meskhetian Turks who have been denied legal status in Russia, over 10,000 have applied for our refugee admissions program. I'm pleased to report that most have been deemed eligible for the program and more than 1,000 have been resettled to date in the United States. We are also working on resettling other groups, such as the Vietnamese long-stayers in the Philippines and eligible Amerasian children in Southeast Asia, both of which also have the characteristics of stateless persons.

Nevertheless, there is much more that can and should be done to protect stateless people around the globe. UNHCR has articulated a number of very sensible recommendations in its report; we also welcome the recent report issued by Refugees International. We have already acted on one of RI's excellent recommendations by designating a PRM point of contact on the issue of statelessness and we are currently looking at additional ways of stepping up our efforts in this area. We look forward to continuing our dialogue with UNHCR, other IOs, and NGOs on what we together can do to surmount this vexing problem. Thank You.

Released on April 27, 2005


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