With delegates into a second day on Thursday of a landmark UNHCR conference in Geneva, there were signs of rapidly accelerating progress in the fight to tackle statelessness – a problem afflicting millions of people worldwide.
On Wednesday evening, at a special treaty event at the Geneva Palais, Serbia and Turkmenistan became the two newest states parties to the 1961 and 1954 stateless conventions respectively, joining Panama, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Croatia in having acceded to stateless conventions during this year.
As of Thursday morning and with the conference still continuing, at least 20 other countries had pledged to take action to accede to one or both of these conventions. Six countries, including Australia and Brazil, committed to either establishing or improving national mechanisms to better identify stateless people among their populations. A number of others committed to reforming their nationality laws to tackle the issue.
“We’re at a watershed,” said UNHCR statelessness expert Mark Manly. “The support we’re seeing for action on this is not isolated but coming from every continent. A wide range of countries are expressing concern about the impact of statelessness globally.”
By some estimates statelessness affects up to 12 million people, a number not far short of the total for the world’s 15.4 million refugees. However, whereas the 1951 UN Refugee Convention is one of the most widely ratified human rights treaties, the two key legal instruments on statelessness – the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness – have till now remained under-supported.
As of the start of 2011, the 1954 Convention had only 65 states parties, and the 1961 Convention had just 37. There are 193 member states in the United Nations