ECOWAS to Eradicate Statelessness in the Region

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Alassane Ouattara

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Member countries of the Economic Community of West African State have adopted a declaration to eradicate statelessness in West Africa

By Maureen Chigbo  |  Mar. 9, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

STATELESS persons in the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, have cause to smile. Member States of ECOWAS has adopted a Declaration on the prevention, reduction and elimination of statelessness in West Africa. 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.

The adoption of the declaration on Wednesday, February 25, in Cote d’ Ivoire followed a two-day high-level consultations February 23 and 24, of member States at a joint UNHCR/ECOWAS ministerial conference hosted by the government of Côte d’Ivoire. The conference took place in the context of the UNHCR’s global campaign #IBelong to eradicate statelessness by 2024.

The declaration now gives hope to at least 750,000 people who 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 recognised in the eyes of the law.

Toga Gayewea McIntosh
McIntosh

President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire, UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres and Toga Gayewea McIntosh, vice-president of the ECOWAS commission, opened the ministerial conference on statelessness in West Africa, the first of its kind in Africa. “I am convinced that only true 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.

Also, McIntosh said: “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”.

Mohamed Ibn Chambas, special representative of the UN Secretary General for West Africa, as well as Aisha Abdullahi, commissioner for political affairs of the African Union, 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 Guterres.

Representatives of international organisations, 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

The high commissioner in his 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. It recognises that, ultimately, the concept of “belonging” goes beyond legal texts and identity documents, and also requires political will to build tolerance and acceptable  and the social human space for all members of society to be recognised to contribute to and to belong.

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