Nationality and Statelessness Under International Law.

Author:Spiro, Peter J.
Position::Book review

Nationality and Statelessness Under International Law. Edited by Alice Edwards and Laura van Waas. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xvii, 306. Index. $110.

The plight of refugees has generated a refined legal regime imposing identifiable obligations on states. Not so for the problem of statelessness. "In a litter of two offspring," writes Mark Manly, statelessness has been "the metaphorical runt" (p. 92). That portrayal maybe changing as states find themselves more constrained by international law in their citizenship practices. This volume, edited by Alice Edwards, the senior legal coordinator of the Division of International Protection at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Laura van Waas, an assistant professor at Tillburg Law School and codirector of the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, brings together leading scholars and practitioners to address the issue of statelessness under international law. It represents an important contribution to a subject that is drawing greater attention from policymakers, academics, and the public.

One might have expected something better than "stepchild" status for a legal regime addressing statelessness. It affects a substantial population, currently estimated at ten million individuals. In contrast to refugee status and many other human rights issues, it seems amenable to precise definition. The 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (1954 Convention) defines a stateless person as "a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law." (1) In the wake of World War II, statelessness was thought to present a serious vulnerability in efforts to build human rights. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed that "[e]veryone has the right to a nationality." (2) But neither the 1954 Convention nor the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (3) (1961 Convention) articulated any such right, even in preambular language. The 1965 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) includes a right to nationality for children only. (4)

Statelessness "essentially disappeared from the global agenda" (p. 88), partly as a result of institutional path dependence. A major 1949 United Nations study considered both refugees and statelessness, (5) but a subsequently convened ad hoc committee "on statelessness and related problems" decided that that the two issues should be addressed in separate conventions. (6) "This set the refugee and the stateless person, who had until then been cast together in the eyes of the international community, on diverging paths," writes Laura van Waas in her chapter on the statelessness conventions, "a move which has had far-reaching consequences for the protection of the stateless to this day" (p. 67). Where the refugee regime provided clear institutional oversight through UNHCR, the statelessness regime lacked any supervisory mechanism. The statelessness conventions have thus been described by UNHCR itself as "orphan conventions" (p. 78). In terms of enforcement, the 1954 Convention weakly requires only that states "communicate to the Secretary-General of the United Nations the laws and regulations which they may adopt to ensure the application of this Convention." (7) As a result, "the international statelessness regime has not yet undergone the same kind of organic development" witnessed in the context of protecting refugees (p. 80).

But the relative neglect of the statelessness regime is grounded in more than institutional happenstance. States have fiercely resisted ceding discretion over the allocation of nationality. As proclaimed in the 1930 Hague Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws, "It is for each State to determine under its own law who are its nationals." (8) In negotiations resulting in the 1961 Convention, states refused to...

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