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Legislation Addresses Plight of Millions of People Worldwide without Citizenship

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

WASHINGTON D.C.—The Open Society Policy Center today hailed the commitment of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) to address the global crisis of statelessness.

Statelessness is a massive but under-recogniz ed human rights problem that cries out for Unit ed States leadership,” said Robert O. Varenik of the Open Society Policy Center . “We are grateful to Congresswoman Jackson Lee for bringing this issue to the fore and we encourage Congress to act on it quickly.”

As Congresswoman Jackson Lee has noted, statelessness is a severe but largely overlooked human rights problem. Globally, over 11 million people are stateless. Although many of these individuals have never crossed an international border, without recognition of their citizenship they cannot claim the protection of any state, including the state in which they have spent their entire lives. Under domestic law they cannot work legally, exercise the right to political participation, or travel freely, and are subject to a host of other restrictions on their rights.

Around the world, from the Dominican Republic to Myanmar , governments are manipulating citizenship to disenfranchise and delegitimize specific groups. This practice, which violates the human right to citizenship, is typically associated with myriad and serious problems, ranging from endemic poverty to human trafficking to civil wars.

Many stateless people are members of ethnic minority groups. State policies that deny nationality to these groups are often specifically intended to restrict their political participation and bar certain candidates from standing for office. Denial or deprivation of nationality also frequently is abused by states to restrict freedom of association and freedom of expression, by threatening individuals with expulsion if they exercise their rights to freedom of expression or association.

The economic desperation and social marginalization caus ed by statelessness makes people vulnerable to trafficking. Even individuals who have citizenship often lose it when they are traffick ed : confiscation of their travel and identity documents can leave them in a situation of de facto statelessness if they are not able to contact the authorities of their home country to obtain new documents.

The legislation will bring new attention and resources to the pervasive problem of statelessness. The bill will ensure that the Unit ed States collects vital information on statelessness that will help efforts to combat trafficking and other human rights violations. The bill would also provide for increas ed resources for a program to fight statelessness and cooperate with international agencies responsible for statelessness.

The active commitment of the Unit ed States to combat statelessness will transform the lives of millions of stateless people for the better, and we urge Congress to pass the bill as quickly as possible,” said Varenik.

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