Friday, December 9, 2011

Day 2 of the Conference Brings Major Results

Guterres to countries: "Nice work, y'all!"
Its still too soon to judge, but it would appear that the UNHCR conference in Geneva this week was a huge success in garnering increased protection of stateless persons and refugees. Its pretty shocking, actually, how many states were willing to pledge to change their citizenship laws, accede to the Statelessness or Refugee Conventions, or to make asylum procedures or court proceedings more fair. I'm guessing UNHCR staff are asking themselves right now, "Why didn't we do this years ago?"

Let's take a look at some of the big announcements coming out yesterday:
  •  The following nations will accede to BOTH statelessness conventions (1954 and 1961) : the Gambia, Haiti, Moldova, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Ukraine, and Yemen. Remember, 1961 confers citizenship on children born stateless in the signatory nation, so this is truly very significant.
  •  Serbia joined the 1961 Convention (HUGE) as did Zimbabwe, Columbia, Paraguay, Mozambique, Burundi, Guinea, and Belgium.
  • Liberia and Senegal both pledged to amend their laws to allow citizenship to pass through the mother, as well as the father. (A huge strike against statelessness and legal invisibility in those nations.)
  • The US made a whole range of pledges, totaling 28, including providing refugee minors with cultural education, working to eliminate the 1-year filing deadline on asylum applications, promote pro-bono legal assistance for undocumented migrant youth, and provide additional services to LBQT asylum seekers and survivors of gender-based violence.
  • Australia, Brazil, and 6 other countries pledged to improve methods of identifying stateless population. (Wow, way to go all out there, Australia. Would have liked to see some pledges on the asylum-seeker debacle, but maybe next time)
All in all, over 60 countries made pledges, and as High Commish Guterres noted, the conference marked a "quantum leap" on the issue of statelessness. Despite the very hard work being done on the issue all over the world by smaller agencies and non-profits, today's results are of the sort that can only be accomplished with massive coordination and international pressure. A conference like this shows us that its not time to give up on international cooperation just yet.

Congratulations, UNHCR! The future is looking a lot brighter for stateless persons and refugees.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Landmark Stateless Conference in Geneva this Week

As mentioned a few weeks ago, the UNHCR is holding its major conference on forced displacement and statelessness this week in Geneva. Today is the second day of the conference, and of course we are all eagerly waiting to hear what is in store (and especially whether any states will be making announcements pertaining to Treaty signatures). However, a lot has already happened, so here is a quick recap for those of us not lucky enough to be in Geneva.
  •  High Commish Antonio Guterres opened the event with a speech emphasizing re-commitment, especially in the face of increased fear and intolerance. "Populist politicians and irresponsible elements of the media exploit feelings of fear and insecurity to scapegoat foreigners, to try to force the adoption of restrictive policies, and to actively spread racist and xenophobic sentiments," he said, in a comment that was a little more political than one is used to hearing from UNHCR. He emphasized the principles of collective security and non-refoulement that underlie the refugee regime, and announced a new effort by the organization to concentrate more heavily on gender and sex-based violence.
  • A theme of the conference was "pledges for refugees:" States were encouraged to make commitments to strengthen existing laws or create new ones designed to identity and protect stateless persons and refugees. Most of the attendees apparently pledged to help in one way or another. (See some on twitter, #pledges4refugees")
  • Sarnata Reynolds was live-tweeting the events yesterday and her tweets are definitely worth a perusal. Among the revelations: Georgia is about to pass the 1951 Statelessness Convention (YES!), Korea will adopt legislation promoting rights of asylum-seekers, Papa New Guinea will lift reservations on conventions (among other things), and Krygistan will promote child registration to reduce statelessness. If even some of the pledges are kept, the conference will have been a huge success!
  • Serbia mysteriously alluded to new changes to the citizenship laws that would "enable all persons in Serbia’s territory to acquire citizenship". I'm working on this issue right now, so I am very curious to what they are referring... Remarks available here.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech focusing on gender and statelessness, highlighting the link between discriminatory citizenship laws and children born stateless. "Because of these discriminatory laws, women often can’t register their marriages, the births of their children, or deaths in their families. So these laws perpetuate generations of stateless people, who are often unable to work legally or travel freely..."  She then went on to pledge the US's support in encouraging universal birth registration. Oh man, if loving Hillary Clinton is wrong, I don't want to be right. (Full text of speech available here.)
The conference continues today! You can follow it live via satelite here at the UNHCR's livestream.