Monday, February 27, 2012

Gigantic new CoE report on Roma Rights Tackles Statelessness

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe commissioner for Human Rights, has been a total rockstar when it comes to defending the rights of Roma and stateless persons in Europe. So it comes as no surprise that he is behind a massive new report coming out today called "Human Rights of Roma and Travellers in Europe". The report is 254 pages covering 47 countries, and covers as many relevant topics as you could ask for: forced sterilization, hate speech, human trafficking, housing issues, and of course- statelessness and access to documentation. 

I haven't had a chance to read through the entire thing yet (I did just get it 10 minutes ago, after all) but from what I can tell there is serious attention paid to the issue of statelesssness among Roma. Interestingly, the report doesn't fuss around with distinctions between de facto and de jure statelessness, nor does he bother characterizing people as "at a risk for statelessness" or "legally invisible." Nope, for the purposes of this report, anyone not having access to citizenship rights is stateless, an admirably bold position for the CoE to take.

I would of course recommend reading through the entire document as it is packed with damning evidence and will be an extremely useful compilation of Roma rights violations in this decade. However I would like to just except this portion from the statelessness section, offering recommendations for tackling the problem.
-Providing free legal aid for proceedings aimed at securing
–Waiving fees for civil registration for those in destitution;
– Making it possible to establish personal status through simplified
procedures such as witnesses’ testimonials when no other
evidence can be obtained;
– Strengthening the role of Ombudsperson institutions to solve
these issues;
– Acceding to the 1997 European Convention on Nationality, the
2006 Council of Europe Convention on the avoidance of statelessness
in relation to state succession as well as to the two UN
conventions on statelessness. (Section 7)
I fully agree with these ideas, and it sounds very much like Hammarberg has been listening to the NGO world in framing solutions.

You can find the full report here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bedoons released on bail in Kuwait

Source: AFP
Remember the stateless protestors of Kuwait? The ones who were imprisoned, deported, or fired after gathering to petition the government for citizenship after 40 years of legal limbo? Well, the latest out of Kuwait is a positive development, at least for some of our heroes.
Kuwait's public prosecutor on Thursday freed 59 stateless people on $1,800 bail each after they spent 40 days in jail for participating in protests demanding citizenship, their lawyer said.
The men were questioned on charges of assaulting policemen, damaging public property and taking part in illegal gatherings, Fayez al-Oteibi told AFP
 There are still a large number under investigation and the government has still failed to propose an agreeable solution to the situation of the stateless, contending that the majority of the bedoons are actually secret citizens of another country. (And if they just deprive them of documents for a little longer, they can get them to admit it!) This seems unlikely, given that there are 105,000 members of this group and they would likely take advantage of their foreign nationality if they were able to.

All the same, this jail release is a good first step, and perhaps as the country keeps sustained attention on this issue they will mellow their stance and find a adequate, human rights based solution for these non-citizens.

Kuwait frees 59 Stateless Protesters on Bail (The Daily Star)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Plan and UN to Partner up for Birth Registration

According to a press release from the Plan International, a major child's rights NGO, they are announcing a partnership with the UN to promote universal birth registration. What's more, the campaign focuses specifically on children at a risk for statelessness.
Plan and UNHCR will conduct coordinated advocacy at all levels and exchange information on developments on birth registration. The efforts will consider specific needs and concerns of asylum-seeking, refugee, internally displaced and stateless children, as well as children at risk of becoming stateless. The two agencies will jointly identify priority countries and seek to address possible gaps to ensure that every child is registered at birth.
  Sounds like very good news for stateless and legally invisible persons! Naturally I think its a shame that the program focuses on children, when there are still many adults who have never been registered and do not have valid ID or citizenship. However, its a great start and fantastic timing- riding the coat-tails of a huge year for statelessness and UNHCR's big anniversary campaign.

Wonder what countries will be picked out as "priorities?' We'll be following closely.

Plan and UN Join Forces on Birth Registration

Friday, February 17, 2012

UK: Compensation for child migrants detained as adults

Good and bad news out the UK today as we learn of  major victory in a case brought against the Home Office on behalf of a class of 40 unaccompanied minors. The children were allegedly compensated 2 million pounds- the biggest single payout for an immigration case in UK history, according to the Guardian. So what did the government do to have to pay such a major settlement?

The case apparently involved "age disputed" asylum seekers-  unaccompanied minors that do not have proof of age, and therefore hover between two types of asylum services- those "appropriate" (at least under international law) for adults, and those for children. Normally those children are assessed by social workers who use a variety of factors. However, the problem seems to be that, rather than being given the benefit of the doubt, children were presumed over 18 until being able to produce evidence, and therefore detained at length awaiting proof.
Some of the children were locked up for more than a month. One boy was moved around the country and held in seven different adult centres including Dover, Campsfield and Harmondsworth during his 74-day detention. "I cried myself to sleep every night," he said. "Nobody explained what was going on and I never knew what was going to happen to me when I woke up the next morning."
The case was settled in 2010, but it took a FOIA request by the Guardian to get the information released publicly. 

The bad news? Despite the payout, the practice allegedly continues, bringing to light one of the problems with settling. (Gotta get that precedent, people!) Does this mean we have similar cases on the horizon? Or perhaps at the ECtHR?

£2m paid out over child asylum seekers illegally detained as adults