Racism and Human Rights

Statement by Human Rights Watch to the First Preparatory Committee for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Four Areas for International Action

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Racism, Nationality, Statelessness, and the Rights of Citizenship

Racism, Criminal Justice, and Public Administration

Migration and Refugee Flows

Race and Caste

Racism, Nationality, Statelessness, and the Rights of Citizenship

In many parts of the world, children--and adults--may be denied citizenship and corresponding civil rights in their own countries, or be stripped of citizenship, solely because of their race or national descent. In some cases this has applied to populations that have been present in a country for generations, often predating their country's independence. In others, children born in their mother's country of nationality may be denied that nationality because women can not transmit nationality, rendering the children potentially stateless on gender grounds, or forced to take the nationality of a non-national father.

The racially discriminatory aspects of policies to acknowledge nationality on the grounds of blood ties alone (jus sanguinis), with no provision for nationality to be conferred on the basis of place of birth (jus soli) or on other grounds, require particular scrutiny. The rigid and exclusive implementation of jus sanguinis, if in practice implemented along racial lines, can serve to deny whole populations of rights in what is often the only country they have ever known.

Discrimination on the basis of gender is often combined with racism as a discriminatory factor for children in states that define citizenship in terms of racial or national "purity." As the rights of citizenship are restricted to the children of male nationals, female citizens are discouraged from marrying men of a distinct race or nationality because their children would be denied citizenship.

International conventions on statelessness are inadequate to address this denial of citizenship rights to children and adults on national or racial grounds. Denial or removal of the rights of citizenship can be a means comprehensively to deny a population a broad range of human rights. Short of physical extermination or expulsion from one's country, this denial of civil rights reduces a population to the most extreme vulnerability to abuse and exploitation. The issue is most dramatic as it concerns children's rights to a nationality and to the full exercise of human rights.

Children without recognition as citizens in their own country may be denied a right to education, to social services, to many areas of employment as they reach adulthood, or even to documents establishing their identity. In some cases, governments informally recognize members of particular national minorities as distinct from foreigners, while according them a restrictive status short of full recognition as nationals: as if citizens without citizenship. Democratic participation in the regulation of their own community's affairs is impossible for this disenfranchised population.

Naturalization policies, by which non-nationals receive citizenship, may be wholly or largely founded on discriminatory grounds. Denial of citizenship on racial or national grounds may be a norm even for people who have established deep roots in a country and have retained no connections with any other. In many regions, changing patterns of migration and catastrophic movements of refugees fleeing war or ethnic persecution have moved large populations in an ebb and flow across national boundaries. Over decades these population movements have resulted in large populations putting down new roots in countries to which they are relative newcomers, but who have no other country to return to. The children of these upheavals are the most vulnerable to discriminatory nationality policies and practices. The denial of their right to a nationality turns upon their race or national origin.

In the Middle East, statelessness most frequently stems from the deprivation of nationality, often as a result of conflict over the composition of a state and its borders. A situation of citizens without citizenship also derives from the failure to establish nationality at crucial junctures during the process of state formation, or the stripping of nationality, a process that also sometimes accompanies or follows international armed conflict. Government policies often promote the denial of citizenship among particular groups to further other political aims. Discriminatory government policies serve to exclude unwanted groups, or to attempt to force out a group perceived as unsupportive of the government while encouraging the naturalization of other groups perceived as more supportive. Long periods of economic dependence on cheap migrant labor in many countries has also fostered anti-foreigner sentiment, and sometimes produced statelessness when migrants and their children lose their ties to their original nationality but are unable to claim nationality in their state of residence. These groups are particularly vulnerable during economic downturns and political crises.

The denial of citizenship is exacerbated by the persistence of nationality laws that typically make it difficult for foreigners to gain nationality, even when an individual is born in a country or resident there for many years; prevent women nationals from passing their nationality to their

children; and prohibit dual nationality among citizens of Arab states. Taken together, these factors have produced large populations whose statelessness is inherited, and often negatively impacts on individuals' ability to vote, work, register marriage, births, and deaths, own or inherit property, receive government health and educational benefits, or travel.

Particular calamities of racially exclusive citizenship policies have occurred after states have broken up, as successor states have acted to privilege particular racial or national groups to the exclusion of others, as well as in states in upheaval which have acted to strip of their recognized nationality whole ethnic or racial groups. This has been a particular issue in much of the former Yugoslavia, in some of the independent states of the former USSR, in the Horn of Africa, and in Africa's Great Lakes region. Discriminatory nationality and citizenship policies and practices in these circumstances are frequently accompanied by racist violence.

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