Member states of the Economic Community of West African States Commission have made significant progress to end statelessness since the launch of the global campaign in November 2014.
Dr. Siga Jagne, Commissioner for ECOWAS Social Affairs and Gender, made this assertion on Thursday in Abuja during a roundtable organised by the ECOWAS Commission and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The 1954 Convention relating to the status of stateless persons defines a stateless person as “someone who is not considered a national by any State under operation of its law”.
Jagne, however, called on governments of ECOWAS member states and stakeholders to sustain the momentum considering the severity of the phenomenon of statelessness with many people at risk with the increase in displacements.
She said going by available statistics, there is no gainsaying that the phenomenon of statelessness is real in the region with an estimated one million stateless persons.
She explained that Statelessness has a devastating impact on the lives of individuals as possession of nationality is essential for full participation in society and a prerequisite for full enjoyment of fundamental human rights.
Jagne said: “It is therefore imperative for all stakeholders to prioritize the subject and commit adequate resources to fighting against it.
“The ECOWAS Commission has blazed the trail through the adoption of the landmark Abidjan Declaration on Eradication of Statelessness in February 2015 and Banjul Plan of Action on Eradication of Statelessness in May 2017.
“Since the adoption of the Abidjan Declaration member states have made significant progress towards ending statelessness as follows:
“All Member States except Cape Verde have nominated Government Focal Points for issues relating to Statelessness in almost all Member States.
“Twelve of the fifteen ECOWAS Member States are now State Party to the 1954 and 1961 Conventions on Statelessness.
“Thirteen Member States have developed National Action Plans, studies on statelessness are ongoing in nine Member States, law reforms are ongoing to close gaps in Nationality laws is underway in seven Member States.
“Despite these remarkable strides, we must not rest on our oars, we need to indeed sustain the momentum.
“To ensure that we end statelessness by 2024 in line with the global aspiration of the United Nations.”
Jagne further explained that statelessness stems from gaps in nationality laws and policies, which have left so many people without recognition of the nationality of any country.
Jagne said that underlying this was the weakness of civil registration systems in the ECOWAS region where five out of the 15 Member states have a birth registration rate of less than 50 per cent.
She listed another cause of Statelessness as gender inequality as some countries have discriminatory laws, which do not grant women equal rights with men to acquire, confer, change or retain their nationality.
Jagne noted that some administrative practices may also create problems of discrimination that are not written into the law.
She said it was hinged on all these that the Commission was organising the roundtable to increase awareness of the statelessness.
The ECOWAS Commissioner said the roundtable also aimed at bringing together stakeholders to strategize on how to strengthen the implementation of the Banjul Plan of Action.
Jagne said the ECOWAS Commission expects that the Parliament would be able to influence Member states to reform their nationality laws so as to prevent new cases of statelessness.
She said that the Court on its part has a critical role to play in the adjudication of statelessness cases, while relevant Directorates of the Commission will address statelessness through their policies and programmes.
She said: “I wish to reiterate the commitment of the ECOWAS Commission, specifically the Department of Social Affairs and Gender, to ending statelessness.”
Globally, it is estimated that 10 million people are stateless across the globe, one million of whom are in West Africa.