World Council of Churches


Bossey, Switzerland

20-26 November 2019

Doc. No. 04.2 rev

Statement on Human Rights of Stateless People

O Lord my God, in you I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,

or like a lion they will tear me apart;
they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.

Psalms 7:1-2

Nationality is the legal “membership” of a state, the essence of belonging with dignity. The right to a nationality is a fundamental human right enshrined in article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Stateless people live in a situation of legal limbo. Nationality being the means to a wide range of human rights, freedoms and duties, stateless people – i.e. individuals who have no recognized nationality – around the world experience grave and often insurmountable barriers in access to employment, education, health care, property ownership, freedom of movement and political participation.

Stateless persons also face greater risks of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation, and often live lives of constant insecurity and fear of arrest, detention and even physical expulsion because they lack official documents. Children constitute over a third of the global stateless population, and in the countries with the 20 largest stateless populations, approximately 70,000 stateless children are born each year.

Statelessness can result from various factors such as state succession, gender and/or racial discrimination in nationality laws, administrative obstacles and lack of birth registration or national identity documentation. Risks of statelessness are often increased in the context of forced displacement and migration.

In recent years, we have witnessed an increase in ethno-nationalist, racist and xenophobic narratives and policies globally. We have seen politicians and groups fuelling populist sentiments and manipulating anxieties about national security and economic prosperity against minority groups in general, and promoting ideologies of racial superiority in some contexts. Such developments have a discriminatory effect on individuals’ and groups’ access to nationality.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 75% of the world’s millions of stateless people belong to minority groups. History has shown that at several times and in several places states have used access to citizenship and deprivation of nationality as a discriminatory tool to oppress entire communities based on their descent, colour, ethnicity or religion.

At the mid-point of the international community’s campaign to end statelessness 2014-2024, not enough is being done to eliminate this threat to human rights and dignity. And in an enormous blow to these efforts, the publication earlier this year of a National Register of Citizens in the Indian state of Assam excluding as many as 1.9 million people has put any of them that does not possess another nationality at grave risk of statelessness.

The executive committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Bossey, Switzerland, on 20-26 November 2019, therefore:

Recognises that statelessness and the failure to ensure that every person enjoys the right to a nationality results in the denial of the human rights and dignity of millions of people around the world.

Reaffirms the role of churches in lifting up the voice of stateless people around the world, and in making visible those who statelessness has made invisible.

Encourages member churches to use their prophetic witness to raise awareness of the situation of stateless people living in their countries and around the world and to advocate for the human right to a nationality and for the end of statelessness.

Calls on member churches and ecumenical partners to engage in dialogue with states to ensure that they adopt policies which confer nationality and provide proper documentation to stateless people.

Urges churches, civil society, human rights entities as well as United Nations agencies and regional organisations to collaborate in order to effectively reduce and eradicate statelessness.

Requests the general secretary to continue advocacy for the human rights of stateless people as part of the WCC’s programmatic priorities.