Thursday, 30 October 2014

UNHCR 2014 Statelessness Research Award interviews... Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute Fact-Finding Project

"Although statelessness in the Dominican Republic has been well-publicized, our project focused on what we considered to be an under-researched dimension of the problem – in the context of significant recent legal developments in the Dominican Republic. We therefore sought to produce a report that could fill this research gap and equip advocates with findings regarding the harsh consequences of statelessness for children of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic." 

In this series of blog posts, we are asking the students honoured in this year's UNHCR Awards for Statelessness Research about their experiences studying the phenomenon on statelessness and their research findings. Last in the series is the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute Fact-Finding Project which received a Certificate of Appreciation from the jury for outstanding student research for the report Left Behind: How Statelessness in the Dominican Republic Limits Children’s Access to EducationThe report was written by a group of eight students, all enrolled in either Georgetown Law’s JD or LLM programme: Khaled Alrabe, Jamie Armstrong, B. Shaw Drake, Kimberly Fetsick, Elizabeth Gibson, Tabitha King, Young-Min Kwon and Franziska Veh. The research was conducted by these students in the context of a year-long practicum course and included a fact-finding mission to the Dominican Republic.

Could you summarise, in 2 or 3 sentences, what your research was about? 
Our research focuses on how statelessness impacts other fundamental rights of children, and particularly the right to education. Our report, “Left Behind: How Statelessness in the Dominican Republic Limits Children’s Access to Education,” shows that many children born in the Dominican Republic but descended from foreigners, particularly Haitians, are denied an education. For generations, such children were recognized as citizens, but within the last decade, the Dominican government has refused to issue many of them birth certificates, identity cards and other essential documentation, and rendered them stateless. The report concludes that the Dominican Republican is failing to comply with its domestic and international human rights obligations, including ensuring protection of the human right to education.

 What first got you interested in the problem of statelessness? 

Each year, HRI pursues work on one human rights issue with a small team of students, giving them the opportunity to research a human rights problem in depth, conduct extensive interviews on the subject, draft a comprehensive report on their findings, and engage in related advocacy. Student participants, with the support of HRI staff and expert faculty, are responsible for identifying the specific issue and designing research that can fill a significant research and advocacy gap.  Our multinational research team includes members from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds, and our interest in statelessness reflects this diverse experience. Some research group members brought particular regional expertise to our project, while others initially became interested in statelessness more generally, through work and academic experience in other areas. Uniting all of the graduate students in the group is a fundamental dedication to international human rights research and advocacy and a desire to cast new light on a particular dimension of the problem of statelessness in the Dominican Republic. 

Why did you choose this particular research topic? 
The topic of statelessness in the Dominican Republic was selected after careful consideration of a number of possible research sites and issues across the Americas. Although statelessness in the Dominican Republic has been well-publicized, our project focused on what we considered to be an under-researched dimension of the problem – in the context of significant recent legal developments in the Dominican Republic. We therefore sought to produce a report that could fill this research gap and equip advocates with findings regarding the harsh consequences of statelessness for children of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic. 

Could you briefly describe how you went about your research? E.g. did you base it on existing sources – and were they easy to find? Did you do fieldwork or interviews – and what was that like? 
In the Fall of 2013, the team conducted research into statelessness as a legal concept and its dimensions on the ground in the Americas. This process included significant consultation with human rights practitioners, grassroots activists, and legal experts, among others, to identify where there were research gaps to which our investigation could contribute – as well as how our work could relate to international and national advocacy efforts. In January 2014, we travelled to the Dominican Republic for a week to conduct in-person interviews with scores of affected persons, as well as service providers, educators, government officials, human rights practitioners and grassroots activists. Our interviews included children and adults affected by statelessness. Following the trip, we received several official statements from the Ministry of Education that allowed us to compare current policies to practices documented during our trip. We then synthesized these findings into a report. It was a rigorous and rewarding process that allowed us to do hands-on work while remaining grounded in sound legal analysis. 

What was the greatest challenge you had to deal with in undertaking your research? 
The greatest challenge our group faced was the overwhelming depth and long history of the problem we chose to investigate. Narrowing an issue such as statelessness in the Dominican Republic to examine just one aspect of how it impacts the lives of those affected was very difficult and left out so much, including the right to health and labor rights issues. All of these aspects are worthy topics for study. However, we felt that a focus on the impact of statelessness on children and the right to education as a gateway to the enjoyment of other rights would fill both a research gap and contribute a unique perspective to support advocacy promote yet broader protections of human rights in the Dominican Republic. Overcoming this challenge taught us how the toll of statelessness is wide-reaching and that the impacts of statelessness are interconnected. 

Could you briefly summarise your main findings or conclusions – or what you think is the most important outcome of your research? 

We found that many children born in the Dominican Republic but descended from foreigners, particularly Haitians, are denied an education. For generations, such children were recognized as citizens, but within the last decade, the Dominican government has refused to issue many of them birth certificates, identity cards and other essential documentation, rendering them stateless. Hence, the Dominican Republic is failing to comply with its domestic and international human rights obligations, including to protect the human right to education. Access to education for Dominicans of Haitian ancestry has been curtailed by discriminatory school policies and the arbitrary application of laws guaranteeing equal access to education.  Many of those we interviewed were denied access to – or a continuous place in – primary or secondary school because they lacked birth certificates. Students are unable to attend university without a cedula if they apply at the age of 18, or are forced to leave if they turn 18 while in university.  Therefore, the Government does not ensure equal access to education in violation of its own Constitution and international law. All of this occurs in spite of laws, policies, constitutional provisions and international human rights commitments that are meant to guarantee children’s right to education. The report found that administrative barriers, discrimination and confusion about the law has meant that in practice not all children in the Dominican Republic are able to go to school. 

Have you found it rewarding to research statelessness – why / why not? 
It has been an extremely rewarding experience to research the impact of statelessness in the Dominican Republic.  Not only were we able to build close relationships with experts in the        field, we were able to meet and speak with numerous individuals affected by statelessness and attempt to provide a platform for expression of their experiences.  Each member of our team takes great pride in our efforts to communicate the stories of children and their families in the Dominican Republic in our report and advocacy. Additionally, we hope that our having conducted research in a growing field will open the door to the unique impact that research like ours can have in other contexts.   

What tips would you give to students who are getting involved in statelessness research to help them? E.g. are there particular questions you think they should be looking at or methodological issues they should consider? 
Our experience was improved by the in-depth background research we carried out while we were identifying a research question and a location for field work. Although we began with a broad    topic, based on a proposal from one member of the research team, the process of critically analysing this and a range of other research questions and field sites was extremely helpful. We would suggest that students and researchers who are interested in carrying out research on statelessness go through a similarly detailed process to identify a focus that stands to fill a gap in existing research. We would also particularly encourage other individual researchers and groups to engage in interview-based field research, as this is a powerful means to connect policy-makers with the practical reality of life for stateless people. As our research was completed by a group, we would further highlight the benefit of embracing diverse perspectives and believe that this contributed to the quality of the report that we were able to produce. Finally, we would emphasize the importance of careful planning when undertaking international field research, the requirement of continuously evaluating issues of risk and safety, and the absolute necessity to treat interviewees with professionalism, care, and generally striving to employ the highest ethical standards in carrying out research.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

UNHCR 2014 Statelessness Research Award interviews... Helen Brunt

"Now is a unique and pertinent time to research statelessness from multi-disciplinary perspectives and through a variety of lenses including natural and social sciences. Furthermore, within the Sustainable Development Goals discourse, statelessness raises particular concerns because of the serious ecological threats to our planet, the vulnerabilities associated with statelessness, and the way that inequalities are reinforced by the condition."

In this series of blog posts, we are asking the students honoured in this year's UNHCR Awards for Statelessness Research about their experiences studying the phenomenon on statelessness and their research findings. Fourth in the series is Ms. Helen Brunt who received a Certificate of Appreciation from the jury for her graduate thesis Stateless Stakeholders, seen but not heard? The case of the Sama Dilaut in Sabah, Malaysia, written in completion of her degree in Anthropology and Development at the University of Sussex (United Kingdom).

Could you summarise, in 2 or 3 sentences, what your research was about?

Natural resource management and statelessness are two growing areas of academic study yet remain, so far, under-researched in combination. In my Masters dissertation I explored their relationship. Through the lens of statelessness, I investigated how some stakeholders are marginalised from participatory processes, how the condition of statelessness affects the extent to which meaningful participation in marine conservation management can occur, and how institutions involved in this management perceive and respond to stateless people. I used a case study of the Sama Dilaut (also referred to as ‘Bajau Laut’), stateless people without political recognition in Malaysia, to challenge some of the assumptions that marine protected areas (MPAs) can provide a win-win solution for conservation and sustainable development.

What first got you interested in the problem of statelessness?

As a passionate environmentalist, in 2004 I was thrilled to be offered my ‘dream job’ coordinating a community and marine conservation project in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. While I was engaged with indigenous peoples’ issues, ten years ago I was ignorant to the plight of people with no nationality and no human rights protection, things that I as a British citizen took for granted. However, over the course of the next 8 years I became increasingly aware of the implications of statelessness through first hand experiences and close involvement with the Sama Dilaut, largely stateless group but who have for centuries lived in boats and on islands in the waters now overlaid by the current nation-states of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, yet are not considered to be citizens of any country. Today, many Sama Dilaut find themselves living in marine parks or ‘conservation zones’ and, although a key stakeholder group, rarely participate in management decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods. My research interests were therefore motivated directly by my personal experiences.

Why did you choose this particular research topic?

Whilst living in Sabah, on an almost daily basis, I saw out of one eye the dire state of our planet from an environmental perspective, and from the other, I saw people who were unable to move freely, be legally employed or married, access affordable healthcare, receive an education or make their voices heard. I saw such inequalities and barriers to inclusion of the Sama Dilaut in Malaysian society as being reinforced and perpetuated by their stateless status. Through my research I wanted to move anthropological and conservationist theories of stakeholders beyond what I saw as the problematic frameworks of ‘community’, ‘marginalised or minority groups’, and ‘resource users’ which I felt overlooked a lack of recognition by the state and thus denial of access to rights and representation allowed by citizenship.

I took the opportunity of dissertation research to examine in more detail the implications of statelessness on peoples’ every day lives, and to question whether ‘community participation’ is ever really possible due to the complexities of power dynamics, issues of visibility and audibility, conflicting interests, as well as the quality of participatory processes. I also examined how stateless people in Sabah are portrayed by the state, NGOs and other stakeholders, how the Sama Dilaut interact with management authorities and NGOs, and what some of the perceptions and processes are that serve to sustain the stateless position of the Sama Dilaut.

I titled my dissertation ‘Stateless Stakeholders, Seen but not Heard?’ as although the Sama Dilaut may be ‘seen’ through documentaries about their traditional lifestyle and livelihoods, and ‘consulted’ by NGOs espousing ‘participatory’ approaches to natural resource management, as stateless people they are not ‘heard’ by those whose decisions affect their lives, and thus they remain peripheral in every sense of the word.

Could you briefly describe how you went about your research? E.g. did you base it on existing sources – and were they easy to find? Did you do fieldwork or interviews – and what was that like?

I chose my research topic due to my existing personal connections and because marine conservation reflects many of the broad environmental and social issues facing protected area managers. I also felt that there was a need to draw out formal and informal connections which reflect power dynamics and relations between different stakeholders, including the lived experiences – their reality – of people living in an area where there are restrictions to accessing the resources on which they depend.

I approached my research using qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection and analysis (a ‘mixed methods’ approach), drawing from both primary and secondary sources. My principle sources were the work of academics from the fields of natural resource management, statelessness and participation, as well as published and unpublished material from policy makers and practitioners working in marine conservation, including data I had collected while coordinating the Semporna Islands Project from 2004 until 2012. I also conducted an additional 2 months of fieldwork in 2013, which involved conventional anthropological techniques of participant observation, as well as interviews with key stakeholders. Fieldwork was the part of my research that I found the most inspiring.

What was the greatest challenge you had to deal with in undertaking your research?

One challenge I had to deal with was logistical. Despite being meticulously planned, 3 months prior to my departure, my fieldwork trip threatened to be seriously disrupted by an ‘incursion’ of my field site in eastern Sabah by armed rebels from the southern Philippines, who were pursuing a 300-year old claim to the region. Fortunately, the UK government’s travel advisory was lifted just weeks before I commenced my fieldwork but it brought to the forefront some of the challenges of conducting social research in unstable areas and with vulnerable people.

Another challenge I faced was a personal one. As the coordinator of a multi-stakeholder project, I had held a unique and interstitial position, through which I developed an awareness of the complexities surrounding the multiple divisions of ‘insider:outsider’ at a micro-level. Subsequently, I realised the need to reflect on my own positionality. The opportunity to return to the field after a year away, and the research and writing of my Masters dissertation, allowed me the time and space for this.

Could you briefly summarise your main findings or conclusions – or what you think is the most important outcome of your research?

My analysis of the nexus of statelessness, participation and stakeholders revealed that environmental management is a complex domain involving power constellations and competing demands for natural resources as well as equitable benefit sharing. The ability of different stakeholders to communicate their views is a vital component to the process. However, in my research I found that a disjuncture has emerged between marine conservation managers and the stateless Sama Dilaut, a key stakeholder group.

In reality, their vulnerable position as stateless people is driven by various physical, economic, political and social barriers to meaningful participation in natural resource management, all of which overlook the unique aspect of their statelessness. I also exposed the interstitial position of conservation NGOs at ‘brokers’ who mediate in ‘participatory’ processes.

Have you found it rewarding to research statelessness – why/why not?

Research and writing my Masters dissertation was one of the most rewarding and cathartic periods of my life so far. During the process I reflected on the complex social dynamics and personal dimensions at the locale in which I was involved.  I became enlightened to the many advantages that the inclusion of ethnographic research can bring to conservation and development. I am now fortunate enough to be working with the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, and am deeply committed to elevating statelessness on regional and international platforms, and advocating for the rights of stateless people around the world.

What tips would you give to students who are getting involved in statelessness research to help them? E.g. are there particular questions you think they should be looking at or methodological issues they should consider?


Echoing Dr Jason Tucker, and as identified during the First Global Forum on Statelessness commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1954 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, now is a unique and pertinent time to research statelessness from multi-disciplinary perspectives and through a variety of lenses including natural and social sciences. Furthermore, within the Sustainable Development Goals discourse, statelessness raises particular concerns because of the serious ecological threats to our planet, the vulnerabilities associated with statelessness, and the way that inequalities are reinforced by the condition. Following Amal de Chickera’s article, I would also encourage more holistic and ethnographic studies on statelessness by a wide spectrum of researchers (including the stateless themselves) in order to unveil the multitude of human stories behind ‘statelessness’.

Monday, 27 October 2014

GUEST POST: Inter-American Court condemns unprecedented situation of statelessness in the Dominican Republic

Francisco Quintana at a hearing before the I-A Commission
speaking on behalf of the 
umbrella organisations in
DR "Dominicanos por Derechos". (Photo/OAS)
On October 22nd, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I-A Court) published its judgment in the Case of Expelled Dominican and Haitian people vs Dominican Republic. The case involved 6 families who were expelled from that country between 1999 and 2000. Out of the 26 victims, only five individuals were Haitian nationals. The families were represented by CEJIL and three other organizations. The ruling touched upon the problem of discrimination based on skin color; immigration detention; and the “systematic practice of collective expulsions”. At the heart of the ruling is the issue of prevention and reduction of statelessness. Since 13 of the victims were children, the ruling developed some of these rights from the “best interest of the child” perspective.

Background
For almost 100 years (for a fuller analysis see here) the Dominican Republic (DR) has allowed, either by state-control or private contracts, the arrival of Haitian workers, who were subjected to poverty and marginalization derived from their irregular status. International and regional human rights bodies, including UNHCR, UNICEF, CEDAW, CRC, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have expressed their deep concern about the discrimination and mass violation of to the right to nationality that Haitian migrants and their descendants have been suffering.
From the 1950s to 1990s, a significant number of children of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic were formally recognized as citizens by registry officials. During that period, there was a reasonable application of identification required for the parents to register their children’s births. In the last two decades of the 20th century, some civil registry officials began requiring official proof of identity, such as passports or residence cards. The IACHR detected this problem early in 1999: “children do not have documents because their parents have none.”
Since 1929, the supreme law of the land had consistently established that people “in transit” were one of the two exceptions to the ius soli regime in the DR, with the other being the children of diplomats. Domestic civil law established 10 days as the maximum amount of time one can be “in transit.” It was not until the 1980s that this concept was applied more rigidly.

Legislative and Constitutional Changes
In 2004, the DR reformed its immigration law to incorporate the requirement of legal residence of foreign parents as the basis for their children’s acquisition of Dominican nationality. This criterion was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005, which established a broad interpretation of the “in transit” exception. In the period of 2007-2009, Dominican authorities adopted a series of administrative and judicial actions that made it virtually impossible to obtain nationality at birth for those affected. During that time, a consistent process of arbitrary deprivation of nationality began, even for people who had enjoyed that right for 10, 20, 30 or more years.
In 2010, the new Dominican Constitution solidified the interpretation of the law used in the last decade by incorporating a new exception to the ius soli regime: the children of undocumented residents.

Judicial Denationalization on a Massive Scale
On September 23rd, 2013, people of foreign parents born on Dominican soil dating back to 1929 did not know if their nationality was going to be respected. Their own Constitutional Tribunal had deprived them of that right (TC ruling 168/13) by upholding the previous Supreme Court decision. According to an official survey by the Dominican National Bureau for Statistics, an estimated 200,000 persons were affected by the decision. The numbers could be greater, as these figures only incorporate the first generation of the affected group. To date, the Dominican authorities have only recognized less than 25,000 people, of which only 60% are of Haitian descent.
The implementing law of the TC ruling (Law 169/14) does not conceptualize people born in the DR to foreign parents before 2007 as Dominicans. Although the language could seem neutral on its face, it has a clearly disproportionate impact on Dominicans of Haitian descent. Law 16/14 divided the affected population in two groups. The first group, who according to the preamble of the law “believed” they were nationals because they received official documents, would obtain nationality because the State recognized its own administrative mistake, not because they were born on its soil. The second group, who lacked any kind of document, was directly classified as foreigners in their own country and obligated to follow a naturalization process.

Inter-American Justice returns to the Dominican Republic
In December 2013, the IACHR visited the island again only to realize that its previous findings had multiplied by hundreds of thousands. In the landmark decision of the Case of the Girls Yean and Bosico (2005), the Inter-American Court established for the first time that the right to nationality could not be limited based on discriminatory purposes, and that the migration status of the parents could not be inherited by their children for the purposes of denying nationality. The Court also stressed the importance of the prevention and reduction of statelessness when the place of birth is the only requisite that should be considered for those people that could not acquire a nationality different from that of the country where they were born.
Nine years later, in the Case of Expelled Dominicans and Haitians (2014) ruling, the Inter-American Court restated its interpretation of Dominican domestic law when it affirmed that it did not find any reason to change the Yean and Bosico standard. On the contrary, the Court took this opportunity to expand its reasoning, when it declared that:
   a.      The TC ruling 168/13 had retroactively deprived all children born to undocumented foreign parents since 1929 of their nationality. (para. 313)
   b.      The criteria used by the TC is discriminatory and contrary to the principle of equality before the law, since it ignores the characteristics of the person born in the DR and focuses on the lack of documentation of their parents, without justifying this distinction.(para. 318)
    c.      The implementing Law 169/14 creates additional obstacles to the full enjoyment of the right to nationality, because it requires affected persons to register as foreigners in their country of birth. This naturalization process is thus per se contrary to the right to nationality in a country with a jus soli regime.
    d.      An expedited naturalization procedure for a person that is already entitled to a nationality, irrespective of the time it could last, is contrary to the full enjoyment of that right. (para. 324).
   e.      The obligation to prevent statelessness requires States to have full assurance that immediately after birth a child would have an effective nationality; absent that situation, the Inter-American Court declared an ex lege (automatic) obligation to grant the nationality of the State where the child was born. (paras. 259 to 261)
   f.       The Court ordered the Dominican government to take all steps – including at the constitutional, legislative or judicial level – in order to leave the TC ruling 168, and part of Law 169/14, without legal effect. (para. 469)

Déjà vu reaction of the Dominican government
In 2005, a month after the Yean and Bosico judgment was issued, Dominican authorities called the decision “unacceptable” and declared that there was an intent to “discredit” the country before the international community. One week later the Dominican Senate acted in the same direction by rejecting the ruling of the Inter-American Court. The 2005 Supreme Court decision previously mentioned also confronted directly this decision.
In 2014, the new Inter-American Court ruling has already sparked the same xenophobic and anti-Haitian sentiments of the past. Despite the fact that there had been unanimous condemnation of the massive judicial deprivation of nationality carried out by the TC 168/13 ruling, the Dominican government continues to deny that discrimination or statelessness even exists in the country. Only 48 hours after the ruling was made public, the Dominican Republic Executive branch issued a statement rejecting the ruling in very strong language and bringing up the ancient argument that its own notions of State sovereignty exempt it from compliance with its binding, freely accepted international human rights obligations.

Conclusion
The Inter-American Court has set a clear example of how justice should be done when States arbitrarily limit, deny or deprive persons of their right to nationality. In a public statement CEJIL has emphasized that the decisions of the Court should never be considered an attack to the sovereignty of any State, but rather an affirmation of a way forward to respect the human rights of all. The Dominican government has to understand that under international law and the American Convention on Human Rights, compliance with this judgment is a binding obligation that cannot be ignored.

The impact that this new ruling could have in other regions of the world where similar judicial restrictions, ambiguous or discriminatory interpretations of the law are implemented is unquestionable. We expect that the international community, academia, and civil society around the world will take the time to read the judgment and support the struggle for justice and dignity of hundreds of thousands of people around the world who, just as in the Dominican Republic, are being deprived of the full enjoyment of their right to nationality.

Francisco Quintana, Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) 

[This blog was simultaneously posted on the website of the European Network on Statelessness]

UNHCR 2014 Statelessness Research Award interviews... Maria Jose Recalde Vela



"The vulnerability of stateless persons to all sorts of human rights violations made me want to somehow help make their situation a little bit better. What I find so heart-breaking about statelessness is precisely the impact this phenomenon has on the individual’s identity: being told you do not belong in the place you identify with can be devastating, as it can make one question who one really is." 

In this series of blog posts, we are asking the students honoured in this year's UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research about their experiences studying the phenomenon on statelessness and their research findings. Third in the series is Ms. Maria Jose Recalde Vela whose thesis How can identity assert a claim to citizenship? In search of a safeguard against statelessness from a legal and socio-psychological perspective.  submitted in completion of the Liberal Arts Programme at Tilburg University (the Netherlands), was chosen by the Jury as the Best Research in the Graduate Category.


Could you summarise, in 2 or 3 sentences, what your research was about?
My research was about exploring how a person’s identity develops in relation to the place and groups a person is influenced by (such as the place one grows up in and the society one grows up around) and whether this identity can somehow be used as a safeguard against statelessness.

What first got you interested in the problem of statelessness?
I first became interested in the problem of statelessness after taking the course at Tilburg University taught by Dr. van Waas during my second year of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I had never heard of stateless before; until I took the course I never even though there were people in this planet without a nationality! Nationality is something that we take for granted, so it is very shocking to find out that there’s around 10 million people without a nationality. What got me so interested in the issue is that the impact statelessness has on the individual is very deep. Stateless persons are not only deprived of basic civil and political rights such as voting for example, but are also affected at an individual and personal level. I am not sure if research has been done on this, but I am sure that statelessness has a massive impact in the individual’s mental and emotional well-being. The vulnerability of stateless persons to all sorts of human rights violations made me want to somehow help make their situation a little bit better. What I find so heart-breaking about statelessness is precisely the impact this phenomenon has on the individual’s identity: being told you do not belong in the place you identify with can be devastating, as it can make one question who one really is.

Why did you choose this particular research topic?
I always took nationality for granted, but at the same time, I was always confused by it. What was always strange is that I always felt like I am not from one single place, but from every place I have lived in. in my short years, I have lived in a few countries (so far, 4), and every time I moved to a new place I developed an attachment to that place, and I developed a feeling of belonging to that place, even if in paper it was not that way and in paper I have one nationality. I started thinking about this and while I was reading Dr. van Waas’ book I came across a section which describes what the “genuine link” is. The genuine link is the social fact of attachment of an individual with a state, and the genuine link is the basis for nationality. The ICJ described nationality as “a legal bond having as its basis a social fact of attachment, a genuine connection of existence.” So in other words, nationality is a legal reflection of this social fact of attachment between individual and state. But state not as in government; state as in, country, homeland, nation-state, etc. A place, a society. Then I started thinking how we develop these social facts of attachment with the places we live in and how this attachment shapes our identities. I felt like my identity has been heavily shaped by every country I have lived in, and this influence the places have had on my identity have contributed to my attachment to these places. I am attached to a place, I feel like I belong there, I have a social fact of attachment to this place. And what is nationality? A reflection of this social fact of attachment. If a person like me has become attached to a place and feels like she belongs there only from having lived a few years there, there is no way any state can tell me that a person who has lived his/her entire life in the same country, many times in the same area, has no social fact of attachment to that country and does not belong there. Many, if not most, stateless persons live their entire lives in the same place for a great number of reasons. However, the challenge for this was that it is not easy to prove a social fact of attachment; it is not something tangible, like a birth certificate for example. A social fact of attachment can mean anything! I thought maybe identity can help solve this problem. However, identity can also be anything! Therefore, I chose to focus on 3 socio-psychological theories that helped me to explain how a person’s identity develops in relation to the place and the society a person grows up in. while doing research, I came across an interesting principle that was proposed by Manley O Hudson: jus connectionis. I had only heard about the jus soli (law of the soil), jus sanguinis (law of blood) and jus domicili (law of residence) for nationality attribution. Jus connectionis? Never heard of it. But it caught my attention. Jus connectionis takes into consideration a person’s connections and identity for determining nationality. Jus connectionis, however, does not have the same status as jus sanguinis, jus soli and jus domicili; it is a theory, a thought, a proposal, an idea. But I thought it was definitely worth looking into, particularly since it could contribute to my search for a safeguard against statelessness.

Could you briefly describe how you went about your research? E.g. did you base it on existing sources – and were they easy to find? Did you do fieldwork or interviews – and what was that like?
I based my research 100% on existing sources; it was a literature review. Carrying out field research on this topic would be very helpful but very complicated due to language barriers and due to the fact that it would take a long time to carry out the interviews and process all the data. Therefore, I based it on all sorts of literature I was able to find. It was challenging to find the literature I needed for it, as you know, there is not much information out there on stateless persons. I was lucky to find some reports in which stateless persons described their feelings of belonging to the place where they had grown up their entire lives.

What was the greatest challenge you had to deal with in undertaking your research?
The greatest challenge was definitely finding literature, since there is not much information out there that can give us a clear view into the identities of stateless persons. One of the most difficult parts was reading and actually understanding the socio-psychological theories and being able to explain them in writing. In Liberal Arts and Sciences, I majored in law, so almost every course I took was a law course. Therefore, I was used to reading legal texts and understanding them. However, social sciences texts, particularly social psychology ones were very confusing for me! I took a few social sciences courses during my bachelor, but none on social psychology, so it was very challenging to read and understand the texts. It was also a lot of fun to get to explore an area that I found so interesting but I was very unfamiliar with.

Could you briefly summarise your main findings or conclusions – or what you think is the most important outcome of your research?
-Citizenship is the legal “confirmation” of a person’s belonging to a group; it cannot be determined simply by looking at a person (this is a rejection of ethnicity and race as the basis of citizenship). A “social fact of attachment” must be determined for citizenship to be properly attributed to an individual
-the social fact of attachment is not tangible; it is embedded in the individual’s identity, so it is important to see how this identity developed and what influenced it. The 3 theories of identity can help explain how identity develops in relation to place and group. Our identities are influenced by our surroundings and the people who surround us. It can be said that the development of our identity is influenced by the country we live in.
-the principles of jus soli and jus sanguinis, which are meant to prove membership through birth on the territory or through blood, are unable to prevent people from becoming stateless, due to strict application of these principles by some states. This strict application makes it easy to exclude people from the citizenry, even though many of these excluded persons have social facts of attachment with said state.
-the principle of jus connectionis which takes into account connections and attachment to a place fills this gap left by the jus soli and jus sanguinis principles. Therefore, the principle of jus connectionis, since it takes into account identity, could serve as a safeguard against statelessness for persons who are excluded from the citizenry since they have no legal claims to citizenship through birth or through blood but do have a claim through their social fact of attachment to their homeland.

Have you found it rewarding to research statelessness – why / why not?
I have found doing research on statelessness—and nationality—the most rewarding experience of my life. I was lucky to intern at the statelessness programme last semester and it was the best, and now I am writing my master thesis on nationality, which I absolutely love. While it focuses on nationality, the idea behind it is finding a new way to help stateless persons. Once you jump on the statelessness train, you won’t be getting off for a long time. There is still so much research to be done that you will never run out of ideas on new things to research on.

What tips would you give to students who are getting involved in statelessness research to help them? E.g. are there particular questions you think they should be looking at or methodological issues they should consider?

Find a topic you find interesting, it will make the process (it’s a long and considerably exhausting process) very enjoyable. I really hope someday someone can go out into the field and carry out interviews to find out more about the identities of the stateless individuals interviewed and maybe use some of the theoretical background I presented in my thesis and use their field results and see what happens! It would be a very large project that would benefit from an interdisciplinary approach, but if it ever happens I will definitely read that paper! I think in terms of finding concrete solutions for statelessness there is a lot of research that can be done, particularly looking into how specific countries or regions can find concrete solutions for statelessness in their territories or in the region. Theory-wise, there is so much to do! I am fascinated by the theoretical issues. For example finding the “core” of nationality, or finding concrete reasons to why this concept, which was meant to include and bond people over their belonging to a place, actually has left gaps in the law and its implementation that have rendered millions stateless. One of the problems I had was that there is not much literature out there, so any contributions to the literature are always welcome, and from any discipline! I am not an expert but I feel like statelessness cannot be addressed only from only one discipline: it is such a complex issue that it needs contributions from various disciplines for a better understanding of it, and I think that once we understand an issue it is easier to find concrete long-lasting solutions to it.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

UNHCR 2014 Statelessness Research Award interviews... Caia Vlieks

"My research experiences during this project have been great. For me it was a perfect combination of doing truly legal research – studying case law of my favorite Court – and at the same time being able to use my own creativity – linking the interpretations of the Court to determination of a person’s statelessness – in order to contribute to the body of knowledge on the issue of statelessness and hopefully help stateless persons in claiming their rights in legal proceedings"

In this series of blog posts, we will be asking the students honoured in this year's UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research about their experiences studying the phenomenon on statelessness and their research findings. Second in the series is Ms. Caia Vlieks, whose masters thesis entitled "A European human rights obligation for statelessness determination?", written in completion of her LLM in International Human Rights Law at Tilburg University (the Netherlands), was chosen by the Jury as the Best Research in the Graduate Category.


Could you summarise, in 2 or 3 sentences, what your research was about?
My research explored whether it is possible to distil an obligation for states to determine a person’s statelessness from the European Convention on Human Rights. More specifically, the research project assessed the case law of the European Court of Human Rights on the articles of the Convention that have the clearest links with determination of statelessness. These are Article 3 (the prohibition of torture), Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life), Article 13 (the right to an effective remedy) and Article 14 (the prohibition of torture).

What first got you interested in the problem of statelessness?
It was during the first year of my Research Master in Law at Tilburg University that I heard about statelessness. Credits go to the staff of the Statelessness Program at Tilburg University, who actively gave guest lectures during, for instance, a course on human rights law. Initially, my interest for the problem of statelessness focused on stateless Roma, but I learned that there are more groups affected by statelessness. What caught me was the legal limbo stateless persons find themselves in, and the grave consequences that this can have. Also, I discovered that there are many more legal aspects of statelessness have not been the topic of research, making it an even more interesting and deserving of further research.

Why did you choose this particular research topic?
As my knowledge on the topic of statelessness grew, I became fascinated by the definition of a stateless person in international law. This definition says that a stateless person is “a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law”. However, only when is established that a stateless person is a stateless person, ergo a stateless person under the aforementioned definition, that person can rely on the specific rights for stateless persons. As such, statelessness determination appears to be prerequisite for enjoyment of specific rights for stateless persons. I therefore decided I wanted to consider statelessness determination in my research. As the European Convention on Human Rights has been a legal document that inspired me throughout my studies, I decided to explore whether this instrument contains an (implicit) obligation for states to determine a person’s statelessness.

Could you briefly describe how you went about your research? E.g. did you base it on existing sources – and were they easy to find? Did you do fieldwork or interviews – and what was that like?
I based my research on case law of the European Court of Human Rights and tried to link existing cases to the issues that stateless persons encounter in their daily lives and which are related to the fact that their statelessness has not been determined/recognized. To be able to do this, I informed myself about the situations of stateless persons, for instance using the ‘Mapping Statelessness in …’-reports of UNHCR. Furthermore, I did not only use case law, but also commentaries on the Convention and the interpretation methods of the Court, as well as commentaries on specific cases. To this end, I conducted a literature and case law searches and studies. I found the more general commentaries on the interpretations of the Court to be particularly helpful, as these could point me to interesting lines of reasoning for my research and landmark cases.

What was the greatest challenge you had to deal with in undertaking your research?
The greatest challenge was probably to make a selection of case law and being creative in finding possibilities for linking the Court’s line of reasoning to stateless determination. The amount of case law is overwhelming and it was a challenge not to get lost therein. In this process, the focus of my research on statelessness determination helped me to zoom in on the proper cases.

Could you briefly summarise your main findings or conclusions – or what you think is the most important outcome of your research?
By analyzing the four articles of the Convention with the clearest links to statelessness determination, my research sheds light on whether this Convention obliges states to determine statelessness. First of all, the study shows that statelessness is an issue that is to be taken into account in considerations regarding any of these articles. However, the extent to which varies. For instance, under Articles 3 and 8 of the Convention, expulsion and removal are issues that trigger an obligation for statelessness determination in particular. In other circumstances, for example involving Article 13, it may be unlikely that the Court obliges a state to really determine statelessness, because the consequences of statelessness can be taken into account without putting a label of ‘statelessness’ on them. Yet, it is important to emphasize that the analysis demonstrates that statelessness can play a role in considerations involving each of the Articles. This evidences that statelessness, and therefore, the determination thereof, is an issue that states should concern all States Parties to the Convention in order to fulfil their obligations under – at least – Articles 3, 8, 13 and 14 thereof.

Have you found it rewarding to research statelessness – why / why not?
My research experiences during this project have been great. For me it was a perfect combination of doing truly legal research – studying case law of my favorite Court – and at the same time being able to use my own creativity – linking the interpretations of the Court to determination of a person’s statelessness – in order to contribute to the body of knowledge on the issue of statelessness and hopefully help stateless persons in claiming their rights in legal proceedings. What was particularly rewarding was that the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) took an interest in my research. Recently, ENS’s first discussion paper was published, which is based on my Master’s Thesis. It deals with possibilities for litigating for the obligation to determine statelessness under the European Convention on Human Rights. I am very grateful for this, as my research will now reach even more people working on the issue of statelessness, including persons who litigate on behalf of stateless persons.

What tips would you give to students who are getting involved in statelessness research to help them? E.g. are there particular questions you think they should be looking at or methodological issues they should consider?
When doing legal research like I did, I sometimes felt that I was working a bit far from practice – what stateless persons experience in their daily lives – and it made me wonder whether my research could truly contribute to a better life for them. I therefore think it is important to remember that statelessness is an issue that affects over 10 million people around the globe, and that all types of innovative and creative research, also legal research, are most welcome if we want to protect them and, in the end, eradicate statelessness.