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Commemoration of Abidjan Declaration: laudable achievements amidst looming Challenges


buja March 27, 2017: On 28 March, 2017, Member States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will commemorate the 2nd Anniversary of the Abidjan Declaration on statelessness in the region with the theme “Joining Hands to End Statelessness in West Africa, One Stateless Person Too Many”. The theme emphasizes the need for Member States and other key holders to join forces against statelessness.

Of the estimated 10 million people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness in the world, at least one million live in West Africa. Stateless people do not have a nationality. It is a cause of great suffering, as stateless people are denied a large range of fundamental human rights, including the right to education, employment, heath services and dignity. Because statelessness results in exclusion, it also raises issues of development, peace and security.  The Abidjan Declaration[1]aims at the eradication of statelessness in the ECOWAS region by 2024 by UNHCR estimation. It is a historic instrument in the region and in Africa and was endorsed by the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government at their Summitin Accra, Ghana on 19 May, 2015.

According to the UNHCR Deputy Representative in charge of protection, Madam Brigitte Mukanga -Eno “The main challenges of statelessness in the region relate to gaps in the nationality legislation, and in the administration of identity and nationality documentation, including birth registration … Ending statelessness is possible, it is a matter of political will, requires improvement of both the legislations and the governance of documentation”. In the ECOWAS region, some children cannot acquire a nationality at birth because of some limitations in legislation that prevent their mothers from passing on their nationality to them. Compounding to this problem, up to 60 million people within the ECOWAS population have never been registered at birth and do not hold any document proving their identity and nationality.

The Abidjan declaration amongst others calls on States to reform their nationality legislation and to ensure that anyone who is entitled to their nationality obtain documents proving identity and nationality. Over the last 2 years, significant achievements have been made. All Stateshave appointed a focal point within their government to coordinate action against statelessness. Seven States are in the process of mapping the risk of statelessness on their territories; 10States havedrafted a nationalaction plan to end statelessness; and 12 States have acceded to the 1954 convention on the status of stateless persons and 11 to the 1961 convention on the reduction of statelessness.  Finally, over45, 000 people have obtained identity or nationality documents in West Africa, especially in Côte d’Ivoire and Benin which are at the forefront of the fight against statelessness.

In order to assist States to end statelessness in the region, UNHCR and ECOWAS officials developed a regional plan of action based on the Abidjan Declaration, which will soon be submitted to ECOWAS Member States for their review and adoption.


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