Breaking ground in West Africa: the Abidjan Declaration
On 25 February 2015, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Member States adopted the Abidjan Declaration on the eradication of statelessness in West Africa. This ground-breaking declaration includes 25 commitments covering prevention of statelessness, identification and protection of stateless persons, the resolution of existing situations of statelessness, and strategies and partnerships for fighting statelessness. The declaration makes a particular commitment to ensuring that all children acquire nationality at birth and recognises the impact of gender discrimination in nationality laws. It also addressed the need to improve civil registration systems and to tackle migration as a factor in creating statelessness.
In February 2016 the first anniversary of the Abidjan Declaration provided an opportunity to assess the progress made towards its implementation and in April a draft action plan on implementation was developed with ECOWAS States also indicating an interest in moving towards a binding treaty to replace the Declaration. By February 2016, nine of the fifteen ECOWAS States had begun developing action plans for the eradication of statelessness with two (Benin and Gambia) having been approved at the Ministerial level. Benin and Mali have implemented programmes to deliver birth certificates to unregistered children and four States (Guinea, Burkina Faso, Liberia and Togo) have announced revisions of their nationality laws while Senegal is preparing a Children’s Act which would protect against statelessness at birth. In terms of accessions to the UN Statelessness Conventions, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Sierra Leone have ratified both Conventions, Burkina Faso has acceded to the 1961 Convention, and Ghana and Togo are taking steps towards accession. Finally, Benin, Gambia, Ghana Mali and Nigeria have begun mapping studies which should contribute to a better understanding of the number and profile of stateless persons in these regions.
Other sub-regional initiatives
West Africa is not the only sub-region in which there have been discussions on a coordinated response to statelessness. As reported in the December 2016 #ibelong campaign update issued by UNHCR, both the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have tabled this issue. The annual Zinduka festival, held in Uganda on 29 November 2016 drew civil society organisations from across the EAC and included a thematic ‘convening’ on statelessness at which the establishment of a Coalition on Statelessness was discussed. At the SADC Parliamentary Forum’s 40th plenary session, held in Zimbabwe on 13 November 2016, a resolution “On the Prevention of Statelessness and the Protection of Stateless Persons in the SADC Region” was passed – addressing the questions of law reform and accession to the statelessness conventions.