Unlike Africa, the Americas and Europe, the Asia and Pacific region does not have a regional human rights framework, with its own treaty, court and commission (or equivalent bodies). This lacuna means that there is a dearth of regional norms and jurisprudence which set out the rights of all persons including the stateless. In the absence of such a regional framework, the importance of the international UN framework is greater.
At sub-regional level the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted its own non-binding Human Rights Declaration in 2012, which largely mirrors the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration affirms that “Every person has the right to a nationality as prescribed by law. No person shall be arbitrarily deprived of such nationality nor denied the right to change that nationality.” Although there is no entity within ASEAN that specifically looks into nationality and statelessness matters, the mandates of two of its Commissions are relevant to statelessness. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) focus their work on developing strategies for the promotion and protection of human rights. ACWC is, for instance, mandated to propose and support appropriate measures relating to the elimination of all forms of violation of the rights of women and children. The ACWC can propose a wide variety of measures to end childhood statelessness, including through resolving gender discrimination in nationality legislation, and permitting all otherwise stateless children to have the right to a nationality and identity documents. However, with small budgets and non-binding force, there are significant limitations as to what can be achieved.
Next to ASEAN, the ‘Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime’ is a forum for states and international organisations to interact in policy dialogue, information sharing and practical cooperation to address challenges in the region. A total of 48 members – a combination of states and international organisations such as IOM and UNHCR - work together to address a variety of related issues. The nexus between (irregular) migration and the risk of statelessness is gaining more recognition in the region and beyond. In March 2016 during the Sixth Bali Process Ministerial Conference, ministers and delegates of member states and organisations endorsed the ‘Bali Process Declaration on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime’. This declaration confirms the core objectives and priorities of the Bali Process, including “measures to prevent and reduce statelessness, consistent with relevant international instruments” in the context of complex irregular migration.
Asia & Pacific states at the Universal Period Review
Between 2014 and 2016, Brunei Darussalam, Nepal, and Myanmar, which all underwent review under the UPR, received the largest number of statelessness related recommendations. Fifteen recommendations were issued to Myanmar in relation to amending its nationality legislation to avoid discriminatory provisions that prohibit ethnic minorities from acquiring a nationality. In addition, one recommendation was made to it on the prohibition of the deprivation of identity documents that leave people living in irregular situations and unable to register new-born children. Recommendations to Nepal and Brunei Darussalam mainly focused on gender equality of men and women in the context of conferring nationality onto their children.