Thank you for inviting me to join this distinguished panel and thanks to the Women’s Refugee Commission and Equality Now for focusing attention on this serious issue of discrimination against women in nationality laws. The United States Government is pleased to be a part of this discussion.
As some of you know, in 2011, the United States launched the Women’s Nationality Initiative, which seeks to address discrimination against women in nationality laws that often results in statelessness. The initiative has two main objectives: To increase global awareness of the importance of equal nationality rights for women, and the consequences of discrimination against women in nationality laws including statelessness and to persuade governments to amend nationality laws that discriminate against women, ensure universal birth registration, and establish procedures to facilitate the acquisition of citizenship for stateless persons.
This initiative is part of the State Department’s broader efforts to prevent and reduce statelessness and to promote protection for the estimated 12 million stateless persons around the world. We are committed to addressing the global problem of statelessness as part of our commitment to champion human rights and dignity.
One of our key partners in this effort is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, whose mandate is to prevent and reduce statelessness, and to protect the rights of stateless persons.
The United States is the largest donor to UNHCR, providing more than $775 million to UNHCR in FY 2012. These contributions to UNHCR’s core budget include support for its efforts to address statelessness.
Lastly, we engage diplomatically to try to mobilize other governments to prevent and resolve situations of statelessness.
The Women’s Nationality Initiative is a key aspect of our work on statelessness, and it underscores what then First Lady Hillary Clinton said in 1995 that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims both a human right to a nationality (Article 15) and a woman’s right to be free from discrimination (Article 2).
Our efforts to implement the Women’s Nationality Initiative thus far have focused on three countries: Benin, Nepal, and Qatar. For example, the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu has formed a working group with UNHCR’s country office and local NGOs to coordinate advocacy to address discrimination against women in Nepal’s nationality law. The National Women’s Commission -- a Government of Nepal commission -- is leading the working group. Embassy staff conducted extensive field missions in Nepal to meet with stateless persons in several districts. In our visits to Nepal, including as recently as November of last year with U/S Otero, we continue to raise this issue with Nepali leaders to persuade them to revise nationality provisions as part of the drafting of the country’s new constitution.
As part of this Initiative, the United States introduced a resolution on the right to a nationality with a focus on women and children at the 20th session of the UN Human Rights Council in 2012. The United States led the resolution with Botswana, Colombia, Mexico, Iraq, Turkey and Slovakia.
The resolution highlighted the equal right to a nationality for women, and called on States to ensure that their laws permit women to acquire and retain nationality and transmit it to their children on an equal basis with men, which reduces the likelihood that women and children will become stateless.
The resolution also drew attention to the problem in nearly 30 countries where nationality laws discriminate against women.
Its adoption by consensus with 49 states co-sponsoring it was a significant achievement. This resolution marked the first time in 66 years that any of the UN’s human rights bodies has highlighted the right to a nationality.
I want to reiterate my appreciation for the focus that the Women’s Refugee Commission and Equality Now have placed on the issue of discrimination against women in nationality laws, as well both organizations’ broader work to advance women’s rights. I particularly want to commend the research the Women’s Refugee Commission has done with Tilburg University, which has been groundbreaking in its documentation of the devastating consequences that nationality discrimination has on family unity and human dignity.
The Commission’s research also helps to illuminate challenges that are ever-present for many of the populations of concern with whom PRM works. We encounter these challenges in our assistance to Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East and in our efforts to address the situation of stateless individuals living in Kuwait and throughout the Gulf.
We are also concerned about potential statelessness as a result of the conflict in Syria. We are mindful that gender discrimination in some host country nationality laws could prevent the registration of children as Syrian nationals, and that preexisting statelessness among thousands of Syrian Kurds may exacerbate the already dire situation facing some Syrian refugee families throughout the region.
This research and continued advocacy is critical to raising awareness and mobilizing governments and civil society groups to work to reform nationality laws and provide a path to citizenship for stateless persons around the world.
In closing, it’s important to remember that the United States has its own history of overcoming discrimination against women in our nationality laws. It was only within the last century that American women achieved equal nationality rights. But we have to act faster and more effectively if we are going to reach UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres’ ambitious goal of resolving the global problem of statelessness within the next ten years. For its part, the United States will continue to champion equal nationality rights for women, and we will continue to use our diplomacy and humanitarian assistance to support solutions to statelessness in all its forms.