An Examination of Statelessness

An Examination of Statelessness

It’s often the things you take for granted in life that are the most important. The passport you use when going on holidays, the birth certificate sitting in the back of your filing cabinet, the PPSN that you use to do your taxes. But, imagine your life if you didn’t have those documents – no going abroad, not being able to register for school, not being able to get a job. This is the reality of life for up to 10 million people globally, who do not have a nationality, who have none of those documents. These people are stateless, meaning that they do not have any official nationality. Often trapped in poverty, there is no way of improving their situation due to difficulty accessing healthcare, education, and employment. Overall, this can be a very difficult situation to solve. 

 

Statelessness can happen in a few ways. Some people become stateless due to purposeful discrimination by governments, while others may be affected by accident, when country boundaries change or when there are gaps in nationality laws. Other people may become stateless because they are refugees, which can make it difficult to prove where they or their parents were born due to a lack of documentation. Some children experience statelessness because of nationality laws which disallow their mothers from passing on citizenship, such as in Qatar. This means that if the child’s father is unknown or from a country with laws keeping him from passing on citizenship for some reason, the child will be unable to receive a nationality. Often entire groups of people end up stateless, just like how lots of people became stateless after the Soviet Union dissolved into multiple countries and their Soviet nationality ceased to exist. As well as groups affected by geographic changes, the UNHCR estimates that up to 75% of stateless people are members of minority groups, who are often explicitly discriminated against by the state they should be nationals of. An example of a stateless minority group are the Rohinga in Myanmar. While this group is best known for the intense violence it suffered and the huge refugee crisis which followed, few people know that citizenship laws passed in 1982 effectively denied the Rohinga (alongside some other minority ethnicities) the right to a nationality in Myanmar.

 

What is being done to prevent statelessness and to reduce the number of people currently stateless? The right to a nationality is enshrined in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and two United Nations international legal conventions exist to provide standards that states should stick to in order to reduce and prevent statelessness. Unfortunately, many states routinely ignore these international laws. Some success has been seen, such as with the elimination of the issue from Kyrgyzstan, where the last 13,700 people who were stateless were granted citizenship between 2014 and 2019. However, many countries maintain discriminatory laws which will be difficult to convince them to change. Last month, India changed the law to make it easier for followers of all of the subcontinent’s religions, except Islam, to acquire citizenship. At the same time, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to compile a register of all India’s 1.3 billion citizens, as a means to hunt down illegal immigrants. With many of the country’s 200 million Muslims not having the papers to prove that they are Indian, they risk being made stateless. Further, the government has expressed the desire to build camps to detain those that are caught. 

Increasing numbers of refugees could also lead to an increase in the numbers of stateless people. Ultimately, it will be important for states to cooperate to try to reduce and prevent statelessness – for example by reforming their citizenship laws to allow newborn children who would otherwise be stateless to acquire citizenship. Colombia is setting a great example in this regard, living up to its international obligations by granting the children of all Venezuelan refugees the right to be Colombian citizens. The UNHCR recommends countries set up statelessness determination procedures to ensure that stateless people are able to get recognised.  In order to encourage other nations to follow this example and work to help statelessness and its harms become a thing of the past, both international and domestic pressure will be necessary. The UNHCR is running a campaign, #IBelong, to raise awareness of statelessness in the hope that governments will feel the need to change their ways. We will need governments that are willing to reform their laws to prevent children from being born stateless and to increase the ease with which stateless people can naturalise. Only then will we be able to remove this major barrier to the access of basic human rights.

 

 

 

Photo by Sarah-Rose on Flickr

 

 

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STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 6 Pt. 1 + 2

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Former Google Executive Calls Out Company Over Human Rights

Former Google Executive Calls Out Company Over Human Rights

Ross Lajeunesse, Google’s former Head of International Relations, has claimed he was pushed out of the company for his human rights advocacy. In his recent blog post, Lajeunesse spoke out against Google’s exclusionary workplace culture, as well as the company’s suspected co-operation with human rights abuses in China and Saudi Arabia. Google’s human rights and inclusion record has been repeatedly called into question over the last number of months and Lajeunesse is the most recent of many employees who claim they faced retaliation against workplace activism.

 

A major criticism of Google over the last number of years has been its co-operation with the governments of China and Saudi Arabia with their human rights abuses. The development of Google’s ‘Dragonfly’ project, a search engine that would comply with China’s censorship and surveillance laws, faced much objection until it was eventually terminated in December of 2018. Google has also been heavily condemned for hosting certain applications of the Saudi government, including ‘Absher’, an app which enables men to track and control female family members. In response to the development of these projects, Lajeunesse claims he advocated for the integration of a human rights based approach in decision making, but that this suggestion was repeatedly dismissed. He argues that human rights concerns where overshadowed by the drive for “bigger profits and higher stock prices”. 

 

Further to its poor international human rights record, Google’s internal workplace relations have also invited criticism. According to Lajeunesse, workers from marginalised backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to unfair treatment at Google. He described young female employees being bullied and screamed at by senior colleagues, as well as “diversity” exercises in which workers were separated by race and sexuality and encouraged to shout slurs at each other. Lajeunesse says he repeatedly raised these issues with HR, but they were never meaningfully responded to. In February 2019, despite being highly rated within the company, Lajeunesse was told he no longer had a job. While Google claims this was down to company “reorganisation,” Lajeunesse holds that it was his advocacy for human rights and inclusion that cost him his career. Since leaving Google, LaJeunesse has spoken out about the importance of government intervention in the area of human rights and is currently running in the Democratic Senate primary in Maine. 

 

LaJeunesse is not the first to accuse Google of punishing worker activism. In October 2018, over 20,000 Google employees around the world staged a walkout, protesting the companies handling of sexual harassment. In June 2019, Claire Stapleton, one of the walkout leaders, retired after twelve years with the company. She says this decision came after facing months of structural retaliation against her activism, including being demoted, isolated and gaslit. Since leaving, Stapleton has spoken out publicly about Google’s systematic discrimination of women and minorities, as well as the culture of retaliation she claims is being used to quash employee action. 

 

Despite reports of punitive backlash, collective worker action continued to grow throughout 2019. A network of employee activists has tackled a vast range of issues, from promoting the rights of part-time workers to petitioning Google to rule out working with agencies such as the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In November, amidst a climate of growing labour unrest, it was revealed that the company had hired an anti-union consulting firm. Shortly after, four employee activists announced they were filing federal charges against the company, claiming they had been fired due to their role in labour organizing. The four activists believe that their termination was intended to act as a warning to other employees. Cases like these are especially threatening to Google’s contract and temporary workers, who make up 54% of its workforce and are uniquely vulnerable to this kind of retaliation. Nonetheless, it is clear that labour unrest at Google has continued to escalate in light of the firings.

 

Google’s repeated controversies in the areas of inclusion, human rights compliance, minority rights and labour relations pose serious questions about the power of Big Tech in our society. Evident in the records of companies such as Amazon and Facebook, these issues are not unique to Google and are perhaps symptomatic of a more fundamental problem. Can the profit-driven business model which dominates our economy be compatible with human rights? Or, as suggested by Lajeunesse, are these issues “the inevitable outcome of a corporate culture that rewards growth and profits over social impact and responsibility”?

 

 

Photo by Google Inc. [Public domain]

 

 

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Heartbeat Bill: how women in the USA are losing their reproductive rights

Heartbeat Bill: how women in the USA are losing their reproductive rights

As Ireland is celebrating the first anniversary of the legalisation of abortion by referendum, women in the United States are seeing their reproductive rights threatened, after several States passed the Heartbeat Bill.

Nearly ten states across the US, including Georgia, Ohio and Kentucky, signed in the law which has been dubbed the Heartbeat Bill or the fetal heartbeat bill. Under this law, abortions will be illegal once a heartbeat can be detected, which usually occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy.

Alabama, which on May 15th became the latest State to sign the bill, has the strictest abortion laws in the country, only allowing abortions “to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” for ectopic pregnancy and if the “unborn child has a lethal anomaly.”

The Heartbeat Bill has been described by many as a “war on women”. It doesn’t consider pregnancies that are unwanted, are dangerous to the mother and those that have come from rape or incest. A doctor in Alabama can face up to 99 years in prison if they perform abortions – a much longer sentence than a rapist who may have caused an unwanted pregnancy.

The Heartbeat Bill was brought into law in Georgia when it was signed by Governor Brian Kemp on May 7th of this year. This sparked outrage throughout the country and globally, though not the first state to do so it was the first to cause so much debate.

Georgia is used by many Hollywood film studios – such as Disney, Netflix and Viacom – as shooting locations. The industry brings in approximately $9.5 billion into the Georgia economy every year. Many of these studios are now threatening to boycott the State – which could lose significant income as a result.

More states, including Missouri and South Carolina, are due to sign in similar abortion bans soon. Louisiana passed a heartbeat bill which will go into effect if the law in Mississippi is upheld.

 

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of Planned Parenthood Action via Twitter

Political crisis and conflict in Burundi

Political crisis and conflict in Burundi

 

 

What countries do we think of when we hear the word “war” in a modern context? Most of us could probably list Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and for good reason. These three countries have experienced devastation and destruction as a result of wars that have ravaged their landscapes and terrorised their populations. The international media have widely covered these conflicts, and in so doing their names have become synonymous with our notion of modern warfare. But, these nations are not the only countries that face war and devastation. This article examines the current situation in Burundi, a country whose war has been overshadowed by those in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, amongst others.

 

History

Burundi has a long history of ethnic conflict between Tutsi and Hutu populations, a conflict which brew to a boil in 1993 when the Hutu president was assassinated during a failed coup led by Tutsi soldiers. This attack led to a bitter civil war between the ethnicities which saw over 300,000 people killed in less than 10 years. In an attempt to avoid such events recurring in the future, a new constitution was created which included a provision that limited the run of a president to two terms and mandated an ethnic rotation of power every 18 months.

 

Current Situation

In April 2015, the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he was running for a third term as president, in direct violation of the country’s constitution. The day after his announcement, thousands of protestors took to the streets. The police responded to these protests by shooting live ammunition into the crowds, killing six, injuring several and charging over 60 with participation in an insurrection movement. Nkurunziza subsequently made a public announcment threatening anyone who dared question the validity of his presidential candidacy.

In May 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled that Nkurunzia could run for a third term without violating the Constitution. The Vice-President of the Court fled the country the day after, having been the only member of the court to vote against the candidacy. He stated that he had received several threats and feared for his life should he remain in Burundi. Nkurunzia was re-elected in July 2015, warning that if the opposition did not put down their arms he would instruct law enforcement services to use “all possible means” to quash the opposition.

The events that followed in Burundi resulted in over 130 murders and 90 cases of torture over the course of six months, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. On December 11 of that year, following attacks from an armed opposition militia, around 300 young men were taken from their homes and arrested by Government forces. The following day over 150 of the detainees were found dead, their bodies scattered around their villages. The government has also shut down all of the country’s independent media and has subsequently shut down all independent media.

 

International Involvement

In 2017, Burundi became the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. The Court, however, has ruled that the withdrawal of the country does not affect the jurisdiction of the court to investigate crimes that occurred while the country was still a member. Similarly, in 2017, a UN Commission of Inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council. The Commission found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed in Burundi since April 2015, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence. The majority of the violence has been attributed to government intelligence, police and youth forces although a small amount of the violence has been connected to opposition forces. Amnesty International have backed these assertions and warn that the current situation is the beginning of a countrywide genocide.

 

Burundi Today

As it stands, the events in Burundi deserve our full attention. We must not allow the coverage of one war to detract from another. Violence of inhuman proportions is ravaging a nation that is still recovering from a devastating civil war. Men, women and children are facing the unthinkable: forced to choose between risking their lives or fleeing their homes. It is a situation that we must never become immune to and a news story we must never become comfortable with.

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Christine Vaufrey at Flickr

Call it by its name: Genocide in Myanmar

Call it by its name: Genocide in Myanmar

 

 

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are one of many ethnic minorities in Myanmar. Rohingya Muslims represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar, with the majority living in Rakhine state. They have their own language, culture, and history. Rohingya are believed to be descendants of labourers from Bangladesh and India, who migrated to the area when Myanmar was administered as a province of India- internal movement at the time. However, following independence from the British Crown, the Myanmar government viewed this migration as illegal. This was the beginning of the wedge that would come to divide the Rohingya Muslims from the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar state.

 

What is the Crisis?

In 2016, the persecution of Rohingya escalated. Myanmar Armed Forces, as well as the state police, started a major crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, in the northwestern region of Myanmar. The United Nations, The International Criminal Court, and Human Rights groups have accused the Myanmar armed forces of ethnic cleansing and genocide in the region. Myanmar’s military and government have vehemently denied genocide. They claim that the Rohingya, whom they regularly refer to as “illegal Bengali immigrants,” instigated the violence by attacking security forces and then burning their villages to the ground. The government, as led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has stated that the actions of the armed forces were an appropriate response to “terrorists.”

Following the release of a report into the atrocities in Rakhine state- including forced displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya; mass rape; infanticides; arbitrary detention; murder- the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the case a:

“ textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

 

Further, the Independent Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar called for senior army officials to be investigated and prosecuted on charges of genocide. The investigation named six suspects, including Commander in Chief, Min Aung Hlaing. They concluded:

 

“The gross human rights violations committed . . . are shocking for their horrifying nature and ubiquity” and “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law.”

 

UN investigators were denied access to Myanmar by the government but managed to interview about 875 witnesses who had fled to nearby Bangladesh.

 

What is being done ?

The UN mission called for Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, to be investigated by the international criminal court (ICC). However, the country is not a signatory of the Rome Statute and therefore does not come under the jurisdiction of the court. ICC prosecutors are, therefore, deliberating whether they can investigate the violence in Rakhine. The UN report has also criticised Suu Kyi’s passive role since the crisis began and also calls for the imposition of an arms embargo.

 

What has the international community done ?

The UN Security Council has appealed to Myanmar to stop the violence but no sanctions have been imposed. The US has urged Myanmar’s troops to respect the rule of law and stop the violence. China has asked the international community to support the efforts of the government of Myanmar in handling the crisis. The UK has pledged £59m in aid to support the refugees and has also suspended training courses for the Myanmar army.

 

 

Image courtesy of Roger Arnold at UNHCR