Week 5: citizenship

Date: 08/13/2018     By: Justice For All


This post is part of 10 Weeks of Action: Demanding funding and protection for grassroots justice defenders by calling on our community to sign the #JusticeForAll petition. Each week, we will spotlight how access to justice is critical to the advancement of different thematic issues.

Around the world, 1.1 billion people lack legal identity documentation, such as birth certificates, ID cards, and passports that can help prove their nationality or entitlement to citizenship. Without proof of citizenship, these individuals cannot vote, access health care, or go to school. Some are even left stateless or at risk of becoming so.

Citizenship is a foundational human right but in many countries gaining access to identity documents that prove citizenship can be difficult or even impossible. The process is complicated by lack of information, confusing bureaucratic processes, poor implementation of the law, or sometimes even outright discrimination.

Discrimination and exclusion based on ethnicity, religion, language, and gender often lies at the heart of people’s statelessness.

In 25 countries around the world today, women are not allowed to pass their nationality to their children on an equal basis as men. In more than 50 countries, women are denied equal rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality. These discriminatory laws result in wide-ranging human rights violations.

Grassroots justice defenders are helping people to understand their rights, navigate tangled bureaucracies, and challenge discriminatory policies. All around the world they are helping citizens, refugees and stateless people secure identity documents and access essential services. Join our call to fund and protect grassroots justice defenders by signing the petition.


Sign the Petition

Tell world leaders to fund and protect justice defenders.

We, the world’s justice defenders and citizens, call on world leaders to keep their promise, made at the United Nations, to ensure all people have equal access to justice. Only by funding and protecting grassroots justice defenders can we make justice, not injustice, the norm. The moment is now. It is time to tip the scales towards #JusticeForAll.

The number of signatures will be shared with governments during the UN General Assembly in September 2018.



The facts

  • An estimated 1.1 billion people lack legal identity documentation. Of these, 81% live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. 40% of the population in low-income economies is estimated to lack an officially recognized ID. (Source: World Bank)
  • 40% of the population in low-income economies is estimated to lack an officially recognized ID compared to 20% in lower-middle-income economies and just 5% in upper-middle-income economies. (Source: World Bank)
  • There are millions of stateless people globally. Of the known stateless population (approx 3.9 million), 75% belong to minority groups. Discrimination, exclusion, and persecution most commonly describe the existence of stateless minorities. (Source: UNHCR)
  • More than 27,000 stateless people have acquired Thai nationality since the end of 2011, including three of the schoolboys and the coach of the football team trapped in a deep cave on June 23, who were granted citizenship last week (Source: UNHCR)


How justice defenders are tackling the issue

  • Despite having citizenship under the law, Kenyans of Nubian heritage face discrimination when applying for identity documents. After a pickpocket stole his wallet, Mahmoud lost his job, and without proof of his citizenship, he was unable to find work. “I really struggled. I couldn’t even get manual jobs because of the lack of ID.” Mahmoud spent almost his entire adult life, close to 30 years, trying to navigate the complex administrative and legal systems. In 2014, Mahmoud was finally issued a new identity card with the help of Hassan, a community paralegal from the Nubian Rights Forum (NRF). Mahmoud is now back to work driving a lorry, earning a salary and supporting his family. Read more about Mahmoud and Hassan here
  • In Nepal, birth registration is a fundamental rights under the Constitution. While both parents are legally allowed to register the birth, in practice, only fathers are allowed to, and obstacles arise where they are absent or unsupportive.Thousands of children are denied their right to identity. The Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD) has set up a program where grassroots justice defenders support mothers to overcome this discriminatory process. But carrying out this kind of empowerment work challenges traditional values and can put paralegals’ safety at risk. Read more about FWLD here
  • Lirije is from a Roma community in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. She was born at her family home rather than in the hospital and her parents were not able to register her birth. Even though she was entitled to Macedonian nationality by law, she did not have a birth certificate and her parents struggled to save the DNA test required for late birth registration. Without a birth certificate, she was unable to enrol in school. It made her feel ashamed to not have documents and be able to go to school like other children her age.With the support of a justice defender, Lirije was finally able to obtain a birth certificate and should now be able to confirm her right to Macedonian nationality. Read more about her story here.


Additional resources