ECOWAS Heads endorse eradication of statelessness.
The Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS on Tuesday adopted the “Abidjan Ministerial Declaration”, on the eradication of statelessness at the 47th Ordinary Summit of Heads of State held in Accra.
“It is a very important step in the fight against this plight which affects hundreds of thousands of people in West Africa”, said Liz Ahua, Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in West Africa, who attended the summit.
“The endorsement of the Abidjan Ministerial Declaration by the Heads of States clearly indicates their will to eradicate this phenomenon and places the region at the forefront of this fight,” Liz Ahua said.
A statement issued by the UNHCR recounted that from February 23 to 25 February, a regional Ministerial Conference, jointly organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and ECOWAS, was held to discuss the fight against statelessness in West Africa.
It said a stateless person is an individual that no State recognises as a citizen according to its legislation.
It noted that given that nationality is often a prerequisite to the enjoyment of all human rights, including access to education, health services and legal services, the lack of nationality could have a very serious impact on the lives of those affected.
It said statelessness undermines human security and causes great suffering.
The statement said the conference, the first of its kind in Africa, highlighted the scale of the problem in the region and the urgent need to combat it.
It said it resulted in the adoption of 62 recommendations designed to end statelessness and the adoption of a 26 point Ministerial Declaration.
“By renewing the commitments made in Abidjan, the highest authorities of ECOWAS Member States signal the importance of implementing them to their respective governments,” according to Emmanuelle Mitte, Head of the Statelessness Unit within UNHCR’s Regional Office for West Africa, based in Dakar.
“This will also make it much easier to monitor the Abidjan Declaration, in which Member States requested UNHCR and ECOWAS to collaborate.”
It said acknowledging that Africa did not have the necessary legal instruments to protect the right to nationality and end statelessness, the Abidjan Declaration urged the African Union to finalise and adopt a protocol on the Right to Nationality and the fight against statelessness in Africa.
The statement said the endorsement of the Declaration by the Heads of State had a continent-wide impact as it stressed the urgency and importance of the completion and adoption of the protocol by African institutions.
It said West African States had formally joined UNHCR’s global campaign to eradicate statelessness by 2024.
It noted that amongst other commitments, member states had committed to develop national action plans to end statelessness, ratifying and implementing international conventions on statelessness, and to reviewing their laws on nationality.
It pointed out that at least 750,000 people are stateless or at risk of statelessness in West Africa, while more than 10 million worldwide were stateless.