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France and the debate over statelessness

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France and the debate over statelessness


In a speech on November 16 French President Francois Hollande said: “The removal of a person’s nationality does not have to result in them being made stateless, but we must have the power to strip French nationality from an individual convicted for a violation against the fundamental interests, against the interests of the nation or for an act of terrorism, even if that person was born, I say ‘even if born in France’ as soon as he has another nationality.”

But those words were before the controversy over the distinction of being French and before the government withdrew the reference to bi-national in the text before law makers.

The result is that in theory a person’s nationality may be withdrawn and so France could make a person stateless. That is underlined by the fact the country did not sign up to the 1961 United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

The convention has been ratified by 40 countries worldwide and says that contracting states shall not deprive someone of their nationality if it would render that person stateless.

But it also says a contracting state may strip a private individual of his nationality under certain conditions like showing a lack of loyalty to that state or displaying the kind of behaviour to be seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the state.

In other words even if France did sign up to the convention it could still make a person stateless. Legally yes, but would it dare to act at a time when the UN has heightened its campaign against statelessness. Such a move would create the wrong sort of headlines for the French government.

It’s reckoned there are 12 million worldwide who have no nationality. The reasons vary from the turn of history as in the collapse of the Soviet Union to conflict like the war in Bosnia. A country explodes and a whole section of the population is left homeless.

Sometimes it is the breakdown of the civil registration service in the country of their birth which can lead to statelessness.

Ethnic minorities can find themselves suddenly themselves in in that situation due to a political decision based on that minorities right to their nationality. That’s the case of the Rohingya people who have been persecuted in Myanmar.

Dramatic individual incidents can deprive people of
their nationality as was the case when jihadists were seen burning their passports. But to deliberately strip a person of his nationality for acts of unprecedented terrorism is another step.

Only the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights could prevent France from taking that action. But to fight the action through these courts could take years.

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