The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity

Civil Registration Centre for Development, The Hague and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg

Is the concept of legal identity relevant to UNHCR's statelessness mandate?

This paper examines the relevance of the concept of legal identity to UNHCR's statelessness mandate. Using the proposed definition of legal identity as "the recognition of a person's existence before the law, facilitating the realization of specific rights and corresponding duties", the paper first argues that the concept is pertinent to those aspects of UNHCR's statelessness mandate which relate to the prevention and reduction of statelessness. This is because nationality, and documentary proof of nationality, are key components of legal identity. As such, effective implementation of Actions 7 and 8 of UNHCR's recently launched Global Action Plan, which require birth registration and provision of national identity documentation to those who have an entitlement to nationality, will be necessary for legal identity to be realised . In addition, and taking a broader view of the concept of legal identity, the paper will also argue that the concept is also of relevance to the aspects of UNHCR's statelessness mandate which relate to the identification and protection of stateless persons. This is because it is not only the status of national that "facilitates the realization of specific rights and corresponding duties." Identifying and formally recognising individuals as stateless can also facilitate the enjoyment of basic rights by such individuals until they acquire a nationality, particularly in States which are party to the 1954 Convention. As such, the effective implementation of Action 6 of the Global Action Plan, with respect to stateless migrants, will be important for legal identity to be given meaning for these individuals, and should be pursued in tandem with achieving a greater number of accessions to the statelessness conventions pursuant to Action 9, so that basic rights can be afforded following statelessness determination.

Event reference: 
The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity