In international law, a stateless person is someone who is “not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law”. Within this context, some stateless people are also refugees. However, not all refugees are stateless, and many people who are stateless have never crossed an international border. On November 12, 2018, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned there are about 12 million stateless people in the world, including Liberia where discriminatory constitutional provisions grant citizenship only to children to born to male citizens of Liberia, and not children born to females (mothers) with alien husbands, legally rendering a huge number of such children non-Liberians; and as such, officially, “stateless”.
In a bid to end statelessness specifically in Liberia, the churches of Liberia on October 28, 2020 launched “The Campaign to End Statelessness” which dovetailed into recommending the expunging of such gender-discriminatory law from the Constitution.
Under the canopy of the #IBELONG Campaign in Liberia, the Churches are making frantic efforts, amidst the outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 global pandemic, to register and certificate at-least 2,100 children under the age of 12 in observance of this year’s anniversary celebration.
According to a press release from the Ecumenical Campaign to End Statelessness in Africa, the overall goal of the intervention is to encourage the registration and certification of about 5,000 children through the Ministry of Health as a part of the 6th anniversary observance.
“The global campaign was launched about six years ago in Geneva, Switzerland, by the International community to help address the plight of approximately 10 million people in the world who are without citizenship in any country. The World Council of Churches (WCC) opted to mobilize the ecumenical family worldwide to accompany the lead UN agency, UNHCR on this campaign,” the religious group stated.
The Ecumenical group further averred that about 23 Volunteer Field Registrars (VFRs) from more than 20 schools have been trained by the Ministry of Health and Church Aid Inc. (CAI) in Gbarma District, Gbarpolu County to screen and register the births of the targeted children.
“The training of the Volunteer Field Registrars is being held in conjunction with the LRRRC, UNHCR, World Council of Churches, Liberia Council of Churches and other national actors. Certification of registered children will be done on November 4th, 2020 in Gbarma Town, Gbarpolu County following the printing of the certificates by the Ministry of Health service center in Tubmanburg, Bomi County. The town is more than 60 miles away from Monrovia, the Capital of Liberia. Planning in the field is facilitated by Church Aid Inc. (CAI), a member of the Emergency, Relief and Migration Committee of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC),” the group said.
This year’s theme: “COVID-19, SGBV and Statelessness: Impact, Challenges and Prospects” will be addressed through sub-topics to be facilitated by the Ministry of Health, LRRRC, UNHCR, CHAL, UNICEF, Church Aid, amongst others. These sub-topics include: Importance of Birth Registration in the Fight against Statelessness; Impact of COVID-19 on Stateless Persons and Statelessness Campaign; SGBV and COVID-19: Impact, Challenges and Remedies, among others.
The problem of “Statelessness” cuts across several nations of the world – with countries like Myanmar (Burma) and Australia being in the limelight; due to their extreme state orchestrated discrimination of the Rihangas and Aboriginals respectively. But also, across the globe, many war-torn nations like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, DRC, Afghanistan, Libya, Irag, Syria, etc. have had many of their refugee citizens being considered “stateless”, as their countries went through very gruesome civil wars and displacements. This also creates a whole lot of identity crisis and psychological displacement and trauma, in addition to the pangs of war. It further undermines the UN and other conventions on the rights of the child and citizenship.
“In Liberia, whereas only one Sudanese is being officially documented as stateless, our gender biased Constitution that grants citizenship only to children to born to male citizens of Liberia, and not children born to females (mothers) with alien husbands, legally renders a huge number of such children non-Liberians; and as such, officially, “stateless”. Thus, this gender-discriminatory law needs to be expunged from our nation’s Constitution to even the citizenship law,” the release signed by Lead Campaigner/Coordinator of the Campaign to End Statelessness, and President of the Liberia Council of Churches, Bishop Kortu K. Brown, said.