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The Right to a Nationality: Women and Children Human Rights Council: 20th Session
July 5, 2012

Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
July 5, 2012


Today at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, its members adopted by consensus a resolution on “The Right to a Nationality: Women and Children.” This resolution, which the United States led with Botswana, Colombia, Mexico, Iraq, Turkey, and Slovakia, aimed to address an important but under-recognized human right, the right to a nationality, with a specific focus on women and children. This is the first time that the Human Rights Council has addressed the issue of discriminatory nationality laws targeting women, which can lead to statelessness. In total, there were 49 co-sponsors supporting the resolution, with representation from every geographical region.

The resolution focused on the issues of protecting both a woman’s and a child’s right to a nationality, with the goal of reducing statelessness. The equal right to a nationality for women, including the ability to acquire and retain nationality and confer it on their children, reduces the likelihood that they will become stateless and vulnerable to serious harm. As many as 12 million people around the world are stateless. Without recognition as citizens by any government, stateless persons often lack access to legal employment, birth registration, marriage and property ownership, and face travel restrictions, all of which can increase the risk of exploitation and abuse, including forced migration and trafficking in persons.

While recognizing the right of each State to determine by law who its nationals are, the resolution urged States to refrain from enacting or maintaining discriminatory nationality legislation and to reform nationality laws that discriminate against women. Such actions would be consistent with States’ obligations under international law, including Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provide that everyone is entitled to the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration without distinction on the basis of sex. In this regard, the United States recalls our own history of seeking to achieve equal nationality rights for women.

The resolution also welcomed the increased efforts of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to prevent and reduce statelessness among women and children, particularly in light of last year’s 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. The resolution also called for free birth registration for every child.

This resolution supports the Secretary’s initiative to promote women’s equal right to nationality, which emphasizes that women’s rights are human rights.