Millions around the world, including Rohingyas, are deprived of citizenship because they belong to specific minorities, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues Fernand de Varennes has said.
“Statelessness is first and foremost a minority issue because more than three quarters of the world’s official 10 million stateless people are from minorities,” he told the Human Rights Council in Geneva recently.
“The consequences and prospects for them, their children and generations of their descendants could be dismal and tragic,” he said.
“The horrific human tragedies and the humanitarian crisis involving the one million or so members of the Rohingya minority, who are stateless, highlight the extent of the issue,” Varennes said.
He urged states, regional and international organisations and civil society to urgently work to address the issue.
More than 700,000 Rohingyas, mostly women and children, have fled violence in Myanmar since August 2017 after a brutal military offensive targeting the ethnic minority was launched. The campaign has been dubbed a “ethnic cleansing”.
Bangladesh is currently hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas.
Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingyas as citizens and dubs them ‘Bangalis’ to imply that they are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. State-sponsored discrimination against the minority stretches back decades and many Rohingyas are forced to live in apartheid-like condition in squalid camps.
The UN expert said there are also potentially some four million Bengali and other minorities who could end up being deemed non-citizens in India’s Assam State.
Varennes expressed concerns about the removal of citizenship from individuals, who are usually members of certain minorities and considered politically unacceptable or undeserving, according to a message received here from Geneva.
Without citizenship, people who are stateless become humans without rights, he said, adding that the reality for millions of displaced people, refugees, minorities and those who are stateless is exclusion and discrimination, as they are not able to claim rights as citizens of a state.
“The result for them and possibly future generations is poverty, despair and resentment, which undermines for all of us the very universality of the human rights we proclaim.”
He also informed the Council of new initiatives including the drafting of much-needed practical guidelines that recognise and address the root causes of statelessness, and ways to tackle the human rights issues that are at its core, pointing to the UNHCR’s “ibelong” campaign aimed at eradicating statelessness by 2024.