National Assembly speaker Professor Peter Katjavivi urged SADC states to work in unison if it is to eliminate statelessness in the region.
He made the remarks recently when he led a Namibian delegation to Zimbabwe to attend the 40th Plenary Assembly of the Southern Africa Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF).
Katjavivi encouraged the meeting that there are many ways Parliamentarians could undertake to protect and advance the rights of stateless persons, one being, making use of Parliament’s oversight role in carrying out fact-finding missions to determine the level of stateless persons.
“Parliaments in the region could eliminate statelessness in the region and possibly on the continent, by working together,” said.
The Speaker also highlighted the fact that the challenge of statelessness does not only apply to persons visiting from outside countries but also people legitimately born within the country but who do not possess national identification documents.
The Assembly was attended by most of the Speakers of SADC PF Member parliaments of all the parliaments in the SADC Region, with the exception of Tanzania were represented.
The guest at the Assembly was Zimbabwean Vice-President and Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangangwa who officially opened the Assembly.
The theme of the Assembly was: “Statelessness in the SADC Region” and its objective was to share opinions, experiences and lessons on how the region could formulate concrete strategies to reduce and prevent stateless in the region, given the fact that stateless persons are generally not recognized as persons before the law and face difficulties in travelling, marrying as well as accessing education and healthcare.
“This was exacerbating the challenges of human trafficking and child marriages,” he said. All countries in Africa, with the exception of Somalia had ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides in Article 7, for every child to have “the right to acquire a nationality, and for states to ensure the implementation of these rights, in particular, where the child would otherwise be stateless”.
It was also noted that these challenges had a particular bearing on efforts to settle refugees in the region, in line with the 1969 OAU Convention governing specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa requiring that countries of asylum should use their best endeavours, to “secure the settlement of refugees”.
The meeting was also cognizant of the need to enforce legislative measures to prevent and punish all forms of gender based violence and the persecution, harassment and violence against women in politics, in order to inform SADC PF’s strategies for combating political violence.
The Assembly was also addressed on the important issue relating to nationality and statelessness, by officials from UNHCR including UNHCR Zimbabwe Country Representative, Robert Tibagwa. The UNHCR official cautioned the meeting that whereas issues of statelessness have proved to be politically contentious in many countries, in some ending that stigma can be as simple as changing a few words in a country’s citizenship law.
Tibagwa further informed the meeting that UNCHR has pledged to take bold action in line with its mandate, to work with governments to end statelessness.
To this end, he indicated that the UNHCR plan for this purpose includes measures to resolve existing situations of statelessness, ensuring no child is born stateless, removing gender discrimination from national laws, granting protection status to stateless migrants and facilitating their neutralization, ensuring birth registration for the prevention of statelessness and acceding to the statelessness conventions, among other actions.
The discussion on this topic concluded with the marking of the second anniversary of the “I Belong Campaign”, aiming at ending the devastating effect of statelessness, which affects millions of people all over the world, and the question of subjecting them to intolerable conditions.
At the Assembly, Mnangangwa launched the Report on the study which was conducted on Child Marriages and also launched, the “SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriages and Protecting those Already in Marriage”.
National Parliaments within the SADC Region are now expected to make the necessary follow-up, including ratification and domestication of this important law.
The meeting further reiterated that the discussion on promoting citizenship and a sense of belonging to respective countries within the SADC Region should not be done at the expense of the region’s aspirations for regional and continental unity.