Securing Citizenship Rights in Kenya

There are as many as 12 million people around the globe who do not have any nationality – they are stateless.*

Stateless people are not recognized as citizens by any country, including the country they may have called home for generations. They often fall outside the formal legal system, perhaps because of discrimination in national legislation or because their community was excluded from citizenship when a country first became independent. Yet the right to a nationality is a basic human right, firmly established within international law.

Millions more have citizenship rights by law, but lack proof due to difficulties in acquiring legal identity documents like national identity cards or passports. Without a legal identity, it is impossible for them to secure rights, challenge discrimination or access services like education that can help in escaping poverty.

Although an enormous number of people worldwide lack effective citizenship rights, the phenomenon is hard to measure and is not well understood.

A joint Namati and Open Society Justice Initiative program in three pilot countries – Kenya, Bangladesh, and Jordan – trains community paralegals from historically stateless communities who continue to struggle with ineffective citizenship. Paralegals help people acquire and use identity documents and also track each case to monitor the implementation of laws in this field.

Paralegals can help people understand citizenship and documentation requirements and navigate bureaucracy, especially among those who cannot afford a lawyer.

Through the paralegal model we can test whether the denial of citizenship rights is due to state actors and/or state policy, rather than the failure of individuals to negotiate complex administrative rules.

Governments may argue with some justification that they cannot issue identity papers or provide public services because individuals do not ask for them, do not fill out the right forms, do not pay the required fees, or do not provide the correct documents. Now we can test a government’s argument. With the legal assistance provided by Namati, individuals will either receive the documents and results they need, or the responsibility can be clearly assigned to the state.

Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)