The following are the outputs of the captioning taken during an IGF intervention. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.
>> MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. I know that we have to start now, but can I ask that we wait a few minutes, just three or four minutes until we start. Thank you.
>> MODERATOR: We can start now. Good morning, everyone. First of all, thank you for attending our session. You are welcome. You know our session, it will be about the ‑‑ it will cover two most important points, the statelessness issue and citizenship. Actually, the main point of this session of the impact of digital citizenship in statelessness in Northern Africa but around the world.
Today we have four speakers. We have Dr. Thomas, Mr. Thomas will give us, join us remotely and give us an overview about the situation of statelessness in Middle East in general with focus on Middle East. Also, we have Ms. Zahra Albarazi will give us a preview of the legal framework on statelessness. And also, my colleague did a great job on the same topic, and will give us the experience and study from Kenya, Meri and also Mohamed, I will be moderating and speaker and covering the situation focus mainly on the impact of digital citizenship on statelessness.
I know that not all the IGF community are aware about the statelessness. Maybe this is new. We need to start an introduction to give just some few words about the definition of each word or term that we will use during this session. Let me start to say the emergence of Internet straight away in traditional life and practice as part of information and communication technology revolution. All aspects of life have become digitalized, and our world now has two faces, online and offline. We have commerce and e‑commerce, we have government and we have e‑government. Also, the citizenship, we have a citizenship and now we speak about digital citizenship.
Digital citizenship is typically defined through the people actions rather than their formal status of belonging to a Nation State and rights and responsibilities. Digital citizenship is defined as the ability of the person to participate in the social ‑‑ in the society online.
When you come to stateless, who is a stateless person, and this is one of the most important terms that we have to be aware of before we go forward in our session. A stateless person means this person who is not considered to be national by any state under the operation of its laws.
Also, one of the important things when we speak about digital citizenship, this means we have a digital citizen. Who is a digital citizen? A digital citizen is a citizen who uses Internet regularly and effectively. To be a digital citizen, it's not enough to just use the Internet on regular basis, but you should use the Internet in an effective way. This is the most important component in our discussion of how to use. A digital citizen should be used the Internet in effective way and we will say what this means exactly.
Also, as I mentioned it doesn't mean a person becomes digital citizen by default because someone should use the Internet on regular basis and has flexible access to the Internet, and also has skills and ability to apply the technology and use the Internet for participation in different activities in the life, if we speak about political participation, economic issues, and everything.
So, this session as I started, the main goal is the intersection between digital rights and digital citizenship on the one hand, and also to explore the intersection with statelessness status on the other hand.
So, we assume that empowering a stateless person digitally could mitigate the adverse impact of the stateless issue, also increasing opportunity for participation online especially when you come to speak about the learning issue, especially with we face the COVID ‑‑ during the COVID, speaking about the learning and e‑commerce become an important point. Also, we assume that empowering a stateless person would have impact on digital rights in terms of digital inclusion and reduce the rate of digital divide.
Also, one of the most important things is the digital ID and my colleague will give us information about this issue, especially in Kenya. So, now let us start with Dr. Thomas, as I mentioned will give us situation of overview in statelessness in general and focus in Middle East. Thomas?
>> THOMAS McGEE: Thank you, Mohamed. I hope you can hear me.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Yes, we can hear you.
>> THOMAS McGEE: Perfect. Thank you. Let me begin by saying it's a pleasure to be with you all, albeit remotely. As Mohamed mentioned, the way we divided up is that I will give an overview of statelessness in the Middle East and North Africa, the MENA region, and I will just touch a little bit on possible implications for the digital identity and digital citizenship, which Mohamed and other speakers will develop more in their presentations after.
So, by way of very quick introduction, I'm a PhD student at the University of Melbourne, and at the same time I'm a Member of the MENA Statelessness Network, which is a group that's focused on advocating for the rights of stateless people in the region.
Very quickly, here is a map just to make clear what we're talking about when we refer to the Middle East and North Africa. So, we've subdivided it into North Africa in green, the Gulf in purple and other area in pink. Across the entire region, statelessness is quite a significant problem, and many of the issues go back to the origin of the Nation State system after the First World War when states were incorporated out of the Ottoman empire.
Briefly Mohamed has given us a definition of what statelessness is according to international law, and that is somebody who is not a citizen of any country under the operation of its law. In Arabic, the term that's used officially for that is adimi al‑jansiya, which literally means just lacking nationality. This is the term that's used within the international conventions, but what I would like to go on to discuss is the fact that in reality, in everyday situations, a whole host of other terms are actually used across the region more to refer to those who don't have nationality, who don't have citizenship.
So, in different contexts, synonyms are used. Bidoon means without, without nationality and that's a term used for stateless people across the Gulf region.
Other terms, for example, in Lebanon, Maktum literally means unregistered people. And then various different terms are used according to how people have ended up stateless. So, what I want to say here is that across the MENA, there is no MENA statelessness laws, MENA nationality laws or other laws or legal regime across the region doesn't have a definition of ‑‑ unlike some other countries in the world or regions in the world. For example, in Europe, there are many national laws that have ‑‑ that include the term stateless person and define it and those are associated in protection status. In MENA, this is not the case. It's not mentioned explicitly in any law, and all of these other terms are used. It's quite a confusing patchwork if we're thinking about this issue legally. That immediately has some implications for digital identity and how if there are, for example, exercises to digitally map citizenship status or who is included and excluded and potentially to try to include stateless persons with a digital identity, just from the very beginning this question of how do we understand different statuses because it's a patchwork and it's quite unclear.
Just very quickly in terms of international law, there are two main conventions relating to statelessness. This is 1954 Convention on the status of stateless persons which is a protection convention that's all about the rights of those who are stateless. And then there is a 1961 convention which is about reduction of statelessness, trying to end the problem. These two instruments have very little ‑‑ have very limited traction in the region. Only a very small number of states have signed up to these conventions, as you can see on the slide. So, this again, limits ‑‑ generally limits the awareness of statelessness as an issue, and I can say even the states that signed up have not incorporated the majority of the provisions within their own national laws, so that's another big challenge.
Here, so unlike some areas in Europe some states have a statelessness determination procedure, which is an official process by which they can recognize somebody as stateless. In the MENA region, that's not the case anywhere. To my knowledge, no such procedure even exists or has been translated into Arabic as of yet.
Here again the fact that UN embarked in 2014, embarked on a 10‑year campaign to try to end statelessness globally, we can see that there quite limited engagement in the MENA region specifically, and at the halfway stage of the 10‑year campaign, 360 pledges were made but only 4 of those from the MENA region, and those 4 were all from one single state which is Mauritania.
So, a major other factor in the region is gender discrimination which is embedded within 24 ‑‑ within the nationality laws of 24 countries around the world, but approximately half of those are found within this region of the world, within the Middle East and North Africa, so it's a major cause of statelessness, whereby mothers cannot pass citizenship on to their children on the same basis as fathers. And it's therefore really important at that any initiative to seek to provide digital identity or digital citizenship take this into consideration and look into how it's possible to support the reform process that Civil Society are engaging with on reforming these laws.
So, there is a risk that sometimes when digital identity initiatives are introduced, it can actually entrench the problematic elements that are already within a nationality law, such as the reliance and focus on paternal lineage as a means of passing on citizenship.
So, some characteristics of the region by way of nationality and statelessness are that the courts, unlike some areas of the world, courts in MENA have no jurisdiction over nationality issues. In general, nationality issues are under the ministry of interior, so therefore it's not possible to challenge the lack of citizenship through most of the legal infrastructure directly. It's possible to maybe more creatively take an issue that is a result of statelessness, so like the deprivation of a certain right to education, to health care, to the court, but not to go to the court because directly somebody doesn't have citizenship. So, that's a big issue and a big challenge.
Again, as already mentioned, there is no legal status of statelessness and no associated protections under any of the national laws of the state in the region.
Finally, all causes of statelessness are evident in the region which go more into on this slide. Some people in the region are stateless due to state succession, due to the legacy of colonization, the fact that initial censuses of population were done at the turn of the century when certain groups were left out of the processes. In many cases, this is still having impacts today. In addition to that, discrimination is a huge factor that causes statelessness across the region, and that can be on several bases. We've already mentioned gender discrimination, whereby women cannot pass citizenship on to children. There have also been numerous cases of ethnic or religious‑based discrimination, so we've seen the Kurds of Syria and Iraq both being partially excluded from citizenship in their respective countries through denationalization carried out ‑‑ carried out by the regimes in those two countries.
I don't think I have much time to go into the other factors, but there are many causes of statelessness, which include also displacement due to conflict, the fact that it's more difficult to register births in such situations. And then also there has been particularly in recent years some citizenship‑stripping practices, sometimes for political reasons in different countries.
So, I really don't have time to go into it but just want to stress the Palestinian issue in relation to statelessness, pretty much deserves its own lecture series, so that's not something that I'm unfortunately able to cover at any depth today.
Here, in terms of statistics, the main point, these are the statistics available, the latest statistics available from the UN, from UNHCR who keeps statistics on statelessness, and here it's really important to just stress how incomplete these statistics are. So, particularly for this region, there is a large number of you see the question marks by Lebanon, Libya, and UAE. These question marks signify a country where it's known there is a significant stateless population, but there’s no figure that is held. At the same time, many of the figures that are held, are understood by experts to be significant underrepresentations.
So here the question is when it comes to, for example, digital ID programming, it's very problematic, but just even the scope and scale of the problem is so unknown. Many of the countries in the region, it's known that there is a significant statelessness issue, but the figures that the UN holds are ‑‑ there are zero stateless persons, for example.
So, when the UNHCR has operationalized the Global Statelessness Mandate and it has a mandate for the identification and protection of stateless persons alongside, it's done very differently in different countries. So, in certain contexts, the UN, UNHCR issues stateless people with certificates, it registers them within its online database, a database referred to as Progress that the UN uses for registering asylum seekers and refugee, and also uses it for registering stateless persons in certain countries.
But in other countries, this practice is not implemented at all and that's largely sometimes due to the political situation depending on the policies of the state. So, given that discrimination by the state is a significant factor of statelessness in the MENA region, there are major concerns that rolling out digital ID programs can be a further means of a state to simply marginalize or disenfranchise certain communities.
So here this is the final slide, so just a few resources for further information on statelessness in the MENA region. Very briefly, if I still have time, I want to just reflect on the fact that digital identity has not been majorly implemented in the MENA region as of yet, unlike for example, other areas for example in Africa where it's been a bit more of a laboratory for digital citizenship, and I think that's something that my colleagues will speak about more.
However, there have been ‑‑ I would like to briefly reflect on some of the issues that I've seen while working in Iraq where there was a digital identity program being rolled out, not specifically for stateless people, but for internally displaced people. That presented a number of issues and concerns. While it's clear that digital ID has some major advantages, major benefits, it can break down some of the barriers to mobility, to participation in society, to access to services, for example if somebody has a digital identity, it's much easier to register a SIM card to access certain services. At the same time, having a digital backup of civil identity, of registration databases is certainly advantageous as we've seen the physical paper‑based system lost destroyed within conflicts in Syria and Libya, but there have as I saw in Iraq, there were some serious downsides to the way that digital identity was implemented there.
So, some of these included the fact that internally displaced people ‑‑ some of the issues were essentially political because it led to when the private sector entity was involved in establishing digital identity for internally displaced persons, it led to a lot of confusion and tensions between different levels of government. So, this is something that we really need to be aware of that there were disputes about who owned the data, ultimately. And in the case that I witnessed on the ground in the region of Iraq, it was the case that the entity commissioned to do a pilot project actually refused to hand over the data to the government entity that had commissioned it, and this was sort of a bargaining chip to push for them to be commissioned to do further work, to continue the establishment to the system, but this led to a lot of confusion whereby the local authorities couldn't actually access the system that they had set up.
The final two points besides some teething issues around incorrect data that often couldn't easily be corrected often level of the IDP camps because it needed to be corrected through the central database that the camp management staff didn't have access to and it would take a very long time to change it. There was also the issue of duplication, whereby Iraq already had a very complicated civil documentation system where there is four kinds of physical ID that people are expected to have if they're citizens, and introducing a digital ID specifically for IDPs added another layer to this confusion, so there was parallel structures, so I just wanted to highlight some of those concerns that I think are important when going forward in terms of thinking about how best and how possibly to take on the benefits of digital identity in the context of statelessness.
Thank you, I'll hand it back over to you, Mohamed.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Thank you, Thomas. You gave us an overview about the situation of statelessness, and I think everyone in the room now is aware about this issue and a stateless person. As we see lack of nationality and legal identity is a problem, and especially we'll speak about the countries in MENA region and Africa region because without legal identity we cannot have access to legal document, and this, as a result of that you cannot register or buy SIM cards registered with service providers to have Internet in your home. This is a problem.
So, the question is, if you have or within the situation of stateless persons, you don't have any legal documents, and you don't have specific nationality. That means you're secluded from interaction online and dealing with daily issues.
Now, as we started our session, everything now is linked with the Internet and every action now with learning and e‑commerce and banking and everything is now on the Internet. Visas, if we need to get a visa, also we do it on the Internet. So, as you are a stateless person, so this means you are excluded. I think this is also a question because also the stateless persons are not recognized as a citizen, they are not totally excluded from the digital ecosystem. I think they should be included, which means they are affected. Because they are affected by the digital transformation. All the countries now in our world try now to start to transfer to digital ecosystem so they are not excluded.
Also, regardless of the legal status, the legal identity of them, but in fact they are the part, they exist in Asia and Tunisia and Morocco and Kenya and Sudan and elsewhere, they all exist regardless of the legal identity. So, and also now as a result of the measure of Internet, we have the virtual society now, regardless of the physical society, we have a virtual society. They are part of the virtual society ‑‑ should be part of this virtual society or virtual community because the virtual community. The virtual or additional community first refers to the community combined with information and communication technology, and this means blended to a specific society nationality is not a precondition to be with additional society or community and to become digital citizen. So, although they don't have legal identity, as in additional way as we know, but they could be granted the additional citizenship. If they have digital citizenship, allow them to access different service and scale and other service provided in our digital ecosystem.
I don't want to like speak out about this issue, you know, but the only one point I need to like reflect on it. If we have like now citizenship and we have also terms called statelessness, so I think if you don't have access or forcibly you are secluded from the digital ecosystem, so I think this is new term we have to think about. This term is about digital statelessness, and I know that statelessness, this means you don't have a specific nationality. But if you are stateless person in our life, our traditional life, but as you're excluded from access to traditional ecosystem, so you become digital stateless person.
I know some don't accept this definition. This may be new. This maybe working in this session don't hear about this, but I think we need to think about this term. I think we need to adopt it to describe the situation of stateless persons who don't have legal identity and excluded or forced to be also organized to have additional identity to be digital statelessness.
To be digital citizen was for stateless person or other person who has nationality, I think there is some preconditions that should be to be digital citizen. As we mentioned to be digital citizen, that's not ‑‑ you have to regulate using the Internet in an effective way, so to be effective and use the Internet, I think we cannot say that you have to use the Internet in all your daily activities, like in political issue, in social issue, commerce, health care. If you don't use the Internet for these activities, I think you're using the Internet is not effective. If you just follow the Twitter or Facebook, this is not effective, you are not effective. But if you participate politically using the Internet, so now you are effective. If you participate and are involved with issues related to the society and community through Internet, now you are citizen, a digital citizen person.
Also, how to use that, you need to just ‑‑ you have to have access to Internet. You have to have access to equipment smart phones and laptops. If you have the Internet but you don't have the equipment enabling you to use the Internet, think we have a problem.
I think also one of the ‑‑ this reflects one of the problems in Africa especially when we speak about the digital divide because you know in Africa and other region and all, we have a problem that the rate of using Internet and other platforms. Of course, statelessness especially in Africa is fueled by the digital divide. And also including or try to solve the problem of stateless or to support or enabling them to access to different platform may be, and somehow, we to reduce the rate of digital divide in Africa.
Other issue and I believe Thomas spoke about this, about the digital ID because as we mentioned, if you don't have official documents from your country that you should belong to your nationality, this means you don't have the legal document, you don't ‑‑ can't get or have the additional digital ID because we don't need document saying this person is Egyptian. It's enough to have a card, even if established that you are stateless person, that's enough. The problem is to be acceptable by the governments to using this card or ID, to register with service providers to, access to Internet, to access to the SIM cards. I can stop here and I think can tell us about the case in Africa in Kenya and how lack of digital identity affects stateless person in Kenya. The floor is yours.
>> Thank you so much. Thank you all for coming to the session and also for the people joining online. Maybe could I start by just adding a little mix to the definition and saying that we can also think about statelessness as your state. Yeah. For example, when I go back to the country as Kenya, what is my state? Am I considering national of that country? Am I considered a refugee? Am I considered a resident because I come from another country but I am currently residing there as I work or do business? Am I considered a tourist, and so on?
I think this definition is also important because a lot of countries through their law have defined what your entitlements are depending what your state is. Yeah. So, for example, if you're a citizen, then maybe you have access to so many opportunities and rights, but if you're just a resident, maybe you cannot vote or maybe your voting is limited. If you're a refugee, maybe you cannot pass through some jobs and so on and so forth.
But I also wanted to state that, other than what the law says, and this is an example from Kenya, you can also have what maybe we should say de facto statelessness, where I'll just maybe go back a little bit and start by saying that even when you talk about the law being how you access your documentations that state what state you are, we can all agree that as long as you're human and you're existing on earth, you are a person. You do not need ‑‑ you're a person who belongs somewhere. You have some membership and belonging. You do not need a document to prove your membership because you're already human. I mean you're not an alien.
So, but of course states have over time appropriated mandates of issuing citizenship documentation. So, what happens in countries that have so many other competing priorities and historical reasons for how people access citizenship documentation is that there are a large number of populations who have either lacked the documentation office barriers when trying to access that documentation, and so these people now going by the other definition of statelessness that we had before these people are either considered stateless, or statelessness. It's not just a theoretical thing. In places like Kenya, even because we've had a long practice of using this national identity card, and even entering a government building or living in a big city and entering a building, requires that document. So, you virtually cannot function without this documentation. You virtually cannot function as a stateless person in the nice civic life. You have to live in the margins and either live in a place without a lot of services or something like that.
I wanted to bring in the point on digital identity and how this is changing everything, by saying that for a long time, even in Kenya, we used to have this ‑‑ even though we use the identity documentation a lot, we also had ‑‑ and it was unwritten, but we've had what you would call social minimums, services that you could always access whether or not you had documentation. For example, and this is something I'm so proud of, the country has tried so much to give primary health care, especially to women, you know, mother/child health care has always been there. For the longest time, I can remember that all you needed to do was go to the clinic if you are privileged enough to live in a place that has these services. So, whether it was, you know, government clinic or missionary clinic, you could always go there and get your primary health care. But increasingly, and because of this trend in digital identity, now you're required to first of all, have the citizenship documentation or some kind of documentation before can you access the service. So, it is that identity becomes more important than the service. I kid you not, even to get a vaccination, you need national identity, which is almost hilarious because on the one hand you have this government objective to ‑‑ to have universal vaccination for COVID, for example, but on the other hand you have this barrier called citizenship documentation because if your national identity does not exist in the government book, you're legally not existent so you cannot access this. Yet, it's a country that has had really, really good records in vaccination, especially with this childhood vaccination because this is always something that was accessible. So, this is ‑‑ this is how statelessness can become also, you know, de facto, that it is true that you live in that country, you were born in that country, that if you followed the law, you actually are checking all the boxes on citizenship. But at the same time because of lacking documentation or there being barriers to that documentation, you cannot access services. So, you're practically stateless because you're not having that relationship ‑‑ you're not getting anything from being a member of that nation.
And, I'd like to add that in my view there are two factors that are pushing this trend. One as Thomas already stated is this experimentation that is happening a lot, especially in Africa because of our connection with the development agencies and international policymaking bodies, because for sure even these kind of large‑scale experiments on giving everybody a digital identity has a means to either counting everybody or making sure that everybody has access to services. It has never been done before, and I do not know why it couldn't be piloted. There is a lot of question, there is a lot of abuse of state power to make it mandatory and to practically make it a barrier that pushes people to get this identity documentation because they need the services.
And then, of course, this is also very, very much linked to the markets and how at this point in time, the technology companies have developed all of these technologies for biometric identification of people, for large‑scale storage. You know, Kenya, for example, has 52‑million people and now there is technology that can easily store the data of 52‑million people, and we're even told that the technology can allow the duplication, like identification realtime of all of these 52‑million people very easily and so on and so forth. Same with a country like Ethiopia that has way more, maybe 120‑million people. So, the market is pushing for this, and of course it's creating a whole economy around that data because, you know, you need all of these Cloud service providers to provide all the services that you need to keep on identifying and authenticating people prior to any service they receive.
Because there is such a push to move to this digital citizenship, what happens is the political issues are swept under the rug. So, in a country like Kenya, you start with the people who already have documents, and you transform their documents into digital ‑‑ you digitalize their existing documents and you get the document agencies of people that lack and get to cases later, which means that you further marginalize them because they're legally nonexistent.
The other thing about this digital life is that it's very remote. You never see ‑‑ you never see a person. I mean there is no longer an office. In Kenya, there is a system called e‑citizen through which you can access a lot of services, I think over 20 services, business registration, driving license, apply for passport, apply for child's birth certificate. I don't think they actually have a physical office because everything happens on a screen. Yeah. So, it means that it creates all of these layers of relegating people. Yeah. First of all, the people who do not have identity documentation in the first place, those ones are completely cut off from e‑citizen. They do not even exist according to e‑citizen. There are those that have the documentation but do not have the skills to interact with the systems. Yeah. Those ones are now dependent on the market again because the market has also created service providers who will assist these people at a fee. Yeah.
And then there are also people who may have the documentation, have the digital skills, but live in places that do not have access to these digital technologies. There is no Internet, so you've created another problem that these people have to move to a place that has these services so that they can access them.
And so I think that ‑‑ and this is another point that I would like to make. In countries like Kenya, the people who have historically faced barriers to identity documentation, have for a long time, spoken for themselves. They have for a long time advocating for themselves to get this documentation. They have for a long time even proposed to the government what needs to be done. For example, in 2010 when we were making a new constitution, this he made it very clear what needs to be done and they were very successful in getting all of these ideas on citizenship. But this has not been implemented.
Instead, people who like international policymaking bodies do not live in Kenya normally, have come up with a different idea which is, no, give everybody ‑‑ everybody gets a digital identification. Yeah. Which completely ignores the fact that digital identification depends on the state and citizenship documentation. So, instead of starting with the needs that are already there and responding to the problem as has been identified by the citizens themselves, we are now closing that file and opening a new file which says this is what we need to do. We are going back on things that made life so much better, for example the social minimums I spoke about, everybody could access school. From 2003, we had free primary education that was open to every child. If you speak to, especially people from rural areas, that is the first time that a lot of girls went to school. Now we are going back on that by saying, no, no, no, you first need to bring some citizenship documentation that gives an identity, a number, a unique identifier which you will use in your educational journey. We are going back on health care, but now increasingly people are asked for their national ID, so a lot of mothers who don't have this ID will not take their children for immunization and so on.
The last point I would like to make is that the picture I'm painting, it sounds so bad but if you go to speak to a lot of Kenyans, they say digital ID is the best thing since sliced bread because they can get access to a lot of services remotely. If you go to the Kenyans living in major towns and urban areas, that is true. It is true that digital ID can be very, very convenient, but this is for these kind of people that are already privileged.
The point I'm trying to make is that the ones who are at the margins are the ones who are further marginalized, and it's a very intersectional problem. If you're very margins, you probably come from a community that has historically faced barriers, you probably economically are challenged already, you're probably in an informal working situation and so on and so forth.
So, the issue is that we should make a society that takes care of even the smallest people, and so one way to deal with these issues of statelessness and digital identity would be to start from the margins coming to the center. Yeah. Because it is even one of the things that we, for example, dreamt about when we were coming up with a new constitution which aspires to create better living conditions for every person in the society.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Thank you for this intervention. I think the situation in Kenya somehow gives us like ‑‑ like because there is some opportunities for statelessness to be belonging to the countries they stay in, regardless of the national ID or not. This is not our discussion now.
But I think if at least they have digital ID, they can access to different services because it's more ‑‑ and it was in fact that you don't have birth certificate, you don't have national ID, and this means that you don't have access to education. For example, in Egypt, in my country, if you don't have birth certificate or national ID, you cannot access to education, to health care, to justice, to any government service. It's a problem, I think. At least if we manage to include stateless persons digitally, it may mitigate address impact of the situation and at least they may be granted then access to the basic services.
So, let me now go back to Thomas. Thomas, are you with us?
>> THOMAS McGEE: I'm here, Mohamed. Zahra is also with us.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Okay. So, we have Zahra. Zahra, you can give us in five minutes only, an overview about the framework about statelessness.
>> ZAHRA ALBARAZI: Hi. Thank you very much. Is it possible to share my screen? Am I able to? Yes, I am able to do that. Great.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Yes, in five minutes.
>> ZAHRA ALBARAZI: Okay. I'll be quick. No problem.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Okay. Sorry.
>> ZAHRA ALBARAZI: Just tell me when you need me to stop. That's fine. So, what I wanted to do today is to just kind of be able to place the issue of statelessness, and really explain what it is for you guys who are working more on the issue of digital identity to be able to understand what it is we may be dealing with when we're looking at statelessness and problems of access to digital identity and the issues of digital identity.
So just very quickly exactly what we mean as to what statelessness or a stateless person means. There is a legal definition and its internationally recognized definition on this, and it's a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law. So that's quite simply what a stateless person is, and the rest of the slide is really just kind of details where you can find that definition. It's really important to understand that it's not just a person who ‑‑ it's not just about looking at the laws of the country and be like okay under that law this person is or isn't a citizen. It's really looking at how the operation of the law works, so how the law is actually implemented, how the law is actually trying to ‑‑ actually working well, not working well, flawed, et cetera. That's kind of the legal definition of what a stateless person is, just someone where there is no state in the world that considers this person a national.
So, it's not to be confused with a refugee who, you know, fled his or her country, but is still a national of that country.
Of course, when we talk about the issue of nationality, it's very much that legal bond that we have between us and states, and it's that legal bond that allows us to enter and reside and benefit from the rights that the state has a responsibility to give us. When people are stateless, they don't have any right often to reside anywhere in the world, so that is one of the most fundamental problems that they face, them and their families, not being able to enter and reside anywhere this the world. It's very much a belonging to a particular country legally.
And just quickly because we're from different contexts here sometimes, nationality and citizenship. If you're looking at kind of what this issue is in your context, the nationality and citizenship sometimes mean very different things in different contexts. It can mean ‑‑ sometimes they're interchangeable. Sometimes they mean the same thing. But generally, as you work under kind of international law, it's the same concept, nationality and citizenship.
So, I just want to kind of get a brief of the type of people we may be talking about more specifically in Africa when we're looking at stateless persons, so we can kind of try to see whether it's some of the communities that you guys are working with, or know well, some of the biggest people who may be at risk of having nationality in Africa, long‑term migrants and descendants, so people who, for example, when we look at state succession, people who weren't able to access any state, any nationality, former refugees and those who attend countries for one reason or another lost the link to their original country, we see a lot of statelessness in cross‑border populations across Africa, so a lot of countries where either these are specific ethnic groups that are either nomadic or cross‑border or whether the border itself changed. These are some of the issues faced there. Then of course vulnerable children, children are unable to register a birth, don't have documentation, been child workers, been trafficked, forced marriages. Often, we're talking about some of the already very vulnerable and marginalized parts of communities are also those who on top of that are stateless and don't have a legal link to any city or country, which could play into the kind of concept what have it means to have the digital identity and what it means to maybe be into something that is much kind of bigger than that.
I won't go through how you acquire a nationality. I just want to quickly talk about the fact that statelessness is really a big problem. So, when we're talking about statelessness, I think some people really assume that we're talking about, you know, a few people. We're talking about, you know, there are no figures that are really reliable because when you are stateless, you often are unavailable or not present in any kind of statistic, in any kind of documentation, in any kind of records, in any kind of potential to try to kind of put together what numbers are, so you're often legally invisible, which also I think being legally invisible and kind of the interlink of that with digital citizenship is really interesting.
So, there are really no numbers, but I mean there are potentially hundreds of millions of people who are stateless around the world, so it's very, very much a big problem. And not only is it statelessness itself a human rights problem, and I think this is really important because the right to nationality is essential and it is something that is part of international human rights law, but as is leads to other human rights consequences, and I heard my colleague, Mohamed talked about some of them. Unable to vote, travel, marry, unable to go to school, unable to access health care, so there are all sorts of human rights violations that come along with that.
Then very quickly, I just wanted to talk about some of the African specifics. We've got lots of international human rights treaties that talk about the right to have nationality, the right to acquire nationality, the right to kind of ‑‑ equal rights to nationality and transfer, et cetera, and the fact that statelessness is a violation of a human right.
There are also, if you're interested, there are also specifics in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which talks a lot about recognition of legal status. Doesn't necessarily talk about statelessness, but it talks about recognition of legal status and protocol on rights of women talks about nondiscrimination in relation to nationality, where you have countries sometimes where women can't give nationality to children.
And the African charter on the right and welfare of the child is big on stateless and ensure that every child has a right to acquire nationality and kind of mirrors a lot of the Convention on the Rights of the child in terms of what the rights of the child are in terms of acquisition of nationality. The right to have nationality and not be stateless is embedded in international law, embedded in international human right treaties and treaties on how to identify it and specific treaties and charters where you can find ‑‑ where you can find this kind of played out. It's really important to note that statelessness means that the individual has no legal link, no legal bond to any country, and it's important to know that as well as that being a human rights challenge, it is also creating human rights challenges. There are stateless people everywhere. Every country has high numbers of stateless persons because of some of the reasons that we talked about before.
So, I hope this was like helpful in just kind of trying to identify who and what profile we're actually talking about, what kind of protection mechanisms are there out there when we're looking at what does it necessarily mean for digital identity. I think I went over five minutes. I apologize, Mohamed. I hope that was helpful.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Thank you for the intervention. I thank you for this. I know the situation. So now I think I have to ask what recommendations and solutions you say that maybe mitigates impact or adverse impact of statelessness or the solutions and suggestions that may be empowering the statelessness digitally.
>> I've always thought that if you ask any so‑called stateless person what they think their nationality is, they definitely have one. So for me, I mean even as we're going through Zahra's slide, sometimes the law comes to act as a barrier as opposed to helping people flourish in life. So, there should definitely ‑‑ maybe we should have a reset button where everybody says what country they belong to and they get the documentation they need, in order at least to access ‑‑ there should be some basic minimums that every person should be able to access, even as we work out politically what other rights that maybe I don't use the word secondary, because all rights are important, but there should be some basic minimums. Nobody should be unable to access health care, nobody should be unable to move from one place to another in search of a better life. Nobody should be ‑‑ you know, at the end of the day, we even forget to connect issues like statelessness, and creating these barriers with other things that are happening in the world. For example, a lot of movement is happening because of climate change. Sometimes we forget to connect these issues and say, okay, this climate change is affecting everybody so what should we do as a community of humans to make sure we can be able to equitably share what we have, yeah, to equitably be able to provide for everyone some basic minimums while still keeping everybody else moving. So, I think that is one thing.
For the continent of Africa, I think it's a high time. There is a protocol on statelessness being discussed. It's a high time especially for the African continent agreement, it's a high time like we just said to let everybody get some documentation showing that they belong to whichever state because, after all in state, when somebody claims citizenship or claims to belong to you, there is also some benefit to the state. They'll pay taxes, they'll contribute to that society by being workers in that society or by whatever they're doing in the life of that society. So, it's not as if it's a favor. It's a beneficial and relational thing that you are acknowledging their existence and at the same time also getting something from them. So, for the continent, I think it's a high time that we took advantage of that to make sure that, for example, you know these people, small traders who live across both sides of the borders in most countries that they can easily keep doing what they were doing, keep having the life they were having by either of the states on the two sides issuing them whatever documentation they need. Those are two ideas and I'm sure there are many more.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Thank you. Thomas, also we need to hear from you if you have some recommendation or final words you want to say?
>> THOMAS McGEE: Sure. Thank you, Mohamed. So, I very much agree with everything that my colleague just said. I would echo that. I think, in addition, it's really important to just stress the potential issues when going down the route of digital identity programming, and that we do need to be very aware of is it being implemented with the best intentions, can states manipulate it, even in contexts where a state is dedicated to making sure that its identity for all, there can then be all kind of issues between public and private sector.
In addition to that and maybe specifically on MENA, so one thing that we've really been focusing on in our work as the MENA Statelessness Network is building solidarity between people who are stateless, and a lot of that has a digital element to it. It's something that we can focus on, particularly when other avenues might be very challenging. We can't often, despite all the advocacy that everybody engages in and various activism, it's ultimately the states that can provide the solutions to this issue, so as Civil Society, we can't come with solutions in our hands often. We can come with recommendations to solutions, but it's very difficult to ultimately push. When we have stateless people that we're engaging with, we do sometimes feel quite empty handed with what we can do, but what we've focused on is building sort of a network for solidarity. Often between stateless persons who are in think countries across the region, allowing people to link up and learn about each other because that's something that we hear about very, very often, that stateless people in one context, and for example we heard recently from stateless people in Libya saying that they had no idea that there were stateless people in almost every other country in the region, and it was ‑‑ it was nice for them to build ‑‑ to build links, share experiences.
When people are stateless and therefore are limited in their possibility to attend conferences internationally, to travel, to have that exchange, the digital sphere becomes all the more essential. So, I think that's something that in parallel to the advocacy with states we should bear that in mind.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Thank you, Thomas. Zahra, if you would like to say a final word for us?
>> THOMAS McGEE: I think Zahra is off the line.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Okay. I think also the impact of statelessness or empowering statelessness digitally, I think it should be or recommended that to include the stateless person in the progress of digital registration and also United Nations high commission for refugees to work more with the host countries to just convince them to recognize and accept because in some countries, the governments don't recognize as ID.
Also, think one of the important things is about the Internet governance community and digital rights activists to focus more or address this point or this issue of digital ‑‑ the question of digital inclusion of statelessness ‑‑ stateless persons during the different events like IGF or African IGF, and I think this ‑‑ we need this to be put like a focus on this issue and maybe this facilitates this governments to facilitate the ‑‑ to recognize and issue the IDs, maybe the national IDs as of this person because, again, we don't need nationality, but these countries still have reasons for this person, so have to have them official so they can use to get digital ID.
So, in conclusion of this session, we advocate that I think that official nationality or you have nationality not obstacle to counter stateless person to prevent them or exclude them from the digital ecosystem and you are stateless so you are still welcome to be digital citizens, and thank you for your patience with us. Now the floor is yours if you have any questions or comments, we are happy to answer. Okay we have three hands. Okay. Start from here.
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you for this wonderful session. My name is Shitri. I work for Nationality for all and work with statelessness in the Asia‑Pacific. We have been grappling with the question for Kyle now, especially the question of digital identity, and my question sort of revolves around the fundamental concerns of the problems that come with lack of transparency, the development, the design, the implementation of digital identity, especially when it ‑‑ like what Grace was talking about, the problems that come with having digital identity no matter hour great it is in theory and sometimes in practice, especially for the stateless populations.
Besides having a rights‑based or human rights‑based approach, I wanted to understand tangibly how Civil Society organizations, what they can do to impact the already marginalized population to become even further marginalized with the digital identity solution that we're coming up with. Thank you.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Thank you. You asked two questions; I think please can answer the first one.
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: I am from Bangladesh. I am a lawyer. My question is first, Bangladesh is in a ‑‑ in a situation where there is some stated person is there, a citizen. There is in Bangladesh. We are not accepting them as Bangladesh. And there Myanmar is not accepting them as their citizen as well. If Bangladesh accept to give them a digital identity, how come it will help them? Because Bangladesh is not going to let them in Bangladesh, they're in a confined place, and we are providing them for food and shelter and medicine and everything. We are not ready to allow them to come into the Bangladesh, into the main territory of Bangladesh. How is digital identity will help? Thank you.
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. My name is Josef and I work in Kenya. My question is a follow‑up from what Grace said about people being on the move, and one of the things that people have realized is that modern states are byproducts of processes such as colonialism, which does not seek to take into account the interests of communities that are traditionally moving across borders, moving in a nomadic way of life. When digital identity is rolled out as it is today, is it not a continuation of that same old colonial process, whereby these groups that have lived the way they have lived, their interests are not taken into account and rather it is just a process of documenting them for purposes of either dominating them or controlling them. That's my question.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Okay. Go ahead.
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes. Thank you very much. My name is Jose Arasa and I just have a couple of reflections and a question. So, the reflection is, you know, basically technology fails, it can be misused politically, it can be misused commercially, and it is a very risky territory for human rights, for all human rights. And citizenship is at the center of them. And in that sense, my reflection is on those regimes that are actually not seeking to protect human rights, you know, we have Afghanistan, we have Myanmar, we have many other countries that are, let's say, on the wrong side of history at the moment, no. As a matter of international cooperation, what do you think could be done to prevent these states or regimes from acquiring and misusing these technologies that are so problematic? Thank you.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: We don't have time, so we will take only those questions. I'm sorry. Go ahead.
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah. Thank you very much, Mohamed, and of course to the panelists. My name is Dr. Martin. I just wanted to make a reflection similar to what was said, but as just to really look at the issues in more depth that needs to be considered. When you look at the issues around a human rights‑centric approach to identity, it is valid. Those arguments are valid. However, we do have examples of countries that have had ID cards, especially at the electronic stages, and these countries such as Estonia have had them for almost 20 years, and we also see that the countries we are reflecting to, or the countries such as Kenya, for example, they've gone to do benchmarking and all of that and come back, but still they don't get it right.
What we see are three fundamental issues. One, most of the countries do not necessarily do the due diligence must have to make sure that they put the structures in place, the infrastructure, and you know things like that.
The other issue that countries don't do is to make sure that they involve specific groups, whether it's Civil Society groups and others in terms of how they need to do that, you know, digital ‑‑ I mean the digital identity. And then the next is the issue of self‑interest, which I think we are not addressing it in this particular stage. So, self‑interest is what causes what you're seeing as the mired focus where countries do not get it right. Thank you.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Thank you. Last question? The lady.
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. Firstly, my name is Zoha joining from Aapti Institute based in India, it's a research institute and I apologize I joined a bit late so if this was covered, I apologize. So just reflecting on what Grace mentioned around the alienization of a lot of these digital services and digital identity processes. I was wondering what the sort of possible offline systems are, parallel systems are that can be run sort of in addition to what we see as sort of like steady digitization. Is that a path forward is that what we're seeing? You don't just have to move digital and what are other suggestions that we see dependent on Civil Society or otherwise that are offline perhaps?
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Thank you. So now we only have 10 minutes, so this time for panelists to answer question. Let me start with Grace, here you can answer. I think the most important, or the best critique to answer the question.
>> GRACE MUTUNG' U: Some of the questions are answered by other comments and questions and reflections. I agree especially with what the Dr. Cora was talking about. Apples and oranges, you compare Estonia probably more homogeneous with a country like Kenya.
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Speaking off mic).
>> GRACE: Yes? Oh, I'm sorry. It has a very different social and historical background, so and then also just I would like to quickly add that for a lot of low and middle‑income countries we are learning a lot from India because the situations are more similar. I think it's interesting how India did not have this connection to citizenship documentation. All you needed to do was present your biometric, but that still had its own huge set of problems, and so I think one of the main problems with digital ID is this way that it's being introduced that does not even give anyone time to reflect and do a proper needs assessment for their own particular situation and how it works, and to resolve some of the issues which, you know, like the issue in Bangladesh is quite, quite political, and to figure out how to sort it out.
So, there is no one solution or one answer to all of the issues that are arising, but of course there is a lot to learn from situations that are ongoing like India, Jamaica where they got a really good decision from the Court that is really helping a lot of other countries. And to Jose, I would say the international policymaking bodies just need to chill and let ‑‑ let people really define their problems and solve their own problems because people already know the solutions to their problems. Then they can come in later when they are called up on, but not at this situation where it's really top down where they're forcing countries to implement specific or more digital ID.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Thank you. Thomas, if you would like to answer any questions raised.
>> THOMAS McGEE: Thank you, Mohamed. So, maybe I'll touch first of all on the question about nomadic populations. I think it's a very, very important point and worth bearing in mind that a lot of the communities that are stateless today, are experiencing protracted multi‑generational statelessness, it's often very much due to colonization and many of the stateless situations come about ‑‑ came about through the process of state formation, and we know that the borders were often defined by colonial forces.
But then that being said, I think the important thing as Grace was mentioning now, the key is talking to stateless people and seeing what they actually want. I don't know if it's similar in the context of Africa, but in the Middle East, in many cases, the communities that have traditionally been nomadic, many of those are now semi‑nomadic or settled, and in a lot of cases, that is partly due to pressures by the state to settle. But then you get different subsections or sometimes the majority of a traditionally nomadic or mobile community now wanting to integrate more within a particular state. So, it's really about understanding what are the priorities of the people effected, and is it about them continuing cross‑border movement and that's the priority, or is it about integration within one particular state or a combination.
But very often, for example in Lebanon, I did research with the Bedouin community there and several other traditionally mobile communities, and very often they were saying that they hear from the state the idea that they don't want ID, they're not interested in having civil ID because it's not important for them, but in terms of practical issues and access to services, it is very important for health care, et cetera.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Thank you, Thomas. We are running out of time. Thank you. We don't have one minute. So, I think I'm sorry that we cannot answer all the questions because we are running out of time, but generally speaking, I can say that I think the question about the role of Civil Society, as we discussed during the session, the access to it should be meaningful, so I think the NGOs has a rule to deal with the communities and stateless persons even if the person has nationality that they cannot use Internet effectively, and how to use it effectively enough to be citizen person or digital citizen.
Also, about the question of Bangladesh and how we can help stay in rural area and remote area and not allowed to come to the capital. For example, I think this is no problem because this is still a person within the government to provide the service for the person in remote areas, so like those who stay in camps so the government has to provide the service.
Also, the digital ID, how it helps a stateless person, I think at least they can access some service online that they cannot access offline. About that, I think this is very big topic, but from my point of view, even if because of the situation of stateless person is very difficult, so even if there is someone that uses this to control them or something, but they will give them access for some service so from my point of view, it's okay.
The last thing about the situation of stateless, we cannot, I think it's most important point, we don't have to deal with digital rights or especially in particular also stateless or digital rights as separate issue. It's one of ‑‑ it's part of the whole digital rights, so to answer about the regimes that prevent or provides these rights, I think it's probably that we need to fix the human rights in general in these regimes and convince them to respect human rights in general, so that means in general we would respect the digital rights of citizen, so digital rights and stateless is a part of the whole big issue. Thank you.
>> GRACE: Very, very quickly. I want to say that we'll have a session, this is a session plug‑in, a session on digital ID on Friday morning and it's in the program where we'll discuss more about digital ID and I think it would be so great to take this discussion on statelessness and integrate them as Mohamed has said. Thank you so much. You're most welcome to that session on Friday morning.
>> MOHAMED FARAHAT: Thank you.