UN refugees chief warns of risks to the fight against statelessness

Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Country: Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Thailand, World

“Damaging forms of nationalism, and the manipulation of anti-refugee and migrant sentiment – these are powerful currents internationally that risk putting progress into reverse,” said Grandi.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi warned today that recent advances in the battle to end statelessness – a leading cause of human rights deprivation for millions of people worldwide – were being imperiled by a rise in damaging forms of nationalism.

In Geneva ahead of the opening on Monday of UNHCR’s annual Executive Committee meeting Grandi said that the growing number of countries taking action against statelessness meant the international community was nearing a point of critical mass in its efforts to stamp out statelessness for good.

“As recently as five years ago, public awareness of statelessness, and the harm it causes, was still negligible. That is changing, and today the prospect of ending statelessness entirely has never been closer,” said Grandi.

“And yet the progress is far from assured: damaging forms of nationalism, and the manipulation of anti-refugee and migrant sentiment – these are powerful currents internationally that risk putting progress into reverse. Solutions are urgently needed for millions without citizenship or at risk of statelessness around the world – including Myanmar’s Rohingya, and minority populations at risk of statelessness in India’s Assam. Without these, we risk a deepening of the exclusion that already affects the lives of millions of people. This is why a redoubling of efforts has become crucially needed.”

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, launched a global ‘#IBelong’ Campaign in 2014 aimed at ending statelessness by 2024. Since then some 15 countries have newly acceded to the two major treaties on statelessness, the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. With additional accessions and other commitments expected this week, total accessions to the first of these treaties, the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, could soon exceed the notable threshold of 100 countries.

In the first five years of the Campaign, more than 220,000 stateless people have now acquired a nationality, including as as a result of concerted national efforts that have been motivated by the Campaign, in places as diverse as Kyrgyzstan and Kenya, Tajikistan and Thailand. In July of this year Kyrgyzstan became the first country in the world to announce the complete resolution of all known cases of statelessness.

In addition, since the Campaign was launched two countries, Madagascar and Sierra Leone, reformed their nationality laws to allow mothers to confer citizenship on their children on an equal footing with fathers. However, twenty-five countries continue to make it difficult or impossible for mothers to confer citizenship on their children, one of the leading causes of statelessness globally. As not all nationality laws contain safeguards that ensure that no child is born stateless, statelessness can also be passed down from generation to generation.

Ending all forms of discrimination in nationality laws would help the international community live up to the commitment all States made when adopting the Sustainable Development Agenda to “leave no one behind.”

Today, leading figures in the media, human rights, refugee and statelessness worlds are joining member state representatives in Geneva in a special session of UNHCR’s Executive Committee meeting known as the High-Level Segment on Statelessness, to take stock of progress half way through the Campaign and to commit to take more action to end statelessness by 2024.

Among those attending are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett, British TV journalist and presenter Anita Rani, formerly stateless refugee and activist Maha Mamo, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Lamberto Zannier and others.

Some countries will be putting pledges into action, by formally lodging instruments of accession to the statelessness treaties.


Pakistan: End Ordeal for ‘Blasphemy’ Defendants

Protesters burn a poster of Aasia Bibi after the Supreme Court overturned her conviction under the blasphemy law, Hyderabad, Pakistan, November 1, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo

(New York) – The Pakistan Supreme Court’s decision to quash the conviction of a man who had spent almost 18 years in prison for blasphemy spotlighted abuses inherent in the law, Human Rights Watch said today. On September 25, 2019, the court ruled that the prosecution failed to provide substantial evidence against Wajih-ul-Hassan, who had been sentenced to death in 2002 for writing allegedly blasphemous letters.

Pakistan’s government should drop the charges, order the release of all detainees held for blasphemy, and revise the blasphemy law with the ultimate aim of repealing it.

“The overturned conviction of a man imprisoned for 18 years highlights just one of many miscarriages of justice stemming from Pakistan’s vaguely worded blasphemy law,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Typically, it’s members of religious minorities or other vulnerable communities who are wrongly accused and left unable to defend themselves.”

Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code, known as the blasphemy law, carries what is effectively a mandatory death sentence. According to the Center for Social Justice, a Pakistani advocacy group, at least 1,472 people were charged under the blasphemy provisions from 1987 to 2016. Although there have been no executions, at least 17 people convicted of blasphemy are currently on death row, while many others are serving life sentences for related offenses.

A mere accusation of blasphemy can put the security of the accused at risk. Since 1990, at least 65 people have been killed in Pakistan over claims of blasphemy, based on media reports.

Among the most egregious blasphemy cases is that of Junaid Hafeez, a 33-year-old university lecturer who was arrested for blasphemy on March 13, 2013, in Multan, Punjab province. Hafeez has been in solitary confinement since June 2014. His trial has had numerous delays and is now before the eighth judge since it began in 2013.

On May 7, 2014, Rashid Rehman, who had been Hafeez’s lawyer, was fatally shot in his office in Multan, in apparent reprisal for representing Hafeez and others charged under the blasphemy law. Rehman had been threatened with “dire consequences” for defending Hafeez.

On October 31, 2018, Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Aasia Bibi, who had spent eight years on death row. She was convicted under Pakistan’s blasphemy law after a June 2009 altercation with fellow farm workers who had refused to drink water she had touched, contending it was “unclean” because she was Christian. When pro-blasphemy law clerics threatened violence after the Supreme Court decision, Prime Minister Imran Khan in a televised speech said that the clerics were “inciting [people] for their own political gain,” and were “doing no service to Islam.”

Killings of people who have criticized the blasphemy law have had a chilling effect on efforts to reform the law. On January 4, 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was killed by his own security guard because Taseer had sought to repeal the blasphemy law. And on March 2, 2011, unidentified assailants killed the federal minorities affairs minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, an outspoken critic of the law.

The law has been increasingly used to jail and prosecute people for social media comments. In September 2017, Nadeem James, a 35-year-old Christian, was sentenced to death for forwarding a poem that was deemed insulting to Islam to a friend. In April 2014, a Christian couple was sentenced to death for sending an allegedly blasphemous text message to a local cleric.

The blasphemy law is often brought against members of religious minorities, frequently to settle personal disputes. But the government rarely brings charges against those responsible for physical attacks on people accused of blasphemy. In May, riots erupted in Mirpurkhas, Sindh, after a Hindu veterinarian was accused of committing blasphemy for allegedly providing medicines wrapped in a paper with Islamic verses printed on it. In an unusual law enforcement response, he was taken into protective custody and six people were charged with rioting.

Pakistan’s government should repeal sections 295 and 298 of the penal code, which includes the blasphemy law and the law discriminating against the Ahmadiyya religious community. The government should also promptly and appropriately prosecute those responsible for planning and carrying out attacks against religious minorities.

“The Supreme Court took an important step by ending Hassan’s horrific ordeal, though many more charged with blasphemy are languishing in Pakistani prisons,” Adams said. “Repealing the blasphemy law is necessary to ensure that all Pakistanis can live free from fear of unjust punishment and discrimination.”


Cholera response plan launched in Sudan

Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Country: Sudan

Humanitarian partners have launched a three-month cholera response plan to address the outbreak that has killed eight and affected at least 231 people in the Blue Nile and Sennar states.

Humanitarian partners in Sudan have launched a three-month cholera response plan to urgently address the current outbreak that has killed eight and affected at least 231 people so far in the Blue Nile and Sennar states. Without immediate action the UN estimates over 13,000 cholera cases could result in the next 6 months in eight high-risk states in Sudan (Blue Nile, Sennar, Gezira, Khartoum, Gadaref, White Nile, Kassala, and River Nile).

Read more on United Nations OCHA


EU allocates €300,000 to provide emergency relief to earthquake victims in Pakistan

Source: European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
Country: Pakistan

The funding will address the most pressing needs of about 3,000 vulnerable people affected by the earthquake that struck the country’s eastern region in September.

UNIQUE ID: 191004_3

Islamabad, 4 October 2019 – The European Union is allocating € 300,000 (PKR 51.4 Million) to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to families affected by the earthquake that struck Pakistan’s eastern region in late September. The funding will address the most pressing needs of around 3,000 vulnerable people in some of the hardest-hit areas.

“We are acting fast to channel emergency aid to those most affected in Pakistan,” said the Head of the EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Office in Islamabad, Bernard Jaspers-Faijer. “Our funding will assist the most vulnerable and help provide shelter to those who have lost their homes and belongings in the aftermath of the strong tremor. Our thoughts are with all the victims and first responders working around the clock to save lives.”

The assistance will also ensure access to clean water for the communities in the affected areas. Special attention will be paid to those most in need, including people with limited sources of income.

The EU funding is made available via the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) through its Small Scale Response mechanism.

Nearly 40 people were killed and more than 700 others injured when a strong, 5.3-magnitude, earthquake struck eastern parts of Pakistan in the afternoon of 24 September. The earthquake, which was followed by a number of aftershocks, caused extensive damage to houses and infrastructure. According to government data, more than 8,600 houses, as well as a number of roads and bridges, sustained severe structural damage. Mirpur, the largest city in the Pakistan-administered territory of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, is the most affected area with the epicentre located only one kilometre from the city. The tremor was also felt in several neighbouring provinces, including Islamabad, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. An estimated 100,000 people have been severely affected by the disaster.


The European Union and its Member States are the largest donors of humanitarian aid in the world. The assistance is an expression of European solidarity towards people in need. The goal of the assistance is to save lives, alleviate human suffering, and safeguard the integrity and human dignity of populations affected by disasters caused by natural phenomena and man-made crises. The European Commission, through its Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), assists more than 120 million people affected by conflicts and disasters every year. For more information, please visit the DG ECHO website.

ECHO’s Small Scale Response fund is a global mechanism which allows for rapid funding for up to € 300 000 for humanitarian aid in countries affected by natural and man-made disasters.


Peter Biro, Regional Information Officer for Asia and the Pacific, European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO): Peter.Biro@echofield.eu(link sends e-mail)