The Human Right to Citizenship: A Slippery Concept

The Human Right to Citizenship: A Slippery Concept

The Human Right to Citizenship: A Slippery Concept

The Human Right to Citizenship: A Slippery Concept


In principle, no human individual should be rendered stateless: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that the right to have or change citizenship cannot be denied. In practice, the legal claim of citizenship is a slippery concept that can be manipulated to serve state interests. On a spectrum from those who enjoy the legal and social benefits of citizenship to those whose right to nationality is outright refused, people with many kinds of status live in various degrees of precariousness within states that cannot or will not protect them. These include documented and undocumented migrants as well as convention refugees and asylum seekers living in various degrees of precariousness. Vulnerable populations such as ethnic minorities and women and children may find that de jure citizenship rights are undermined by de facto restrictions on their access, mobility, or security.

The Human Right to Citizenship provides an accessible overview of citizenship regimes around the globe, focusing on empirical cases of denied or weakened legal rights. Exploring the legal and social implications of specific national contexts, contributors examine the status of labor migrants in the United States and Canada, the changing definition of citizenship in Nigeria, Germany, India, and Brazil, and the rights of ethnic groups including Palestinians, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Bangladeshi migrants to India, and Roma in Europe. Other chapters consider children's rights to citizenship, multiple citizenships, and unwanted citizenships. With a broad geographical scope, this wide-ranging volume provides a theoretical and legal framework to understand the particular ambiguities, paradoxes, and evolutions of citizenship regimes in the twenty-first century.

Contributors : Michal Baer, Kristy A. Belton, Jacqueline Bhabha, Thomas Faist, Jenna Hennebry, Nancy Hiemstra, Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, Audrey Macklin, Margareta Matache, Janet McLaughlin, Carolina Moulin, Alison Mountz, Helen O'Nions, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Sujata Ramachandran, Kim Rygiel, Nasir Uddin, Margaret Walton-Roberts, David S. Weissbrodt.


Shortly after his arrival in Switzerland in 1939, Helmut Hassmann, a twenty-five-year-old refugee from Germany, wrote a short memoir of his escape via Italy and Yugoslavia, his months in prisons, and his fruitless attempts to obtain legal papers either to stay in Italy or migrate elsewhere. “Being stateless—my grandfather was Russian, as was my father, even though his country of birth was Germany—I was unable to obtain any residence or work permit abroad. … You’re so utterly powerless, so impotent. … Whatever happened to human rights? Is there such a thing anymore? Is it not a mockery of all humanity, when, today, millions are forced to wander about aimlessly, at the behest of a megalomaniacal criminal!? [Hitler] When every country spits them out again like outcasts.”

Helmut Hassmann had hit on a fundamental contradiction between human and citizenship rights. In order to enjoy what later in international law became universal human rights, an individual must first enjoy his right to a nationality, that is, to formal and complete nationality in at least one country. Universal human rights hinge on a prior particular and exclusivist right to citizenship. This has always been the case: the early U.S. and French declarations of rights “connected the concept of ‘human being’ with the idea of ‘citizen’. … Indeed, although natural rights theories granted every individual rights at birth, these rights could only be recognized and enforced in a practical way through membership in a State.” There was and is a “stark dichotomy between human rights and citizens’ rights.”

Thus citizenship is a legal status through which the individual can access rights and goods in the state of her nationality or nationalities. Helmut Hassmann was born stateless because of the patriarchal German law of ius . . .

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