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Raivo Vetik “Statelessness, Citizenship and Belonging in Estonia”

November 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Vetik, Raivo 2011. Statelessness, Citizenship and Belonging in Estonia. – Brad K. Blitz; Maureen Lynch (eds). Statelessness and Citizenship: A Comparative Study on the Benefits of Nationality. Cheltenham; Northampton: Edward Elgar, 160-171.

After regaining independence in August 1991 and reintroducing the Citizenship Act of 1938 half a year later in February 1992, about one third of the population of Estonia became stateless. The 1992 law was based on the idea of the ‘legal continuity’ of the pre-war Estonian Republic, which means that only those persons who were citizens before Estonia’s incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940 and their descendants were entitled to automatic citizenship. Migrants from the Soviet period and their descendants, by contrast, had to got through the process of naturalization. (160)

Compared to other countries, the naturalization requirements in Estonia can be regarded as rather liberal. However, what makes the Estonian citizenship law exceptional is that at the moment it was brought into force, it left a considerable part of the population without citizenship. (162)

The law [1993 Law on Aliens] refers to both citizens of foreign states and stateless persons as ‘aliens’. The Estonian legislation makes no distinction between these two categories of non-citizens. In general, non-citizens in Estonia enjoy the same rights and free access to social protection as citizens. (162)

A study of ethnic Russians conducted in April 2008 offered four explanations for the persistent and widespread statelessness among Estonian Russians. These include: (1) difficulties in learning the Estonian language and passing the citizenship test; (2) emotional aversion to applying for citizenship related to the fact that many Estonian Russians feel that, similarly to ethnic Estonians, they should have been granted citizenship automatically after independence was restored in Estonia; (3) preferring Russian citizenship due to better travel and other opportunities; and (4) lack of Estonian citizenship does not affect a person’s daily life. (163)

[M, 41y, Jõhvi]: “I have already applied for Russian citizenship, for I will no doubt receive it without problems, just like that. I actually do not care which citizenship I receive. If I had lived in the USA or England for a long time, I could have already become an American or Englishman. But out situation with these ‘wolf’ passports is atrocious. They have already made such a big deal out of their nationality that we are like flies to them with these gray passports. We were simply segregated from the very start.” (164)

In 2000, the preference for Estonian citizenship was on the rise, reaching its highest point in 2005 (at 74 per cent), but by 2008 the number of those who desired Estonian citizenship dropped to half (51 per cent). During the same period, the desirability of Russian citizenship increased steadily from just 5 per cent in 2000 to 11 per cent in 2005 and to 19 per cent in 2008. These changes suggest a new protest identity among Estonian Russians, which has notably increased in recent years. (167)

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Laura van Waas “Nationality and Rights”

November 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Van Waas, Laura 2011. Nationality and Rights. – Brad K. Blitz; Maureen Lynch (eds). Statelessness and Citizenship: A Comparative Study on the Benefits of Nationality. Cheltenham; Northampton: Edward Elgar, 23-44.

[…] in the contemporary human rights environment, to what extent is nationality still relevant to the enjoyment of rights? (23)

The [Universal] Declaration [of Human Rights] opens with the important proclamation that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ (24)

[…] the development of human rights law heralded both a move towards universally recognized rights as well as the possible denationalization of rights. […] The advent of human rights law initiated an uncoupling of nationality and rights. Instead of citizenship being the basis for the enjoyment of rights, ‘the principles of human rights would maintain that being human is the right to have human rights.’ (25)

There are, in fact, still a number of citizens rights dressed up as human rights:

1)      The first and most evident example of this phenomenon is the right to participate in government. For instance, in Article 21 of the Universal Declaration, this political right […] is formulated as follows: ‘everyone has the right to take part in the government of his own country.’ (26)

2)      The human rights regime admits a similar limitation of the enjoyment of rights by the stateless in relation to freedom of movement, which includes the right to leave, the right to enter/re-enter and the right to remain in a state. (26)

3)      A third area in which human rights law plainly allows for restrictions to be placed on the enjoyment of rights is that comprised of ‘economic rights’. (27)

In particular, the situation of the stateless, the lack of bond of nationality with any state, places some doubt on the inclusiveness of the term ‘human’ in human rights. Interestingly, the human rights framework itself recognizes this apparent flaw and attempts to remedy it by promulgating, among the rights to be enjoyed by everyone, the right to a nationality. […] Thus, the acquisition/reacquisition of a nationality, putting an end to their actual statelessness, may indeed be the only real remedy to their vulnerability. (28)

Indeed, not only were the rights relating directly to participation in government absent from the draft [of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons], but all attempts to codify even the freedom of opinion and expression or the freedom of political assembly – rights that can be exercised to the benefit of political activity in the broadest sense and are critical to individual empowerment – were also beaten back. States were indeed keen to retain the right to restrict the political activity of stateless persons. (32)

Stateless persons may be unable to go to school or university, work legally, own property, get married or travel. They might find it difficult to enter hospital, impossible to open a bank account and have no chance of receiving a pension. If someone robs them or rapes them, they may find they cannot lodge a complaint because legally they do not exist, and the police require proof that they do before they can open an investigation. They are extremely vulnerable to exploitation as cheap or bonded labour, especially in societies where they cannot work legally. (36-37)

In order to establish that an individual is stateless, it is necessary to substantiate that he does not possess any nationality. He must, in effect, prove a negative. (37)

[…] stateless persons are, by definition, unable to enjoy those rights that are presently accorded only in relation to the country of nationality, such as key political rights and the right to enter/re-enter and reside in a state. Moreover, although citizenship is no longer a precondition for the attribution of most human rights, in practice it is often still a practical requirement for the exercise of such rights, for example, due to the lack of any official ‘home country’ in which residence rights are guaranteed or as a result of problems relating to an overall lack of documentation. Thus, where states are failing either individually or collectively to ensure that everyone enjoys the bond of citizenship somewhere, the human rights regime’s assertion of universality of begins to crumble unless special provision is made for those persons who find themselves excluded by the system: the stateless. (41)