Call for Papers / Submission of Abstracts


Symposium Co-Organised by the North-West University (NWU) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
The International Human Right to a Nationality, the Prevention of Statelessness and the Protection of Stateless Individuals in the 21st Century

Dates:  31 October – 2 November 2017


Venue: North-West University (NWU), Mafikeng Campus Mafikeng, North-West, South Africa

1. Background: Nationality, Statelessness, and the Protection of Stateless Persons

A person is stateless if no State considers him or her as a national under the operation of its law. Statelessness is widely understood to have a devastating human impact, depriving the affected individuals of fundamental rights and dignity. Estimates indicate that about 10 million individuals are affected globally. Discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion, and gender may be seen as the most important cause(s) of statelessness. Societal modernization and transformation processes, shortcomings in civil status registration, disintegration of traditional family bonds, and the multigenerational movement of migrant workers are potent factors that increase the risk of statelessness.

The individual human right to a nationality is enshrined in core human rights  instruments (starting with Art. 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Its fulfillment is made operational by the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and by several regional instruments, for example the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.   Specific rights of stateless persons are protected by the 1954 Convention relating to the Status  of  Stateless Persons.

In  2014,  the  international  community  launched  a  campaign  to  end  statelessness.  The ‘Global Action Plan 2014 – 2024 to End Statelessness’ (Global Action Plan), to be implemented under the auspices of UNHCR, can be seen as a far-reaching rule of law  intervention with a global reach. It addresses aspects of universal, regional and national law(s) and practices, activities of all branches of government, and engages a variety of non-governmental stakeholders.  Since 2014, the international community  has  pursued  the  Global  Action  Plan  through  various  fora  and  instruments:  e.g.,  the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN General Assembly and recommendations by the Human  Rights Treaty  Bodies. The  Southern  African  Development Community  (SADC) Parliamentary Forum  and  the  SADC  Ministerial  Dialogue  on  Migration  (MIDSA)  have  adopted  resolutions  and recommendations on how to end statelessness and to better protect stateless persons in the region.

While civil society organizations have  been discussing these  developments broadly, there still remains ample scope for legal scholars and practitioners to fill present legal research gaps in this area. It is envisaged that this three-day symposium provides an opportunity to promote  legal research and the development of legal doctrine on nationality and statelessness.

2. NWU and UNHCR Regional Representation for Southern Africa as Co-Hosts of the Symposium

The UNHCR Regional Representation for Southern Africa (ROSA) has been engaged in the regional implementation of the Global Action Plan through technical advice, policy advocacy, capacity building, and strong partnerships with civil society organizations. Given the dearth  of  global  and regional legal research on statelessness, co-operation with professional legal scholars  is  among ROSA’s priorities for 2017. As a co-host of the symposium, ROSA anticipates to receive high quality academic input on legal aspects of the statelessness campaign. Academic contributions are expected to be relevant to the region, as well as on a global level.

The North-West University’s Faculty of Law is at the forefront of different areas  of  legal research such as Public International Law; International Human Rights Law; Environmental Law and Governance; International Criminal Law and Justice;  Constitutional  Law;  Estate  Law;  Comparative Child Law; International Trade Law; Labour Law; and Legal Philosophy. With postgraduate offerings that are sanctioned with the award of Masters and Doctorate Degrees, the Faculty in particular and University in general provide the avenue and resources for students to engage  in  critical  legal thinking enabling them to comprehend complex legal principles and apply them  to contextualized scenarios. In addition, they are challenged to interrogate things the way they are, and with bold and innovative  imaginations,  postulate  persuasive  thoughts  as  evidence  of  deep,  lateral  and  critical thinking. In doing this, they position themselves at the fore, with huge relevance to contemporary issues facing the country, region, continent and globe.

3. Agenda of the Symposium

The Symposium endeavors  to  gather national and  international legal scholars and  practitioners to discuss the international human right to a nationality; the prevention of statelessness; and the protection of stateless individuals in the 21st  century.  It is envisaged that this symposium will attract a high caliber of scholars and practitioners in this area, some of whom will come from the NWU’s repository of academics. It is also expected that the contribution of international  and  national scholars will be essential in ensuring a rewarding, meaningful and substantive academic debate. The

symposium will last three full days and consist of six topic specific panels. All panels will be introduced by a keynote speaker. The panels will include national or international senior experts, but at the same time, give postgraduate students an opportunity to present their research results. All participants of the symposium are expected to present. The following proposals are intended as preliminary guidance for research and presentation topics, which will need further discussion with the organizers.

Panels 1 and 2: The prevention of statelessness

  • National sovereignty in nationality matters and the prevention of statelessness
  • The limits of democratic legitimacy in excluding minority groups from nationality
  • Which international legal guarantees (universal and regional) are most effective in preventing statelessness?
  • Which  lacunae  in  domestic  nationality  laws  have  which  impact  on  the  actual  occurrence  of statelessness?
  • Comparative  studies:  Addressing  major  situations  of  statelessness  (e.g.,  Japan,  Ivory  Coast, Iraq, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Russia, Lithuania, …)
  • Deprivation and securisation of nationality

Panels 3 and 4: The protection of stateless individuals

  • Human rights before the emergence of the individual as a subject of public international law: The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons in historical perspective
  • The rights of stateless persons vs. universal human rights: Diversification and fragmentation of human rights protection standards?
  • Comparison  of  protection  standards  for  stateless  individuals  vs.  general  human  rights  law: Which added legal value has a separate regime for stateless individuals?
  • Is there a cultural bias in international law and practice as regards the protection of stateless individuals?
  • Which international best practice examples for statelessness determination procedures exist? Which of them provide good guidance for Southern Africa?

Panel 5:   Nationality, statelessness, and international governance

  • The  exercise  of  public  authority  by  international  organizations:  Promoting  good  governance and the rule of law through the Global Action Plan
  • Addressing  statelessness  as a  multi-layer system  (interface  between  universal, regional, and national law)
  • The  effectiveness  of  international  governance  through  soft  law  (e.g.,  the  Abidjan  and  Brazil Declarations on statelessness)
  • The role of parliaments in sovereign States and the Global Action Plan

Panel 6:   Nationality, statelessness, and migration

  • Statelessness as a root cause and consequence of migration
  • Nationality and freedom of movement: The “right to have rights”, or the legal basis for the exclusion of access to territories?
  • Machine  Readable  Convention  Travel  Documents  for  Stateless  Persons:  International  legal obligations, scope of access to MRCTD, main challenges to the issuance of MRCTD
  • Stateless persons in mixed migration flows
  • Nationality as a legal prerequisite for repatriation
  • Dual nationality and the prevention of statelessness
  • Stateless persons at sea

4. Call for Papers/Submission of Abstracts

Individuals interested in participating in this symposium are requested to submit an abstract (not longer than 500 words) to the following addresses: and Abstracts should contain the name(s) and institutional affiliation(s) of the author(s); their preferred panel(s) and should be sent as an MS Word document or PDF. The deadline for the submission of abstracts is August 31, 2017. Authors of selected abstracts will be contacted in the first week of September 2017.

5. Logistics

The symposium will take place at the Mafikeng Campus of the NWU. Mafikeng (or Mahikeng) is the capital city of the North-West Province of South Africa, and will run from 31 October to 2 November 2017. Participation is free of charge. The organizers will not be able to  provide  stipends  for travelling expenses and accommodation.

6. Contact Persons

The following persons are contactable for any information related to the forthcoming symposium:

  1. Professor Avitus Agbor,

Research Associate Professor of Law     School of Postgraduate Studies and Research

Faculty of Law, North-West University, Mafikeng Campus. Email:

Skype:   aaagbor


  1. Dr. Matthias Reuss

Senior Regional Protection Officer (Statelessness) UNHCR Regional Representation for Southern Africa 351 Francis Baard Street, Pretoria, South Africa Email: