By Alusine Sesay
Conscience International, a local civil society organization, last Friday educated CSOs and the media on statelessness, which according to the organization’s Programme Manager remains a silence concept to all but few individuals in Sierra Leone.
Paul Brima Bangura said statelessness refers to a situation where people lack citizenship identity, legal national identity, state protection, access to rights, access to state services and the absence of national legislation that protects citizenship rights.
He said statelessness is not a new phenomenon and that it is a huge problem affecting an estimated 12 million people worldwide, while West Africa alone records about 750,000 stateless persons.
“In West Africa, statelessness emanated from many factors including decolonization processes, state succession, migration and gaps in national legislation and administration,” he said. “Tensions and conflicts may arise where groups of people are denied access to nationality rights and are afforded maximum standard of treatment.”
Statelessness, he said, has a negative impact on individuals and that in Sierra Leone certain individuals who may not speak one of the local dialects or have a Sierra Leonean maiden name could be at risk of not having certain nationality rights, including holding birth certificates, passports, and national identity cards, among others.
He said Sierra Leone is not an exception to the issue of statelessness, even though before and after Independence in 1961 the country accommodated foreign nationals who were running away from either political tensions or conflicts, while there are communities of persons living in the border areas of Yenga, Pamalap and Jendema whose national identity can be conflicting.
“Several numbers of people are currently denied the rights to national identity cards, birth certificates and even passports because their identity is questionable either by not speaking one of the Sierra Leonean dialects or carry one of the maiden names,” he reiterated.
Bangura cited two international Conventions of 1954 and 1961 which provide the need for the protection and reduction of statelessness across the world, although Sierra Leone is yet to domesticate them by enacting a national legislation.