Right to citizenship

Millions around the world live in this dire state of ‘statelessness’

May 25, 2021

It is heartening to see the Islamabad High Court take stance for the basic right of citizenship. In a landmark judgment last week, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah declared in clear worlds that NADRA has not been vested with the power to suspend or block the computerised national Identity card (CNIC) of Pakistani citizens. “Blocking a card [CNIC] would be tantamount to suspending the citizenship of a registered citizen and exposing the latter to the horrendous consequences that follow,” the honourable judge wrote in a 29-page verdict issued in response to a slew of petitions filed against the cancellation of CNICs.

Article 15 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that everyone has the right to a nationality, and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of nationality nor denied the right to change it. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights this implies the right of each individual to acquire, change and retain a nationality. In our modern world order, the denial of citizenship automatically makes the pursuit of health, happiness or even a normal life impossible. Depending on nation to nation, it can make it impossible for one to hold a job, access healthcare or finances, or even practise something as basic and fundamental as marriage.

Millions around the world live in this dire state of ‘statelessness’. Approximately 2.5 million of them — most of Bengali, Rohingya or Burmese, and Afghan descent — live in Pakistan. These communities that survive on the fringes of society in our country have long been denied the most basic of services — from education to employment. But as we hope to contain Covid-19 by means of mass inoculation, these stateless communities now face a new challenge. Denied the right to CNICs, they have no means to register themselves for the vaccine.

Coming back to the IHC verdict, it is indeed an important one in articulating the right to citizenship in Pakistan. Let us hope that our judges and our leaders take one step forward in recognising our ‘stateless’ fellow citizens as well.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2021.

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