Time For Liberia To Do Away With Archaically Racist ‘Nationality Law’

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Executive, Legislative and Judiciary Branches of Government Must Explore Best Option to Change Trend

AT THE HEIGHT of the civil war, countries around the world opened their doors to Liberians fleeing mayhem, chaos, destruction and war.

MEN, WOMEN and CHILDREN ran helter, skelter for shelter in hopes of finding refuge wherever they could find it. In the process, many took advantage of indiscriminate laws and immigration policies that made them citizens.

THEIR STATUS in those countries became a blessing for the many they left behind. Liberians armed with new citizenships and residence status was able to assist their friends, families and loved ones recovering from war.

NOW THAT THE war is over, and Liberia is picking up the pieces, many remain puzzled that the country whose citizens benefited from goodwill and favourable nationality laws in other countries ranks among a few countries across the globe only conferring nationality solely on the basis of race.

UNDER THE TERMS of Chapter 20 of the Aliens and Nationality Law (based on Article 27(b) of the Constitution), citizenship applies to any “person who is a Negro, or of Negro descent, born in Liberia and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” or “person born outside Liberia whose father (i) was born a citizen of Liberia; (ii) was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the birth of such child, and (iii) had resided in Liberia prior to the birth of such child.” These provisions have been criticized as discriminatory on the basis of both race and sex.

ARTICLE V, SECTION 13 of the 1847 Constitution which states: “The great object of forming these Colonies, being to provide a home for the dispersed and oppressed children of Africa, and to regenerate and enlighten this benighted continent, none but persons of color shall be eligible to citizenship in this Republic.” The phrasing “persons of color” was changed to “Negroes or persons of Negro descent” in a 1955 revision.

THE LIBERIAN LEGISLATURE was charged with establishing criteria for naturalization, emphasizing that all applicants must be black Africans to be naturalized.

FOUNDED BY FREED African slaves from the United States of America, the nationality law of Liberia is no doubt a racist posture.

SADLY, LIBERIA IS AMONGST eight countries in sub-Saharan African nations including Burundi and Togo, with nationality laws or policies that limit women’s ability to pass citizenship to their children. Although they all have “enshrined the principle of gender equality in their constitutions the pre-constitutional laws continue to be enforced, according to the U.N.

IN CONTRAST, COUNTRIES LIKE Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates provide legal exceptions to allow children with stateless fathers to obtain citizenship from their mothers.

HOLDING ONTO to a law which from all, indication projects a racist connotation, suggests that Liberia is still residing in the Stone Age when the rest of the world is moving ahead.

NEXT-DOOR neighbours Ivory Coast and Ghana and others in the region allow non blacks to hold citizenships spelling a major economic boom.

IT IS NO SECRET that non-African permanent residents are making crucial contributions to Liberia’s economic activities and innovation system.

MEMBER OF THE LEBANESE, Indian and other nationalities are making immense contributions to Liberia’s economic resurgence.

WE FIND IT QUITE DISTURBING that Liberia in this day and age would not allow children of non-Africans citizenship even when they were born in Liberia.

SADLY, LIBERIA IS among some 27 countries with laws or policies prohibiting or limiting the rights of women to pass citizenship to a child or non-citizen spouse.

ACCORDING TO A Pew Research Center analysis of data from the United Nations and the U.S. Department of State, these types of laws or policies were present in most countries around the world 60 years ago.

BUT THE TREND appears to be changing. In the past five years, multiple countries have taken steps to change these laws — including Kenya, Monaco, Yemen and Senegal. More recently, Suriname changed its nationality laws to allow women to pass citizenship to spouses and children.

IT IS BECOMING INCREASINGLY pathetic that Africa’s oldest republic remains a major contributor to the world’s stateless population, according to the UN which monitors children who may become stateless if they cannot acquire nationality from either parent. “Although in most situations a child can obtain nationality from his or her father, if the father is from a stateless population, the child may also be at risk to become stateless. As a result, these children and their stateless parent may be left without identity documents or access to education, healthcare or employment.

IT HAS BECOME a must that Liberia lead the way by committing itself to enacting reforms to realize gender equal nationality laws, through the Abidjan Declaration, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which enshrine the principles of non-discrimination, equal protection under the law, and the right to nationality.

ADDITIONALLY, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (African Commission) passed Resolution 234 on the Right to Nationality, which reaffirmed the equal rights of men and women with respect to nationality.

WE AGREE with the African Commission’s report on the Right to Nationality that “the right to a nationality is still not fully recognized as a fundamental human right on the African continent, as the current legal framework does not allow individuals to effectively protect themselves in the exercise of their right to a nationality.”

IN REFORMING ITS LAWS, Liberia should do all it can to introduce permanent resident status so that non-African national residing in the country are free from the hassle of having to renew resident and work permits.

WE STRONGLY BELIEVE that by moving to change this racist nationality law, Liberia will in effect be boosting its investment climate as non-Africans will now have a cushion to do business and add to the country’s development without the restrictions of a law that prevents them from owning and developing properties.

LIBERIA HAS HELD on to properties that remains undeveloped because Liberians simply lack the financial resources to develop – A law that discriminates on the basis of gender and deny women equal rights to confer nationality to their children is wrong and Liberia should be the last country on planet earth trumpeting such archaic restrictions.

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