BY AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the exact number of stateless people globally is not known.
However, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that there are many millions globally – of which approximately one third are children.
The agency further states that “statelessness may occur for a variety of reasons, including discrimination against particular ethnic or religious groups or on the basis of gender; the emergence of new states and transfers between existing states; and conflict of nationality laws.”
In Zimbabwe approximately 300,000 people are currently at risk of statelessness, according to the UNHCR.
Lack of official data means that the exact number of people affected by statelessness is unknown.
Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from neighbouring countries, who were brought in by colonial authorities to work on farms and mines around the country from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, and their descendants who settled or were born in Zimbabwe before independence in 1980 face barriers to acquiring citizenship in the country and have effectively been rendered stateless.
In addition, generations of ethnic Ndebele people, and largely settled in the Matebeleland and Midlands provinces, whose families were killed or disappeared during the Gukurahundi massacres, in early to mid1980’s, are also affected by statelessness.
During Gukurahundi and its aftermath, many thousands died, lost family members and were forced to flee their homes in the affected areas in Matabeleland and the Midlands.
Many inevitably lost their identity documents.
As a result, those born in the ensuing months and years were unable to be registered because they could not provide the death certificates of their parents required to prove Zimbabwean nationality, thereby rendering them stateless.
This report reveals how these population groups have been deprived for decades of their rights as citizens.
Denied the documentation enabling them access to education, work, health care and other basic rights, hundreds of thousands of people have been rendered stateless, stripped of any legal status in the country where they have raised families and which they regard as home.
The government’s failure over many years to remove the administrative obstacles to the enjoyment of these rights, particularly to descendants of migrants who migrated to Zimbabwe before independence and to victims of Gukurahundi and their descendants, has forced people into daily struggles to live freely.
As a consequence, these two groups of the population have been pushed to the margins of society.
The situation that many stateless Zimbabweans find themselves in is contrary to the constitution of Zimbabwe.
Section 43 of the constitution provides that “every person who was born in Zimbabwe before the publication day [of the constitution] is a Zimbabwean citizen by birth if one or both of his or her parents was a citizen of a country, which became a member of Sadc in 1992 and is resident in Zimbabwe.
” This means that any person who was born in Zimbabwe to parents with a claim to citizenship of any Sadcstate, including Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia or South Africa, and is residing in Zimbabwe is a Zimbabwean citizen by birth.
Although different groups have been affected by statelessness, including thousands of white commercial farmers, this report focuses on its impact on migrants and descendants of victims of Gukurahundi, both of them historically marginalized categories of people.
Stateless people are restricted from participating in the economy, accessing jobs, opening a bank account, buying a house, opening their own businesses or entering into legally recognisable marriages or family unions.
They are also poor, marginalised, discriminated against, disenfranchised and politically excluded.
This population group has over the years been negatively affected by multiple changes to the nationality laws in Zimbabwe, especially in the period between 1963 and 2003.
At independence in 1980, full citizenship was accorded to everyone born in Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia).
Dual or multiple citizenship was permissible and many people qualified who were from other Southern African countries and lived in Zimbabwe.
In 1983, the right to dual citizenship was removed from the Lancaster House constitution and Zimbabweans with dual citizenship were required to renounce their foreign citizenship if they wanted to remain citizens of Zimbabwe.
Many descendants of Malawian, Zambian and Mozambican migrants were affected as they could no longer claim citizenship both of Zimbabwe and of their country of descent.
Thus, if they chose to retain their foreign citizenship, they ceased to be Zimbabwean nationals and vice versa. From around 2000 the Registrar General’s Office, which is responsible for civil registration, identity documents (IDs), citizenship and the voters’ roll, began to refuse Zimbabwean citizenship to people who had the potential right to another citizenship, even if they had never sought to claim that right.
A number of court cases successfully challenged these provisions, albeit with no effect on the general practice of arbitrarily refusing citizenship.
As a result, people were faced with insurmountable barriers when they tried to access social services such as health care and education.
Stateless people in Zimbabwe without birth certificates and IDs have struggled to access education, including being excluded from sitting for secondary school and other public examinations, thereby limiting their prospects of future employment.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (African Children’s Charter) to which Zimbabwe is state party, provides for the child’s right to a name, birth registration and nationality, and imposes an obligation on state parties to take legislative measures to prevent statelessness among children.
The Zimbabwean authorities have passed discriminatory legislation over the years that has effectively excluded, marginalized and disenfranchised specific groups of people.
For example, the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act 23/1984 was used to arbitrarily deprive persons of foreign origin of their right to a Zimbabwean nationality even though most of them were entitled to citizenship.
While states have a right to determine their citizenship laws, these laws must be in conformity with international human rights law.
As such, domestic law and practices must not be discriminatory and must conform to obligations to not render anyone stateless.
Migrant workers located on mines and farms lost Zimbabwean nationality by operation of the law in 2001.
While many were still considered Zimbabwean at the time of the 2001 amendment, the law required them to renounce their ancestral nationality within six months of the law entering into force.
Many were unable to do so because they did not hold identity documents showing they were nationals of those other countries. Amnesty International is, among others, recommending that Zimbabwe adopts reasonable and inclusive administrative policies to ensure universal registration, including late registration, of descendants of victims of Gukurahundi in Matabeleland North and South Provinces, Bulawayo and the Midlands, which were sites of the Gukurahundi violence and the killings which presently host some of the stateless people, without the requirement to produce their parents’ death certificates.
The organisation is also calling on the government to take adequate measures to ensure the registration and restoration of Zimbabwean nationality to all who are entitled to it, including all those born in Zimbabwe to foreign parents.
lThis is an extract from an Amnesty International report on statelessness in Zimbabwe titled “We are like “stray animals” released on Friday.