Statelessness Unit


Lawyers for Human Rights launched its Statelessness Unit in collaboration with UNHCR in 2011 when an increasing number of clients approached our law clinics for legal advice regarding access to nationality.

In the years since, LHR has done pioneering work on statelessness and access to nationality in South Africa through direct legal assistance, strategic litigation, advocacy, training and most recently, launching the Southern African Nationality Network (SANN) in collaboration with the Right to Nationality in Africa Coalition and UNHCR.

People in Africa become stateless for various reasons, including conflicts in nationality laws between States; gender discrimination; and lack of civil registration, particularly birth registration, to name a few. Access to nationality is a problem faced by both individuals born in South Africa as well as migrants. Statelessness and the arbitrary denial of citizenship is a serious human rights violation. Recognition of nationality serves as a key to a host of other rights. As a result, stateless individuals are often unable to access basic human rights such as education, health care, employment, equality, liberty and security of person.

LHR’s advocacy on this topic has been instrumental to regional developments such as the adoption of the 2016 SADC Parliamentary decision on Statelessness in SADC, the Pan African Parliament’s 2018 report on Statelessness in Africa, and sensitisation on the African Union’s Draft Protocol to the African Charter on the Specific Aspect of the Right to a Nationality and the Eradication of Statelessness in Africa.

Several president-setting court cases contributing to the previously non-existing jurisprudence on statelessness in South Africa has been the result of LHR’s strategic litigation initiatives.

Women and children are vulnerable groups who are particularly affected by statelessness. LHR prioritises these groups in its work and collaborates with the Global Campaign on Equal Nationality Rights to ensure gender equality in laws in Africa. LHR is also an active member of the UNICEF-UNHCR Coalition on Every Child’s Right to Acquire a Nationality.

Key statelessness partners:

To get in touch with the Statelessness Unit, email Liesl Muller (Unit Manager) or call the Johannesburg LHR office on 011 339 1960.

The Statelessness Unit provides legal advice in both the Pretoria and Johannesburg law clinics.