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  • Nationality and Statelessness Under International Law ed. by Alice Edwards & Laura Van Waas
  • David S. Weissbrodt (bio) and Kurt A. Meyer, Librarian (bio)
Nationality and Statelessness Under International Law (Cambridge university Press, Alice Edwards & Laura Van Waas eds., 2014), 306 Pages, ISBN 978-1-107-03244-6.


A stateless person is most simply defined in the negative as “a person not having a nationality under the law of any State.”1 This straightforward definition belies the complicated nature of an issue that currently affects millions of people worldwide and will influence more in the future.2 Nationality and Statelessness Under International Law provides a careful analysis of what it means to be stateless, the causes of statelessness, and how international law has historically dealt with the problem. Calling on authors who possess extensive experience in international law, research, and practice, the book provides insights as to how international law can best address and prevent the problem of statelessness.


The first two chapters serve as an important foundation for the rest of the book by effectively introducing the reader to the basic concepts of nationality, state-lessness, and citizenship. In Chapter 1, Alice Edwards discusses the procedural and substantive aspects of nationality. She uses the Nottebohm case brought before the International Court of Justice after World War II to serve as a reminder that nationality is a matter of domestic law, which can have international consequences. She explains how people procedurally acquire nationality via jus soli, jus sanguinis, and jus domicile.3 Edwards also discusses the substantive aspects of nationality. For example, diplomatic protection, right to reentry, and residence are typical benefits conferred on nationals of the state.4

After establishing a foundation for these basic concepts, Matthew Gibney [End Page 817] discusses the relationship between citizenship and statelessness by taking a more abstract approach.5 He introduces two key concepts: The difference between persons who are descriptively stateless (i.e., individuals who do not have citizenship from any state) and normatively stateless (i.e., people who may have citizenship but they do not receive the types of benefits they ought to be receiving from their state membership).6

In addition, Gibney explains the political aspects of statelessness, especially why some states view statelessness as beneficial. While statelessness is often caused unintentionally, sometimes, it is not. States may view removing nationality as an effective way to deal with persons who committed acts of disloyalty.7

Gibney concludes by explaining why statelessness should be morally wrong in a system where membership in a state is practically mandatory. According to modern understandings of sovereignty and statehood, states exist to protect the people they govern. Therefore, it is imperative for individuals to have a nationality. The solution, Gibney asserts, is that states should offer nationality and citizenship in a fair manner and suggests that states have a moral duty to offer citizenship to the stateless.8


The next three chapters discuss the international legal framework concerning stateless persons, specifically the United Nations statelessness conventions and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ increasing role in addressing the issue. The horrors of World War II provided the impetus for the United Nations’ first attempt to manage the problem of statelessness with the 1949 Study of Statelessness9—an early attempt to evaluate how the stateless should fit into international law. Laura Van Waas explains the purpose and effect of the two succeeding stateless conventions. The 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons defined state-lessness and created standards regarding what benefits should be afforded to the stateless. The 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness established guidelines for how states can avoid creating statelessness.10

Van Waas analyzes the limitations of these early conventions. The 1954 Convention attempted to define the term “stateless,” which left questions regarding its meaning and application. Recent efforts by the UNHCR to clarify the Convention’s definition of a “stateless person” have given it greater effect. States have been slow to adopt both conventions, especially the 1961 Convention. In practice, however, states have been relatively more...


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pp. 817-822
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