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The Statelessness Pandemic

Over time, denaturalization has rightly come to be seen as a violation of human rights. But, as recent histories of the problem show, the international community still faces the same conundrum that it did a century ago, when droves of newly stateless people appealed to it for protection.

TILBURG – Legal theorists once consigned the idea of “statelessness” to the realm of fiction, because they considered it to be impossible within the state system that emerged after World War I. Every human being was supposed to be assigned a nationality and a country to call his or her own. But the war had created many refugees, and as empires disintegrated and new nation-states adopted exclusionary nationality laws, not everyone was in fact included.

The rise of fascism in the 1930s and 1940s further exposed the fallibility of this system and the ominous reality of the state’s power to exclude people or strip them of citizenship. Across Europe, citizenship-stripping went hand in hand with genocide for Jews and other minority groups. 

Following World War II, questions about the right to nationality, state power, and the limits of sovereignty loomed large in the development of human rights and international law. Could the states that were being created out of the independence movements and diminished European empires adopt nationality laws that excluded entire population groups? Did national governments hold the power to strip their own citizens of that status? Who was responsible for the newly stateless?

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