× 1 Statelessness and human rights
2 The right to a nationality
3 The rights of stateless persons
4 Human rights frameworks and mechanisms
Table of contents
Further reading

3 The rights of stateless persons

Having been denied the right to a nationality, stateless persons find themselves more vulnerable to other human rights abuses. Statelessness should not be a disadvantage in accessing other rights. The majority of human rights enshrined in international and regional treaties, benefit all persons, regardless of whether they have a nationality or not. There are a few exceptions – political rights associated directly with citizenship, such as the right to vote and the right to seek political office – but stateless people are entitled to all other rights on equal terms and in a non-discriminatory manner.

In reality though, the lack of legal status of stateless persons is seen as a legitimate basis on which to deny them a variety of human rights. While laws, policies and practices differ across the world, it is not unusual for stateless persons to be denied rights such as education, healthcare, livelihood and movement, purely on the basis of their lack of a legal status. Similarly, the failure of states to identify and address the vulnerabilities unique to stateless can result in violations of rights such as liberty and security of the person, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It is not unusual in certain contexts, for the discriminatory treatment of stateless persons to escalate to persecution, resulting in forced migration seeking refuge in third countries.



Kuwait is home to over 90,000 stateless persons. They are known as the ‘Bidoon’ – which literally translates to ‘without’, referring to their lack of nationality. The Bidoon missed out on nationality as they did not, or were unable to register when the country first undertook efforts to register its population after independence. Their resultant lack of recognition as Kuwaiti citizens was inherited by subsequent generations. Kuwait also has a discriminatory nationality law which prevents women from passing citizenship to their children, aggravating the statelessness problem. Over the decades, the human rights situation of the Bidoon became progressively worse, eventually leading to them making headlines in 2011, when many Bidoon took to the streets to demand access to rights, including the right to nationality. When Kuwait came before the Universal Periodic Review in 2010 and again in 2015, nationality and statelessness issues received significant attention, with 10 and then 32 related recommendations being made. These included the following by France in 2015: “Implement the principle of non-discrimination guaranteed by the Constitution, and guarantee the rights of Bidoon to their nationality”. Kuwait has also received recommendations from the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Human Rights Committee on the situation of the Bidoon, the realization of the right to a nationality and the protection of the equal nationality rights of women.