“Accelerate efforts towards eradication of statelessness”: Catholic Archbishop to Stakeholders in Southern Africa

Participants at Multi-religious Leaders SACBC conference. Credit: SACBC

Archbishop Joseph Buti Tlhagale of South Africa’s Catholic Archdiocese of Johannesburg has called upon stakeholders in Southern Africa, including religious leader and civil society entities,  to speed up the process of addressing the challenge of “statelessness” once and for all.

In his address during a meeting that brought together religious leaders, Diplomats, and Civil Society Organisations from countries in Southern Africa, Archbishop Tlhagale described statelessness as “a restrictive and deterring condition that denies individuals political, civil, socio and economic rights and consequently their dignity as human beings.”

“The purpose of this meeting is to mobilize religious leaders and organizations, and other stakeholders, in the global strategic objective to accelerate efforts towards the eradication of statelessness,” the member of the UNHCR Multi-Religious Council of Leaders said during the June 13 forum.

He added, “The meeting aims to integrate the voices of those with lived experience of statelessness and to explore ways to create a broader platform where they are central to the dialogue and solutions.”

The South African member of Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) explained the need for a collaborative approach, saying, “A shared and collective responsibility amongst not only states but various stakeholders, religious, civil society, and stateless people themselves will in my view, mitigate the challenge of statelessness” in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.


The immediate former Liaison Bishop of the Migrants and Refugees Office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) went on to highlight initiatives that some organizations have undertaken to end statelessness.

“In 2014 the UNHCR launched the #IBelong Campaign to tackle the scourge of statelessness.  The campaign has been a noble initiative aimed at raising awareness about the negative impact of statelessness on children and to stop the generational perpetuation of statelessness,” he said.

“The #IBelong Campaign also sought to influence states to adopt the plans of the United Nations and the UNHCR that endeavour to eliminate statelessness,” Archbishop Tlhagale further said, and added, “Initiatives like Action 7 of  the UNHCR’s Global Action Plan to End Statelessness calls on States to ensure birth registration to prevent statelessness becomes a norm by 2024.”

He continued, “The importance of birth registration cannot be overemphasized because, as UNICEF explains, is a permanent and official record of a child’s existence, and provides legal recognition of that child’s identity… It establishes a legal record of where the child was born and who his or her parents are.”

The South African Catholic Archbishop emphasized that “birth registration is required for a child to get a birth certificate – his or her first legal proof of identity. It is a document that will make sure that the child’s rights are upheld and access to essential services like health care, education, etc. is not denied.”

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He lauded the Economic Community of  West African States (ECOWAS) for leading the way in efforts to end statelessness. 

“After the adoption of the Abidjan Declaration of ECOWAS Member States on the Eradication of Statelessness in February 2015, ECOWAS Member States adopted the ‘Banjul Plan of Action of the Economic Community of West African States on the Eradication of Statelessness  2017-2024.’ The plan highlights birth registration to prevent statelessness as one of its main objectives,” Archbishop Tlhagale said.

He also recalled that the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) “equally adopted at the Ministerial level a Declaration of ICGLR Member States on the Eradication of Statelessness in October 2017” adding that the “Declaration promotes universal birth registration.”

In the Middle East and North Africa, the Catholic Archbishop said, “The League of Arab States (LAS) and UNHCR jointly convened a regional meeting on ‘Belonging and Legal Identity’ in October 2016.”

“At that meeting experts from LAS Member States, UN Agencies, civil society, and academia developed recommendations to enhance the protection of children in the region, inter alia by providing them with documentation and a legal identity, strengthening birth registration, and aligning nationality laws with international standards,” he said.


The Local Ordinary of Johannesburg since June 2003 also recognized the SADC Heads of State for signalling “a political commitment to address statelessness in the region through the adoption of the SADC Road Map on the Eradication of Statelessness.”

“The recent adoption of the protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights Concerning the Specific Aspects of the Right to a Nationality and the Eradication of Statelessness in Africa also represents a major milestone in regional efforts to eradicate statelessness,” he said.

These initiatives, the Catholic Archbishop, who started his Episcopal Ministry in April 1999 as Bishop of South Africa’s Diocese of Bloemfontein said, “have been a powerful engine of national action to address statelessness, including through improved birth registration practices in Africa.”

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.