The International Observatory on Statelessness

State Succession

  • State succession is linked with questions of nationality and human rights, as the former may affect the legal status of people who have been nationals of a predecessor state but who want, or are entitled, to be nationals of a successor state.

  • The laws of both states regarding nationality have been decisive to addressing any confusion (this principle has been adopted e.g. in the 1977 European Convention on Nationality). In principle nationality will change with a change of sovereignty. If both states accept dual nationality, the issue may be less problematic.

  • However, when problems/conflict of laws and policies arise (the Ethiopia-Eritrea is a good example of such problems), international law’s position has been that the parties (states) involved ‘in the cession of territory should ensure that no person becomes stateless as a result of a change in sovereignty’ (1961 Convention, Shaw).  

  • Another problem is that whether the nationality of the people concerned should be decided by the states concerned (in particular the successor country) or by the people themselves (using their right to choose their nationality). There is a legal (or may be political) question in respect of the second option, that whether it can be seen in the context of the right to self-determination of peoples (e.g. ICCPR, Art 1).

  • The factors on which basis a person’s nationality can be determined have been sources of controversy (genuine link, residence, origin, etc being some of these). The ILC draft Articles of 1999 may offer some solutions (but its only a draft, it may reflect international custom though).

  • Examining the features of these draft articles in the light of the responses and practices of states on the issue will give some, if not absolute, clarity on the state of international law regarding statelessness v. state succession. (cases worth looking at include, but not limited, to Yugoslavia’s dismemberment, Ethiopia-Eritrea, UK-China relating Hong Kong).