Legal fight goes on for stateless persons

Herbert Baluku spent six years of his adult life in jail and was released from a South African deportation centre only after two urgent court applications. His only “crime” was not being able to prove citizenship of any country.

His plight is but one example of the tribulations faced by over 12 million people worldwide who are forced to live their lives as stateless persons.

The Statelessness Project of Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) became aware of Baluku’s plight only after he had already been held in detention in South Africa for over six months because no country would recognise him.

They were forced to launch two urgent court applications to secure his release and had to fight Home Affairs again for a permit enabling Baluku to stay in South Africa until his status as a permanent resident under special circumstances was finalised.

Born in France, Baluku moved to the DRC at the age of two and was abandoned in Kenya when he was 12. He was arrested in Tanzania when he turned 18 because of his lack of documentation and was only released three years later when he threatened to commit suicide.

He was arrested again when he arrived in Zambia, where he was detained for two years before ending up in South Africa in 2012, only to be arrested again when he was about to leave the country.

Millions of people in SA remain stateless
LHR lawyer Liesl Muller said Baluku’s case was an extreme example, but LHR was also fighting several other legal battles on behalf of stateless persons.

One such case was that of a five-year-old girl who was born in South Africa after her parents emigrated from Cuba. Cuba stated she was not a citizen and she was refused nationality as a South African too, despite the Citizenship Act providing citizenship to stateless persons born in the territory.

LHR brought an application to force Home Affairs to recognise her right to citizenship by birth.

It further wants the court to direct the minister to draft regulations to make the Citizenship Act achievable as there are presently no guidelines on how to apply the provision in practice.

LHR is also fighting a legal battle on behalf of a young woman who was born in Ethiopia, forced to flee when Eritrean soldiers attacked her village and killed most of her family members and lost her citizenship when Ehtiopia amended its laws in 2003.

She is seeking a court order to set aside the rejection of her asylum claim and to declare her a refugee as she was arbitrarily deprived of her citizenship for ethnic reasons, never held nationality in Eritrea and fears persecution as a suspected spy if sent to either country.