Case Study: UN High Commissioner for Refugees

UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Millions Are Stateless

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the UN organization mandated with helping stateless people.

As of 2012, 12 million people worldwide are stateless.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the number of stateless people were gradually reduced as the successor states to the Soviet Union granted citizenship to several hundreds of thousands of people, but the numbers of stateless have increased again in 2010 and 2011 with developments in other parts of the world.

The main tools used by UNHCR are international treaties on statelessness. They were developed after World War II by the international community to resolve statelessness of the millions who were deprived of their nationality and, in many cases, forced to flee their homes.

The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons defines who is to be considered stateless and establishes that stateless people are entitled to certain minimum standards of treatment. The 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness provides principles and a legal framework to help states prevent and reduce statelessness through safeguards in their nationality laws.


To date, only 66 states are parties to the 1954 Convention and 38 to the 1961 Convention.

“After 50 years, these Conventions have attracted only a small number of states,” says Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR urges more countries to become parties to the Conventions. “It’s shameful that millions of people are living without nationality – a fundamental human right,” say Mr. Guterres. “The scope of the problem and the dire effects it has on those concerned goes almost unnoticed. We must change that. Governments must act to reduce the overall numbers of stateless.”


Prior to a ministerial meeting at UNHCR in December 2011, H&H produced and distributed a detailed 11-page press release. We produced it in several languages. With UNHCR we also produced a 20-minute TV B-roll, essential in getting international television coverage.

H&H launched the global press campaign from its bureau in London, mainly to capture international radio and television broadcasters. Mr. Guterres did one-on-one interviews with BBC, Associate Press, Al Jazeera, Reuters, Sky News, CNN International and Associated Press Television.


The press release generated 350 stories worldwide. It was carried by 3 international, 4 regional and 50 national television networks; also 7 international newswires ran the story, plus 5 worldwide radio networks.

UNHCR said that its ministerial meeting on statelessness was highly productive. Eight countries signed both Conventions and many countries made additional commitments. The ministers who attended the meeting were very aware of the global media coverage.

Category: Case Study