Leiden Safety and Security Blog

Human security and citizenship in de facto states

Human security and citizenship in de facto states Photo (unedited) by othree via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

What is a passport? To those from the developed world, it is simply a document with their name and picture. However, for millions across the world, it is an obstacle that ties them down and limits their opportunities in life.

The Passport Index, the Quality of Nationality Index and the Visa Restriction Index quantify the quality of a particular citizenship, and the passport that comes with it. The quality is dependent on factors such as the state’s scale of economy, human development, peace and stability, the passport’s visa-free travel access and the ability to settle and work abroad; thus making make one citizenship better than another. By looking at these indices, it becomes apparent that more developed countries are ranked higher on the indices. Due to this link, having a powerful passport from a developed state can drastically increase human security by giving individuals access to better education, healthcare, pensions, economic opportunities, stronger diplomatic protection, ease of international travel, and the right to abode in more countries.

Despite extensive research into the link between citizenship and human security, de facto states (such as Abkhazia, Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh, Northern Cyprus, Palestine, Somaliland, South Ossetia, Taiwan, and Transnistria) have been largely overlooked. As a result, this post probes into the linkage between de facto state citizenship and human security.

In most cases, the recognition of a citizenship/passport is dependent on the recognition of state sovereignty. As a result, citizenships/passports of de facto states have remained largely unrecognized by the international community. This also creates a paradox, where individuals, due to their ambiguous legal status, are labeled as stateless persons by the international community despite possessing the citizenship of the de facto state. In turn, this has heavily restricted the individuals’ freedom of movement and other benefits resulting from migration. Thus, in order to ameliorate the situation, de facto state authorities have sought alternative options to increase the human security of their citizens.

The Kosovar, Taiwanese and Palestinian cases show that citizenship can be divorced from the recognition of state sovereignty. For example, the Taiwanese passport is widely accepted, despite Taiwan having diplomatic relations with only 20 countries. Citing this case, other de facto states have worked towards increasing the recognition of their passports in order to widen the prospects of their citizens. Furthermore, to increase individual security the international community should consider recognizing the passports as valid travel documents. However, in most cases (e.g. Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria), the parent state continues to forcefully label the de facto state’s residents as its citizens; resulting in a further paradox. Thus, due to parent state opposition, the citizenships of de facto states have remained largely unrecognized.

As a result, these polities have taken other measures to ensure the citizens’ rights, including freedom of movement. In some instances, de facto states have got easy access to the travel documents (i.e. passports) of their patron states (Armenia for Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey for Northern Cyprus, Jordan for Palestinian refugees). Other polities, on the other hand, have worked to ensure that their citizens have easy access to full citizenship of a recognized country, by adopting favorable dual citizenship legislation (e.g. Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria). As a consequence, individuals are able to enjoy the security afforded by the (more developed) recognized state. While acquiring the citizenship of a recognized state can eliminate the first paradox, this can result in another paradox where individuals can simultaneously be considered as dual citizens by states that recognized the de facto state, or as citizens of only the recognized country whose citizenship they hold.

This discussion shows that, despite efforts by de facto states to increase the human security of their citizens, due to the complicated political and legal status, they can often times be hindered in achieving this. As a result, further research and initiatives from the international community are vital to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their political or legal status, can be and feel secure in all human security dimensions.

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