Crucial high court statelessness case tests route out of legal limbo

A young man, stateless and unable to access even the basic rights that go with citizenship, has brought what could be a precedent-setting case in the high court of South Africa. The young man, who knows nothing of his father, and whose mother died when he was very young, wants the court to order that he be granted citizenship of SA, either by birth or through naturalisation.

Read founding papers

Read heads of argument


The tragedy of statelessness lies deep in the heart of a major new case, argued before the high court in Pretoria, South Africa.

When women can’t confer nationality on their children equally with men, problems of statelessness grow – UNHCR

As the world’s states consider how to reduce the plague of statelessness, nationality laws come increasingly under the microscope. That’s because if a child can only take on the nationality of their father, and the father is unknown or dies or disappears before a child is officially registered as his, then the child could well be doomed to a life without nationality or citizenship. Thus, ensuring that there is equality between women and men when it comes to conferring nationality on children, would help greatly in reducing statelessness around the world.

Read report


Nationality laws often seem random in the way that nationality, and thus citizenship, is conferred on children.

Take the case of the Bahamas, one of two states in the Caribbean that don’t allow women to confer nationality on their children on the same terms as fathers.

Being stateless is ‘not merely a state of mind, or a choice’ – judge

Some readers might wonder how statelessness is viewed by courts in other parts of the world. For them, the recent Canadian case of Davood Helalifar v Minister of Citizenship and Immigration will be an eye-opener. Helalifar’s application for permanent residence was refused by a senior official and so Helalifar approached the federal courts asking for judicial review of that decision. Helalifar, who has had several criminal convictions since arriving in Canada, is originally from Iran.

Read judgment

Davood Helalifar’s application for judicial review was heard by Canadian Judge Shirzad Ahmed, who, before his 2017 appointment to the bench, won immense respect as a lawyer for his human rights work. Originally from Kirkuk, Southern Kurdistan, he went to Canada as a refugee in 1984. 


Subscribe to RSS - statelessness