Alleviating statelessness in Montenegro: both on paper and in reality

Podgorica, Montenegro, 18 & 20 June 2014
On June 18 and June 20, UNHCR, in cooperation with the competent ministries of the Government of Montenegro, organized events discussing drafted legislative amendments and their implementation, with the aim of alleviating statelessness and ensuring comprehensive birth registration in the country.
On June 18, Ministry of Justice, in cooperation with UNHCR and UNICEF, organized a public discussion on the amendments to the Law on Non-Contentious proceedings that introduces a mechanism of judicial birth registration procedure. Ministry of Interior, in cooperation with the UNHCR, organized a round table on the implementation of Article 33 of the Law on Civil Registries, thereby discussing implementation of procedure for late birth registration.
Birth registration: an essential step to enjoying citizenship rights
The lack of birth registration represents a first step to statelessness, as the lack of registration completely severs the connection between a person and state administrative apparatus. Furthermore, birth registration is critical for the exercise of Jus soli principle, based on which citizenship or nationality is awarded to anyone born in the territory of a state. Citizenship Act of Montenegro foresees, inter alia, the acquisition of citizenship based on place of birth.
Although Montenegro acceded to all major international legal instruments regulating statelessness, the ambiguity of certain legislative provisions has hampered comprehensive implementation and adherence to these standards. According to the latest Census from 2011, 4312 persons declared they are without nationality in Montenegro.
Addressing the problem, both on paper and in reality
To address the issue of statelessness and lack of birth registration, the Ministry of Justice drafted a set of legislative amendments pertaining to non-contentious proceeding and subsequent registration. The changes foresee judicial birth registration procedures for persons born outside of the Montenegrin healthcare system.
“These amendments were necessary to harmonize the Law on Non-Contentious Proceedings with other law and ensure comprehensive protection and exercise of rights to subjects of the law. Changes foresee a procedure of determining time and place of birth of persons who were not registered at birth, as well as persons born outside of the healthcare system. These procedures will take place in non-contentious proceeding”, said Mrs. Branka Lakocevic, Deputy Minister of the Department for the Judiciary, Ministry of Justice.
To further the harmonization of various laws on birth registration and particularly to focus on the practical implementation of the procedure for late birth registration, the Ministry of Interior, in cooperation with the UNHCR, organized a round table on the implementation of Article 33 of the Law on Civil Registries. This article stipulates the procedure for late birth registration, but its ambiguity leaves room for varied interpretation and consequently, implementation.
The Ministry of Interior discussed mechanisms that are to ensure uniform implementation of the said provision. This includes a commitment to initiate as many late birth registrations as possible through the existing administrative procedure foreseen by the Law on Civil Registries.
“Subsequent registration and non-contentious proceedings are important mechanisms for alleviating statelessness in the country. Moreover, these amendments will facilitate Government’s efforts to help refugees and displaced persons regulate their legal status in the country. This is particularly relevant in light of a fact that for a certain number of these persons, the lack of documentation represents an objective obstacle in regulating their legal status. The Ministry of Interior commends these changes,” said Mr. Abid Crnovrsanin, Director General of the Directorate for Administrative Internal Affairs of the Ministry of Interior.
The UNHCR participated in the working group that prepared the legislative amendments and has been recognized by the both ministries as a long-term partner in resolving the issues of refugee and statelessness.