S. Sudan Takes Vital Step to Prevent Statelessness

By Sarnata Reynolds
Applicants wait outside the Nationality Directorate in Juba, South Sudan.
South Sudan opened its second Nationality Directorate on November 28, and the government expects that offices will be opened in all 10 South Sudanese states by the new year. This is a tremendous step for the world's newest country and should greatly decrease the risk of statelessness.

In April 2012, RI spent three days observing the adjudication of applications at the first directorate, which opened in Juba in January 2012. The office was overwhelmed with applicants, many of whom waited days to acquire nationality documents. RI also observed that many people from outside Juba were subjected to a higher burden of proof because officers were not familiar with their tribes and/or home villages. These applicants told RI that the additional evidence they were asked for was too burdensome; some even said these demands caused them to give up altogether.

RI's subsequent report recommended that the government open offices in every state. As we argued at the time, this would make it easier for South Sudanese outside Juba to apply for nationality documents - not only for reasons of access, but also because directorate officers would be better placed to certify a person's home tribe or village.

Of course, these office and staff will have to be supported by effective regulation. Critical to the functioning of any office will be independent and transparent oversight, so that cases of discrimination or arbitrary decision-making are identified, reversed, and prevented. Additionally, all failed applicants should have the right to appeal these decisions in a local court of law.

South Sudan certainly faces a wide array of problems, but they will be more easily solved if South Sudanese can enjoy citizenship and the solidarity it fosters.