‘Legal Identity for All’ and Statelessness
Opportunity and Threat at the Junction of Public and Private International Law
This article considers the impact of Target 16.9 of the Sustainable Development Goals (‘SDGs’), ‘to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration’ on the objective of eradicating statelessness. This SDG Target has given a significant boost to initiatives for the strengthening of civil registration and identification systems, supported by the United Nations and World Bank. Yet its impact on the resolution of statelessness is not clear, because of the immense complexity of the definition of ‘legal identity’. Proposed definitions, adopted after the target was established, fail to take on board the challenges involved in cross-border recognition of civil status documents and the determination of nationality of a child for parents who hold no documents. The article concludes that SDG Target 16.9 is both an opportunity and a threat. If the objective of providing universal ‘legal identity’ is to have a positive impact for stateless persons there is a need for new engagement with the regulation of civil status in private international law, and new insistence in public international law on legal frameworks that facilitate recognition and registration of the different elements of a person’s identity, including nationality, even and especially where they are officially in doubt. Short cuts in this process risk long delays.