Despite international laws guaranteeing the right to a nationality, statelessness remains a pervasive global problem that has been termed a “forgotten human rights crisis.” The issue highlights an important question for scholars that has not yet received enough attention: Why do some issues make it onto the international agenda while others do not? This study examines the characteristics necessary for successful issue emergence, or the step in the process of mobilization when a preexisting grievance is transformed from a problem into an issue. Using qualitative data from interviews with 21 decision makers at leading human rights and humanitarian non-governmental organizations, the study highlights shortcomings in the existing literature and provides additional explanations for issue emergence (or non-emergence). Statelessness serves as a case study for better understanding this process, and the article ends with specific recommendations for addressing key obstacles to its full emergence within the international community.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Although the focus of this study is on transnational NGOs, it is noteworthy that some domestic NGOs have begun adopting the issue of statelessness. For instance, Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa launched a statelessness program in 2011 as part of its refugee and migrant rights program. Networks of statelessness researchers and interested organizations are also developing; for example, the European Network on Statelessness and the International Observatory on Statelessness.
Amnesty International USA (2012a) Bahraini opposition figures stripped of nationality in “frightening” development. http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/bahraini-opposition-figures-stripped-of-nationality-in-%E2%80%98frightening-development. Accessed 15 January 2013.
Amnesty International USA (2012b) Torture and rendition: Guantánamo case profiles. http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/torture-and-rendition-guantanamo-case-profiles. Accessed 15 January 2013.
Blitz BK, Lynch M, Lakshman R, Chrimes SB (2011) The Cost of Statelessness: A Livelihoods Analysis. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, United States Department of State (PRM-SGP-10-CA-04192010).
Bob C (2005a) Rights on the Rise: International Mobilization for New Human Rights. Paper presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Conference, Washington DC, August 31-September 3.
Bob C (2005b) The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media, and International Activism. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Carpenter RC (2007a) Setting the Advocacy Agenda: Theorizing Issue Emergence and Nonemergence in Transnational Advocacy Networks. International Studies Quarterly 51: 99–120.
Carpenter RC (2007b) Studying Issue (Non)-Adoption in Transnational Advocacy Networks. International Organization 61: 643–667.
Finnemore M, Sikkink K (1998) International Norm Dynamics and Political Change. International Organization 52 (4): 887–917.
Goldstone J, Tilly C (2001) Threat (and Opportunity): Popular Action and State Response in the Dynamics of Contentious Politics. In: Aminzade R, Goldstone R, McAdam D, Perry E, Sewell W, Tarrow S, Tilly C (eds) Silence and Voice in the Study of Contentious Politics. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 179–194.
Hilgartner S, Bosk C (1988) The Rise and Fall of Social Problems: A Public Arenas Model. The American Journal of Sociology 94 (1): 53–78.
Hopgood S (2006) Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International. Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
HumanTrafficking.org. Thailand. http://www.humantrafficking.org/organizations/238. Accessed 31 December 2012.
Keck M, Sikkink K (1998) Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
Kingston LN (2012) Statelessness and issue (non-)emergence. Forced Migration Review 40. http://www.fmreview.org/sites/fmr/files/FMRdownloads/en/young-and-out-of-place/kingston.pdf. Accessed 26 January 2013.
Kingston LN, Cohen EF, Morley CP (2010) Limitations on universality: The ‘right to health’ and the necessity of legal nationality. BMC Health and International Human Rights 10(11). http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1472-698X-10-11.pdf. Accessed 15 January 2013.
McAdam D (1982) Political Process and the Development of the Black Insurgency, 1930–1970. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Open Society Justice Initiative. Projects: Statelessness. http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/projects/statelessness. Accessed 15 January 2013.
Passy F (1999) Supranational Political Opportunities as a Channel of Globalization of Political Conflicts: The Case of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In: della Porta D, Kriesi H, Rucht D (eds) Social Movements in a Globalizing World. New York, St. Martin’s Press: 148–169.
Physicians for Human Rights (2004) No Status: Migration, Trafficking & Exploitation of Women in Thailand. https://s3.amazonaws.com/PHR_Reports/thailand-women-trafficking-2004.pdf. Accessed 31 December 2012.
Plan International. Count Every Child. http://plan-international.org/birthregistration/universal-birth-registration. Accessed 15 January 2013.
Pralle SB (2006) Branching Out, Digging In: Environmental Advocacy and Agenda Setting. Washington, DC, Georgetown University Press.
Price R (1998) Reversing the Gun Sights: Transnational Civil Society Targets Land Mines. International Organization 52 (3): 613–644.
Refugees International. Statelessness. http://refugeesinternational.org/what-we-do/statelessness. Accessed 15 January 2013.
Snow DA, Benford RD (1988) Ideology, Frame Resonance, and Participant Mobilization. In: Klandermans B, Kries H, Tarrow S (eds) International Social Movement Research 1. Greenwich, Jai Press Inc.: 197–217.
Snow DA, Rochford EB, Worden SK, Benford RD (1986) Frame Alignment Processes, Micromobilization, and Movement Participation. American Sociological Review 51 (4): 464–481.
Sokoloff C (2005) Denial of Citizenship: A Challenge to Human Security. The Advisory Board on Human Security. ochaonline.un.org/ochalinkclick.aspx?link=ocha&docid=1003253. Accessed 15 January 2013.
Southwick K, Lynch M (2009) Nationality Rights for All: A Progress Report and Global Survey on Statelessness. Refugees International. http://refugeesinternational.org/sites/default/files/RI%20Stateless%20Report_FINAL_031109.pdf. Accessed 15 January 2013.
Stone DA (1989) Causal Stories and the Formation of Policy Agendas, Political Science Quarterly 104 (2): 281–300.
Tarrow S (1998) Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
United Nations (1948) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/. Accessed 31 December 2012.
United Nations General Assembly (1954) Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6b3840.html. Accessed 30 March 2013.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Who is Stateless and Where? http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c15e.html. Accessed 30 March 2013.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2006) The World’s Stateless People: Questions and Answers. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/47a707900.html. Accessed 15 January 2013.
van Waas L (2012) Nationality and rights. In: Blitz BK, Lynch M (eds) Statelessness and Citizenship: A Comparative Study on the Benefits of Nationality. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, pp 23–44.
The author thanks Hans Peter Schmitz, Elizabeth Cohen, John Burdick, Audie Klotz, and Julie Mertus for their support and invaluable feedback on this project.
About this article
Cite this article
Kingston, L.N. “A Forgotten Human Rights Crisis”: Statelessness and Issue (Non)Emergence. Hum Rights Rev 14, 73–87 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12142-013-0264-4
- Non-governmental organizations
- Issue emergence
- Transnational advocacy networks