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“A Forgotten Human Rights Crisis”: Statelessness and Issue (Non)Emergence


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.

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    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.


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The author thanks Hans Peter Schmitz, Elizabeth Cohen, John Burdick, Audie Klotz, and Julie Mertus for their support and invaluable feedback on this project.

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Correspondence to Lindsey N. Kingston.

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Kingston, L.N. “A Forgotten Human Rights Crisis”: Statelessness and Issue (Non)Emergence. Hum Rights Rev 14, 73–87 (2013).

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  • Non-governmental organizations
  • Issue emergence
  • Statelessness
  • Transnational advocacy networks