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Katja Swider successfully defended her PhD thesis entitled ‘A rights-based approach to statelessness’ on the 5th of July 2018. She argues that current policies on statelessness fail to prioritize the empowerment of affected persons, and suggests adopting a rights-based approach to to remedy that problem.

K.J. Swider

During her doctoral research Katja has been involved in civil society activism in the field of statelessness. She participated in numerous consultations on statelessness policies in national and international contexts, and sat on the Advisory Committee of the European Network on Statelessness. Her research is inspired and informed by the experiences in the field.

She criticizes current international statelessness policies for unduly idealizing nationality and demonizing statelessness. A rights-based approach can overcome those deeply rooted yet unfounded generalizations about nationality and statelessness by empowering each individual to decide whether, when, and how to invoke their right to a nationality. She advocates for a shift of focus from simplistic goals of trying to turn all stateless persons into nationals, where the affected persons are treated as objects and not as agents, towards more complex pursuits of individual empowerment through rights.

The thesis features four case studies of policy responses to statelessness which illustrate the practical implications of the current policies and of the proposed alternative. These cases involve (1) a stateless individual who can acquire the nationality of Armenia at the cost of fulfilling a high-risk military service, (2) a national registration system in the Netherlands which avoids recording instances of statelessness as a matter of policy, (3) the stateless Russian-speaking minority in Latvia, who enjoy a high level of protection in their country of residence, (4) a comparison of two historical policies on restoration of nationalities which had been withdrawn in the context of political persecution, namely the case of the Jewish population who lost German nationality during the Nazi regime, and the case of the Faili Kurd population who lost Iraqi nationality during the regime of Saddam Hussain.