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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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But New Law Still Falls Short; Government Should Ensure Full Equality

September 2, 2010

(Beirut) – Libya’s new nationality law granting women married to foreign spouses the right to pass their own nationality to their children is a significant move forward for women’s rights, Human Rights Watch said today. But the law still contains some contradictory provisions that could be interpreted to perpetuate discrimination, Human Rights Watch said.

The General People’s Committee (GPC) – the arm of Libya’s government responsible for issuing new laws – made public in July Law no. 24 of 2010 on the Provisions of Libyan Nationality, which it had adopted on January 28. Article 11 of the new law extends Libyan nationality to children born to Libyan mothers and foreign fathers, but leaves the interpretation of the provision to implementing regulations that the committee has not yet issued.

However, article 3 of the law appears to contradict article 11, and to perpetuate gender discrimination. Article 3 continues to define a Libyan as one who is born to a Libyan father or to a Libyan mother and a father who is stateless or whose nationality is unknown. There is no mention in article 3 of children born to a Libyan mother who is married to a man who has a nationality other than Libyan.

“The new nationality law will make it easier for some Libyan women married to men with other nationalities to pass on their citizenship to their children,” said Nadya Khalife, Middle East and North Africa women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But whether women gain full equality is going to depend on how fairly the new law is carried out.”

Officials should make sure that forthcoming regulations to implement the changes in nationality rights make clear that there is no difference between the rights of women and those of men to pass on their nationality, Human Rights Watch said.

The previous nationality law, Law no. 18 of 1980 on the Provisions of the Nationality Act and its Amendments, allowed Libyan women married to non-Libyans to retain their own nationality but not to pass it on to their children. Families in this situation found themselves denied the official documentation they needed to obtain some state services, such as medical care and subsidized food. They were also ineligible for the payments the state makes to families following the birth of a child.

In 2007 the government issued a decree ruling that children born to Libyan mothers and fathers of different nationalities were required to pay 800 dinars (around US$654) per year for their children to attend public schools. The GPC later ruled that fees could be waived for families that could not afford them.

In its first annual report on human rights for 2009, the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, a semi-governmental organization chaired by Saif al Islam al Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s leader, called for giving Libyan women married to men of various nationalities the right to pass on their nationality to their children. The report cited the issue as one of the country’s main human rights concerns.

Libya ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1970 with no reservations relevant to nationality or gender.  The UN expert body that monitors implementation of the ICCPR has stated that to fulfil its treaty obligations, a government must ensure that women and men have equal capacity to transmit to children the parent’s nationality.

Libya has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but filed formal reservations to exempt itself from an obligation to comply with several provisions.  It registered reservations to articles 2, on combating discrimination in all its forms, and 16, on equality in the family.

The UN expert body that monitors the convention says, however, that reservations to these articles are not permitted under the treaty.  When the expert group reviewed Libya’s compliance with the treaty in 2009, it urged Libya to grant equal citizenship rights to men and women, including by amending the nationality law.

Libya is the only country in North Africa that has ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which affirms equal rights for men and women with regard to the nationality of their children.

Numerous other countries in the Middle East and North Africa have nationality laws that continue to discriminate against women. These include Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

“Authorities should amend Article 3 of the nationality law so that all Libyan women – just like all Libyan men – can pass on their nationality to their children, regardless of the nationality of their spouse,” Khalife said. “The forthcoming implementing regulations of the law should also guarantee identical rights for Libyan men and women in all nationality matters – with no exceptions.

See the original article from Human Rights Watch

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