University of Leicester
2024_SCHENK_NM_PhD.pdf (2.51 MB)

The Right to a Nationality: A Defence of Basic Rights for Stateless Persons

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posted on 2024-06-07, 12:34 authored by Nicholas M. Schenk

The thesis argues that the right to a nationality is a basic right that is necessary (prerequisite) to enjoy all other rights as rights. I do not make the claim that the right to nationality is the human right with the highest intrinsic moral worth, but rather that it is essential instrumentally. The thesis begins with a conceptual analysis of the meaning of statelessness in the context of political theory in contradistinction to accounts in legal scholarship. I examine prominent extant theories of just membership. I argue that they are unable to provide a proper response to the problem of statelessness because they are centred on an ethics of refugee admission. This thesis makes three overall contributions. First, I show that statelessness mainly is a problem of oppression and structural injustice. Second, I argue that there is a moral right to a nationality for stateless persons on the basis of a practical conception of human rights. I contend that the practical conception as a basis for the right to a nationality is beneficial since it is not reliant on a foundationalist account of rights. It therefore can help to justify why having a nationality for stateless persons is such an important human right, by showing it as underpinned by a political claim to equality. Third, I make the further claim that the right to a nationality is not only a fundamental human right but that is also an instrumentally important ‘basic right’. It is basic in the sense that it is generally necessary for the enjoyment of many other human rights as rights. I conclude by providing an argument that shows why the right to a nationality should be added to a limited list of basic rights defended by Henry Shue.



Kelly Staples; Steve Cooke

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of History, Politics and International

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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