French writer Simone Weil, whose book was published posthumously in 1949, wrote in The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind, that "to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul... A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active, and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular expectations for the future. This participation is a natural one, in the sense that it is automatically brought about by place, conditions of birth, profession and social surroundings."!
Simone Weil worried greatly about geographical uprootedness. She claimed that many human collectivities with clearly defined territorial limits have disappeared, to be replaced by the nation-state.2 She writes: "For a long time now, the single nation has played the part which constitutes the supreme mission of society towards the individual human being, namely, maintaining throughout the present the link with the past and the future."3

The Right to a Nationality

After the Second World War, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated in Article 15(1), "Everyone has the right to a nationality." Principle 3 of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) extended this to "The child shall be entitled from his birth to a name and nationality." In a discussion on this Declaration, the representative of Uruguay4 said it was clear that this principle "proclaimed a right of the child, and not a right of parents, and that that right should be exercised by the legal representative only when the interest of the child was at stake."
The drafters of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted in 1989) strengthened this further. Now, of course, it is a real convention ratified by states and not only a statement of good intentions. Article 7, which was added to the text of the convention, states that "the child shall be registered immediately after birth," and imposed the duty on the concerned States-Parties to "ensure the implementation of these rights - in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless."
On the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, the representative of Thailand had foreseen that, due to the application of national legislation, some based on the principle of jus sanguiril (the bloodline via father or mother) and others on jus sol (birth on the territory) the Declaration could not prevent statelessness.5 In contrast, the new Convention makes a larger effort to prevent statelessness of children.
Article 7 should be seen in light of Article 2 where the Convention is said to deal with "all children under the jurisdiction of the State-Party."
The Syrian Arab Republic received an unpleasant surprise when the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child raised the issue of Syrian-born Kurdish children, who are considered to be foreigners or maktoumeen ¬unregistered.6 The Human Rights Watch/Middle East Watch Report Syria: the Silenced Kurds7 drew the attention of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to the great administrative and practical difficulties which exist regarding registration of Kurdish children under the jurisdiction of Syria, and to the absence of the possibilities for registration of these children. When the issue was brought up, the Syrian representative responded angrily that his delegation had come to discuss Syrian children, not Kurdish children. Swedish expert member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Thomas Hammarberg, answered that he had come to discuss all children under the jurisdiction of his State-Party.
In its concluding observations, the committee again underlined that the right to be registered and to acquire a nationality should be guaranteed to "all children under the Syrian Arab Republic's jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective, in particular, of the child's or his or her parents' or legal guardians' race, religion, or ethnic origin, in line with Article 2 of the Convention."

Israeli Discrimination against Palestinian Jerusalemites

In this country, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have been granted the status of permanent residents. This Israeli identity card (not citizenship) provides them with the right to live in their homes. It is strange to think that these Palestinians, with so many roots here, have the same status as this writer - a Jew from the Netherlands who rejected the Israeli nationality because he did not want to lose his Dutch passport (the Dutch do not allow double nationality). The Israeli government treats Palestinians like the writer, an immigrant,8 although the Palestinians were born in Jerusalem, have lived in the city for generations and have no other home.
The policy of the Israeli Ministry of Interior in discriminating between Israeli children and Palestinian children in East Jerusalem is a violation of the non-discrimination article (Article 2) of the Convention. The difficult situation of children from East Jerusalem presses home the fact that the right to be registered is the most basic article of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. If a child cannot be registered, he or she cannot benefit from many other rights, such as the right to social security, the right to health services and the right to education. Moreover, the right to family reunification and the right to be in contact with both parents often cannot be implemented without registration.9 In Jerusalem, if a child is not registered, he or she is liable to lose his or her residency rights in the future.
Palestinian children are victims of an unusual situation: a peace process in which there is no agreement either on a permanent solution for the Jerusalem problem, or on the future establishment of a Palestinian state. This situation leaves many Palestinian children in a political no-man's-land. The Jordanian government gave up claims to the West Bank territory, yet on a laissez-passer (travel document), the Israeli government still puts "Jordanian" as the nationality of Palestinians.10
It is obvious that if "the best interests principle" (Article 3) is indeed a paramount consideration, many Israeli policies should be reformulated in line with this obligation. But, it is also clear that, although the Convention states that right to be registered, the focus is on nationality. The unique situation of Palestinian children under prolonged occupation was not foreseen. In this respect, it will be interesting to see how the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child deals with this particular issue in the framework of the much-overdue official Israeli report on the subject.

An Alternative Approach

DCI - Israel is coordinating a coalition of NGO's writing an alternative NGO report which will certainly take up this issue of registration with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, if the problem is not solved by then. Thomas Hammarberg wrote that the Committee's view on the right to be registered as developed in the Committee (when it exercised its duty to interpret the Convention) was that:11
• A major "message" of the Convention is that each child is an individual in her/his own right and as important as any other person in the society. Therefore, every newborn child should be recognized by the authorities responsible.
• The registration is a recognition by the state that the child exists. The provision of all other rights depends on the recognition. Children who officially "do not exist" may have difficulties in having their rights fulfilled, now or later in life.
• The right to immediate birth registration should be granted to all children born in a particular area - without any discrimination. Responsible for the implementation of this right - as of all other rights in the Convention ¬is the government exercising control over the area where the child is born. All governments which have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child are bound to implement its provisions (Israel is in this category ¬P.Y.).
• Registration is important also for the purpose of collection of data on children for allocating resources and planning, for instance, of the school system. Without proper registration, it is difficult to monitor the implementation of the rights of the child in the particular country.12 Not all governments have taken this aspect of the Convention on the Rights of the Child seriously enough. A key issue has turned out to be one of giving priority to this right.
The Committee has taken careful note of the word "immediately" in Article 7. It has interpreted this to mean that registration should take place as soon as practically possible, within days rather than months after birth.

The Best Interests of the Child

As mentioned earlier, the right to be registered is, like other rights of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, firmly linked with the principle of the best interests of the child. The article where this principle is formulated (Article 3) underlines that the principle applies not only in the context of legal and administrative proceedings, but in relation to all actions concerning children. All articles of the Convention should be seen in light of "the best interests" principle.
Evaluating the practice of the Israeli Ministry of Interior, population control seems to be the major driving force, and the best interests of the child are not only not a primary consideration, they are not even a consideration to be taken into account at all.
Martha Cullberg Weston wrote in a psychoanalytical reflection upon a situation such as in the former Yugoslavia "that in a regressive crisis situation, issues of boundaries acquire more important significance. In the Balkans there was a need to have strong borders between oneself and one's enemy and much concern was expressed about the lack of effective borders. The ethnic cleansing policy was in a sense an attempt to establish borders between oneself and one's neighbor/enemy, who had become totally demonized by projective processes."13
Unlike the Serbs, the Israeli government does not talk about the other ethnic group being "impure" and about "removing the infection," but present Israeli practices are highly dangerous and now is the time to strengthen the social, political and cultural institutions in the society that help to uphold non-regressive social life. 14
The guidelines of the Convention on the Rights of the Child are clear: the welfare of children should not be dependent on political considerations and politically motivated procedures (such as population control). The obligation to treat children equally should be the main consideration of the Ministry of Interior, as should be the fact that it is only the child's best interests that are of paramount importance.


1. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind, with a preface by T.5. Eliot. London, Henley and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952, p. 41. The writer died in 1943 and her writings were published posthumously.
2. Ibid., pp. 94-95.
3. Idem, p. 95.
4. Mr. Penades (Uruguay), October 6, 1959.
5. Mr. Suphamonghon in the General Assembly, 14th session - Third Committee.
6. CRC, C1l5, add. 70, 24 January 1997, p. 3.
7. Human Rights Watch/Middle East Watch Report, Syria: the Silenced Kurds, New York, Washington, D.C., October 1996. A Syrian NGO report from the General Union of Women (Child Rights between Reality and Law, Damascus, 1996) points out a "weak point" which deprived children of a "Syrian mother who is married to a foreigner of the rights to carry Syrian citizenship," But relating to Assyrians, Kurds, Armenians, etc., the Union of Women states, "We rarely hear in Syria the word 'minority.'" They state, in contradiction to the Human Rights Watch/Middle East Watch Report, "There is no difference in laws and practical life" between minorities and others.
8. Ha-Moked (Center for the Defense of the Individual), and B'Tselem (the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), The Quiet Deportation, Revocation of Residency of East Jerusalem Palestinians, Jerusalem, 1997.
9. Eliahu Frank Avram, "The Child's Right to Family Unity in International Immigration Law," Law and Policy, Vol. 17, no. 4, October 1995, pp. 397-439.
10. Article 8, Right of the Child to Preserve Its Identity, is closely related to Article 7. But Palestinians in East Jerusalem will want to be Palestinians even if their identity cards are not.
11. Thomas Hammarberg, personal communication.
12. In countries where the human-rights situation is much worse, registration is also important, Mr. Hammarberg pointed out, as an important part against "disappearing" (for instance, in the form of infanticide and trafficking).
13. Martha Cullberg Weston, "When the Words Lose Their Meaning: From Societal Crisis to Ethnic Cleansing," Mind and Human Interaction, Vol. 8, no. 1, 1977, pp. 20-32.
14. Ibid., p. 28.

This paper was presented at the conference "The Child's Right to Be Registered - Unregistered Children in Jerusalem and the Quiet Deportation," jointly organized by Defense for ChildrC1l International (DCI) - Israel, Ha-Moked, the Jerusalem Legal Aid Center (JLAC) and the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights (LAW), May 1997.