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Citizenship, Statelessness & Denaturalization: The International Legal Landscape

Produced on December 11, 2020

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Course Information

Time 1h 1m
Difficulty Intermediate
Topics covered in this course: International Civil Rights

Course Description

Stateless persons are individuals who are not recognized as citizens of any state. This absence of a legal status results in an array of barriers that make every-day, common activities very difficult and have dire long-term individual and community-wide effects. In fact, citizenship - or the right to legal status - is considered as a gateway right as it unlocks, in many jurisdictions, other basic rights like the right to an education, the right to move freely within a country, and even the right to marry and divorce. Stateless individuals face limited – if any – access to lawful employment, education, healthcare, birth registration, property ownership, freedom of movement, or political participation. In the United States, which lacks a consistent legal framework as it pertains to stateless individuals, many people are in limbo, at risk of being in protracted deportation proceedings, or subject to exploitation by employers, law enforcement officials. Under the Trump administration, the effort to denaturalize American citizens has been reinvigorated and led to the very first dedicated standalone section of the Department of Justice to investigate cases of immigrants suspected to have acquired their citizenship fraudulently. 

This program, taught by Cassandre Theano, the Assistant Director of Human Rights and Public International Law at Columbia Law School, and Karina Ambartsoumian-Clough of United Stateless, aims to create an understanding of the concepts of citizenship and statelessness, offer a snapshot of statelessness as it affects populations around the world, delve deeper into the rise of the denaturalization discourse in the United States and explore UNHCR’s global action plan to eradicate statelessness by 2024. The course will also discuss the applicable law in the United States, review case studies of stateless individuals, and discuss the work of United Stateless, a nonprofit which can provide attorneys with tools to protect their stateless clients. 

Learning Objectives:

  1. Establish a solid understanding of statelessness and its effects
  2. Promote awareness of the Global Action Plan and its ten actions
  3. Identify best practices for representing stateless individuals 

Credit Information

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Cassandre Theano

Columbia Law School

Cassandre C. Théano is an international human rights attorney and advocate with over a decade of experience working at the intersection of human rights, racial justice, development and philanthropy. She is the Assistant Director for Human Rights and Public International Law at Columbia Law School's Office of Social Justice Initiatives. She also teaches the United Nations Externship at the law school and is an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 

Recently, she served as the ABA Section of International Law Diversity and Inclusion Fellow. Previously, Cassandre was the Associate Legal Officer for Inclusion and Equality at the Open Society Foundations (The Justice Initiative), focusing on citizenship and equality. In that capacity, she led the litigation and advocacy work related to the restoration of citizenship rights for Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, Black Mauritanians in Mauritania, and various ethnic minorities in Cȏte d’Ivoire and Kenya. She was also instrumental on Temporary Protected Status advocacy and other related immigration policies affecting black migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. She regularly provides advice on strategy, policy, and funding to human rights and advocacy organizations.

She was also a Human Rights Legal consultant for MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization and for Netflix on the docuseries Rotten which explores human rights abuses in the food supply chain, and highlights her work as a human rights lawyer.

Cassandre grew up in Haiti and moved to the U.S. at 16. She earned her undergraduate degree in International Relations and French Literature and her Master’s degree in French Society, Politics and Culture from New York University. She holds a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, with a concentration on International Human Rights Law and a certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies. At Georgetown Law, she participated in the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, where she successfully advocated including protections for women’s land and property rights in Kenya’s 2010 Constitution. She was also the Senior Articles Editor of the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law.  

She is fluent in French, Haitian Creole, and Spanish.

Karina Ambartsoumian-Clough

United Stateless

Karina Ambartsoumian-Clough, born of Armenian descent in the former USSR, has been stateless since she was eight. In 2017, she helped found United Stateless and now leads the organisation, aiming to build and inspire community among those affected by statelessness and advocate for their human right to inclusion, participation and protection.


Geoffrey K.

Very interesting program well-presented by the speakers. I learned a lot that I did not know about this issue.

Amanda H.

very timely substantive presentation for these challenging times

The A.

Very interesting. I never knew that this issue was so common.

kelly o.


Jason M.

A look at a really interesting problem that a lot of people don't know about.

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