Liberian nationality law
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|Republic of Liberia|
The Republic of Liberia was founded by free African slaves from America who formed the American Colonization Society and returned to establish a republic on African soil. Nationality law is given in the Aliens and Nationality Law of 1973, based on its 1847 Constitution. Its citizenship laws have been widely accused of being explicitly racist. The first constitution allowed for women to transmit their nationality to their children, although multiple citizenship was not permitted nor is it permitted in revisions of the constitution.
Liberia is also one of the relatively few remaining countries in the world conferring nationality solely on the basis of race. Under the Liberian constitution, only persons of black African origins may obtain citizenship (although Liberian law allows members of other races to hold permanent residency status). Within Liberia itself, the wider implications of the policy are part of a heated debate in which native Liberians themselves have acknowledged that non-African permanent residents are crucial contributors to the country's economic activities and innovation system, mainly the wealthy Lebanese community.
Features of the first constitution that have been upheld include:
- Article V, Section 13 of the 1847 Constitution which states: "The great object of forming these Colonies, being to provide a home for the dispersed and oppressed children of Africa, and to regenerate and enlighten this benighted continent, none but persons of colour shall be eligible to citizenship in this Republic." The phrasing "persons of colour" was changed to "Negroes or persons of Negro descent" in a 1955 revision.
Under the terms of Chapter 20 of the Aliens and Nationality Law (based on Article 27(b) of the Constitution), citizenship applies to any "person who is a Negro, or of Negro descent, born in Liberia and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" or "person born outside Liberia whose father (i) was born a citizen of Liberia; (ii) was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the birth of such child, and (iii) had resided in Liberia prior to the birth of such child.” These provisions have been criticised as discriminatory on the basis of both race and sex.
Citizenship through naturalisation is governed by Chapter 21 of the Aliens and Nationality Law. Naturalisation requires a two-step process of first making a declaration of intent to naturalise before a Circuit Court, followed by the actual petition for naturalisation which must be filed between the second and third anniversary dates of the declaration of intent. The eligibility requirements for naturalisation are as follows:
- The applicant must be "a Negro or of Negro descent."
- The applicant must be at least 21 years of age at the time of the petition.
- The applicant must have been lawfully admitted to Liberia.
- The applicant must maintain continuous legal residence in Liberia between the dates of the declaration and the petition and from the date of the petition until the admission to citizenship. Absence from Liberia of more than six months from the declaration up to admission constitutes failure to meet this requirement. This requirement may be waived by the President of Liberia.
- The applicant must be of good moral character and believe in the principles of the Constitution.
- The applicant must renounce any previous nationalities.
- The applicant must take an Oath of Allegiance to the Republic of Liberia.
Naturalisation for special categories
Section 21.31 provides that the non-citizen child whose father is naturalised as a Liberian citizen also becomes a Liberian citizen provided that the child is under 21 years of age and residing in Liberia as a lawful permanent resident at the time of the father's naturalisation. No similar provisions are available for the non-citizen children of women naturalised as Liberian citizens.
Section 21.32 restored the citizenship of women who, under the operation of previous nationality law, had lost citizenship as a result of a marriage to a non-citizen husband but had not acquired any foreign nationality except any automatically conferred by marriage.
Marriage to a Liberian citizen
Liberian nationality law provides no special considerations for the non-citizen spouse of a Liberian citizen. Such a non-citizen can only acquire Liberian citizenship through the same naturalisation procedure laid out for other non-citizens.
Loss of citizenship
The circumstances leading to loss of Liberian citizenship are principally described in Chapter 22 of the Aliens and Nationality Law, although circumstances leading to revocation of naturalisation are given in Chapter 21. The following acts are listed in Chapter 22 as effecting a loss of Liberian citizenship:
- Acquiring the nationality of a foreign state, with the following exceptions:
- Liberian women who automatically acquire a foreign nationality upon marriage to a foreign man.
- The minor child (under 21) of Liberian parents naturalised abroad, provided that the child returns to Liberia to establish permanent residence before the 23rd birthday.
- Taking an oath of allegiance to a foreign state.
- Serving in the armed forces of a foreign state with the permission of the Liberian government.
- Voting in a foreign election.
- Voluntarily renouncing Liberian citizenship according to the procedures set forth by the Liberian government.
Chapter 21 gives the following as criteria for revocation of naturalisation:
- The applicant awarded naturalisation did not actually meet the eligibility criteria.
- Naturalisation was fraudulently obtained.
- Naturalisation was awarded in error.
- Residence in the country of previous nationality for more than two years or in any other country for more than five years.
- In the case of naturalisation awarded to children on the basis of a father's naturalisation, the revocation of the father's naturalisation entails the revocation of the child's naturalisation unless the child has reached age 21.
The provision allowing for revocation of naturalisation as a consequence of residence abroad has been criticised as creating two classes of Liberian citizens and for reducing the capabilities of naturalised Liberians to pursue employment and educational opportunities abroad. The provision for the revocation of a minor's naturalisation following the revocation of the father's naturalisation has been criticised as unfair to the child.
The Aliens and Nationality Law prohibits dual citizenship except in limited circumstances. This has been criticised as detrimental to links between the Liberia and the diaspora.
- "Analysis of the Aliens and Nationality Law of the Republic of Liberia". American Bar Association. May 2009. Retrieved 2013-06-03.
- Manby, Bronwen (2010). ""Citizenship Law in Africa: A Comparative Study."" (2nd edition ed.). Open Society Institute. Retrieved 2013-07-03.
- BBC News: 'Lebanese demand Liberia poll rights'
- On Race, Citizenship, and Property in Liberia: A Sociologist’s Point of View by Konia T. Kolllehlon from Trinity Washington University, March 19, 2008
- Embassy of Liberia, Washington, D.C.: Consular Section
- Liberian Constitution