Human rights are not enough: understanding noncitizenship and noncitizens in their own right

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While human rights are often characterised as universal, in practice, it is common for individuals to have to prove some citizen or quasi-citizen relationship with a particular State in order to claim their human rights. Existing attempts to remedy this disparity have been unsuccessful. For example, expanding citizenship to encompass more individuals may provide a useful interim measure for some, but it does not challenge the idea that citizenship is needed in order to claim rights. Within liberal theory, citizen rights derive from the individual-State relationship itself, while human rights are more abstract. Human rights are often seen as pre-institutional, and as such, they are not tied, by definition, to any particular State. In this chapter, I argue that citizenship is not the only form of relationship that can exist between an individual and a State. It is also necessary in both theory and practice to recognise relationships of ‘noncitizenship’ and the rights that relationship creates. This chapter argues that noncitizenship is not a negation of citizenship but another form of institutional individual-State relationship that is necessarily created by State construction. And it is one which gener-ates obligations that are tied, by definition, to specific States. While human rights are conceptually important and have been useful in asserting rights of people who have struggled to access even the most basic rights in any other way, in this chapter, I will argue that it is essential also to acknowledge the institutional, necessarily non-contractual, relationship of noncitizenship, and the rights associated with it.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeyond Borders
Subtitle of host publicationThe Human Rights of Non-Citizens at Home and Abroad
EditorsMolly Katrina Land, Kathryn Rae Libal, Jillian Robin Chambers
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781108910828
ISBN (Print)9781108843171
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • Agency
  • citizenship
  • human rights
  • noncitizenship
  • statelessness


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