The relationship between Nationality and Rights

When Hannah Arendt declared that nationality is “the right to have rights”, it was rather an expression of scepticism about the emerging Human Rights regime than enthusiasm for the legal status of a national. Nationality is, and always was, a violent gatekeeper of access to rights. Building on the work of Hannah Arendt, the paper questions whether nationality is or has ever been “the right to have rights” – specifically whether nationality as an abstract international category can be said to inherently guarantee any form of protection through legal rights. The paper adopts a decolonial perspective, and searches for evidence about the relationship between the legal status of nationality and the rights associated with it beyond the wealthy west. In this light nationality emerges as a “surprise package” in terms of the content of rights and duties in may entail – unpredictable outside of the context of a specific individual and his or her state of nationality.