U.Va. Law Student Wins U.N. Human Rights Award for Statelessness Research

September 30, 2013

Third-year University of Virginia law student Caroline McInerney on Friday was named one of two graduate winners of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and Tilburg University’s inaugural UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research.

Her independent study paper, “Citizenship Laws of Madagascar: Future Challenges for a Developing Nation” was nominated by U.Va. law professor David Martin, who oversaw her independent study. The award for the new global writing competition on the subject of statelessness carries a prize of 1,000 euros (about $1,350).

McInerney said she was thrilled to hear that she had received the award.

“The issue of statelessness in Madagascar has received a relatively small amount of attention thus far and I look forward to the ways in which my research will raise awareness in the international community,” she said. “Hopefully my research will encourage future work in the area and be a first step in bringing about changes for the people facing issues of statelessness and citizenship in the country.”

In selecting McInerney’s paper, the jury wrote that it found her conclusions to be both convincing and compelling, and expressed appreciation in particular for the practical recommendations made with regard to the need for – and possible content of – law reform.

“The Jury found [McInerney’s paper] to be a case study of significant importance and timeliness, given the relative lack of writings on statelessness in Africa and the fact that the citizenship regime of Madagascar, in particular, has not drawn much research interest to date,” the jury report said. “McInerney presents an extensive review of the content of the Malagasy nationality regulations and identifies how the law is serving to create and perpetuate cases of statelessness in the country.”

The paper grew out of McInerney’s trip to Madagascar as a Cowan Fellow in the student-led Human Rights Study Project at the U.Va. School of Law. She was one of eight U.Va. law students who participated in the trip, in which they spent three weeks in Madagascar to study the status of human rights in the wake of a 2009 coup d’etat that toppled the democratically elected government and sparked a massive withdrawal of foreign aid and investment.

Each year, fellows in the Human Rights Study Project travel to countries with troubling records on human rights to gather information – primarily via first-person interviews – and report their findings. Past teams traveled to Sri Lanka, Egypt, China, Cuba, Cambodia, Syria, Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

Martin called McInerney’s paper a “wonderful blend of field and library research.”

“It draws so effectively on her interviews in Madagascar in order to paint a picture of legal, political and practical barriers in the way of reducing statelessness there,” he said. “She evaluates the country’s citizenship laws against international standards, but she also gives practical reasons why Madagascar’s leaders should want to move to change the situation. And she offers detailed suggestions for reforms.”

McInerney, he added, “poured long hours into her work, and I’m just delighted that UNHCR has recognized what a significant contribution her paper makes.”

McInerney thanked Martin for his support and guidance, as well as P.J. and Cam Cowan, Human Rights Program Director Deena Hurwitz and the Human Rights Study Project for helping to make the field research possible.

Media Contact

Brian McNeill

School of Law