International human rights treaties oblige States to ensure the equal treatment of all persons present within their respective territory and/or jurisdiction. This means that the protection guaranteed by international human rights instruments accrues to any woman or girl living in a refugee camp – even if she is a non-citizen of the country in which she is located. The United Nations has defined a non-citizen as ‘any individual who is not a national of a State in which he or she is present.
The term ‘non-citizen’, as used in this report, also applies to stateless persons – individuals who have either not formally acquired citizenship of the country in which they were born, or who have lost their citizenship without acquiring another. The Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons defines such persons as those ‘not considered a national by any State under the operation of its law.’
The rights enshrined in the ICCPR apply equally to all non-citizen refugees. The Human Rights Committee has explained that ‘the rights set forth in the [ICCPR] apply to everyone, irrespective of reciprocity, and irrespective of his or her nationality or statelessness.’ Thus, the general rule is that each of the rights of the ICCPR must be guaranteed to citizens and aliens, without discrimination, by the State in whose territory or jurisdiction they find themselves.
The Human Rights Committee has stated that the term “discrimination” means ‘any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference which is based on any ground such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Note, also, that the Committee has highlighted that “equal treatment” does not require that all persons be treated in exactly the same way:
not every differentiation of treatment will constitute discrimination, if the criteria for such differentiation is reasonable and objective if the aim is to achieve a purpose which is legitimate under the [ICCPR].
In this regard, the rights of non-citizens may be qualified by limitations recognised pursuant to the ICCPR. Specifically, the ICCPR permits States to draw a distinction between citizens and non-citizens with respect to two categories of rights: political rights explicitly guaranteed to citizens, and freedom of movement. With regard to political rights, Article 25 of the ICCPR establishes that ‘every citizen’ shall have the right to participate in public affairs, to vote and hold office, and to have access to public services. Therefore, aside from these limitations, the provisions of the ICCPR must be applied equally to protect refugee women and girls within the territory of States of refuge.