Citizenship: The Right to Rights and Duties

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“​To celebrate citizenship is one way for society to show that it is something valuable which strengthens the community.” ~Jens Orback, 2006

The concept of citizenship dates back to ancient Greek and Roman societies. To effectively determine members of a polis, or city-state, in Greece, citizenship was established. Citizens were allowed more rights than ordinary people, such as the right to participate in democracy, own land, and hold office. In return, citizens were required to fight in defense of the polis and pay taxes[1]. The Romans continued this concept, and they defined citizenship as “the right to vote, … make legally binding contracts, and … enter into a marriage recognized as legal by the state,”[2] in conjunction with upholding duties that included “paying special taxes and serving in the military.”[3] Aristotle defined a citizen as “a person who has the right (​exousia) to participate in deliberative or judicial office,”[4] in contrast to a subject, who has no political voice. While both citizens and subjects are obligated to follow the law, citizens have the right to decide its contents.

Culturally, citizenship takes on a meaning of inclusion and identity. According to a study on immigrants’ feelings of belonging, “citizenship is associated with increased host national belonging in countries where the host population attaches great importance to citizenship as a mark of national membership.”[5] Therefore, individuals without citizenship may feel less welcome in the country that they consider home. Citizenship is also linked to the idea of ethnicity. In countries such as Switzerland the idea of “jus sanguinis[6] applies, in which people with parents of the country’s ethnicity are automatically considered citizens. There are many other factors that can qualify an individual as eligible for citizenship, such as location of birth and time spent in a country.[7]

Even within a country, not all citizens are equal. Dating back to ancient Greece, only wealthy citizens had full privileges.[8] While women were occasionally considered citizens in Athens, they did not have full citizenship rights. Today, the lines of citizenship are still blurred. In the US, citizens must be natural born to be eligible for president. In this way, natural-born citizens are considered more American than immigrants. Similarly, in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens,”[9] implying that the state grants Jewish citizens more legitimacy than Arab citizens. Such treatment creates a hierarchy of citizenship, further complicating the term.

Countries must protect, provide for, and invest in their citizens. These obligations can come in the form of military protection, social welfare, and education programs, but vary depending on the state’s values.[10] Many Western countries focus on individual rights, informed by John Locke, such as the right to freedom of speech, privacy, and independence, as emphasized by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[11] In contrast, the majority of Eastern countries tend to place more emphasis on rights to healthcare and familial protection. For example, liberties of Russian citizens include economic freedom and healthcare,[12]and liberties of Chinese citizens include the right to work and rest.[13] The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights informs many of these liberties, but the US has not ratified this treaty.14[14]

Citizens have obligations to their country as well. These responsibilities include paying taxes, signing up for a military draft, and participating in politics. Citizens must also demonstrate their allegiance to government bodies. While they do not have to agree with the decisions of the bodies, citizens must respect the entities and their purposes.

Legally, the UN defines citizenship as synonymous to nationality: the entitlement “to the protection of a State and to many civil and political rights.”15 [15]While this definition should be expanded to account for the duties that citizens must uphold, it illustrates the idea that in a world where the concept of home is becoming less straightforward, everyone deserves to belong to a state that provides them with protection and welfare. Therefore, citizenship should be defined as a membership that both guarantees human rights and the ability to have a say in a country’s policies and requires the upholding of duties within a state and allegiance to its governmental bodies. Not everyone has the luxury of citizenship. While the exact number is unknown, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that ten million people are considered stateless.16 [16]Stateless individuals are often refugees and internally displaced persons who are unable to gain legal citizenship. Countries that border states with refugee crises must determine whether new migrants will be granted citizenship. In Bangladesh, many Rohingya refugees fleeing genocide in Myanmar have sought asylum. In response, the government of Bangladesh has offered temporary refuge to the Rohingya people, registering over 250,000 refugees as citizens.[17]However, the Bangladeshi government stressed that the refuge for Rohingya people is provisional, limiting basic rights such as education to “nearly 400,000 school-age Rohingya children.”[18]

In India, a recent addition to the Citizenship Act of 1955 sought to make “illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.”[19]The amendment, however, does not include Muslims on the protected list of citizens, putting many at risk of statelessness and violating Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian constitution.[20]While the Indian government claims that it passed the amendment in order to provide asylum for refugees from neighboring countries, many take issue with the religious specifications and claim that the government created the new law to begin construction of an exclusively Hindu nation.

The recently instituted policies in Bangladesh and India are similar in that they cross into uncharted territory with respect to citizenship. Bangladesh does not afford all citizens the same rights in response to refugee surges, and India is granting citizenship differently based on religion. Ideally, citizenship should be equally available to everyone, and the principles of citizenship should be the same for every citizen. These policies demonstrate that this ideal notion is far from reality, as xenophobia and nationalism come into play. When countries amend the law as to who can become a citizen and what rights the government affords them, inequitable policies can disadvantage many individuals. Therefore, countries should take into consideration the implications of these changes and how to combat the interference of bigotry and bias within the legislation and measures of citizenship.

Works Cited

Achiron, Marilyn. ​Nationality and Statelessness: A Handbook for Parliamentarians,2005,

Ahren, Raphael. “For Netanyahu, All Israelis Are Equal, but Some Are More Equal thanOthers.” TheTimes of Israel,11 Mar. 2019,

“‘Are We Not Human?’: Denial of Education for Rohingya Refugee Children in Bangladesh.”Human Rights Watch,3 Dec. 2019,

Chaudhry, Suparna. “India’s New Law May Leave Millions of Muslims without Citizenship.” The Washington Post,WP Company, 13 Dec. 2019, ms-without-citizenship/.

“Citizenship & Nationality.” ​International Justice Resource Center,2020,

Finnigan, Christopher. “Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh: How the Absence of Citizenship Rights Acts as a Barrier to Successful Repatriation.” ​South Asia at LSE,The London School of Economics and Political Science, 12 June 2019, nship-rights-are-a-barrier-to-successful-repatriation/.

“Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Chinese Citizens.” ​Political Science Notes​,18 Aug.2016,

“International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” ​OHCHR,1966,

“International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.” ​OHCHR,1966,

“Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.” ​USCIS​,U.S. Citizenshipand Immigration Services, 8 Mar. 2010,

Miller, Fred. “Aristotle’s Political Theory.” ​Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,no. Winter, 2017,

Moulton, Carroll. ​Ancient Greece and Rome: An Encyclopedia for Students​.Vol. 4, 1998.

“Rights and Liberties Enjoyed by the Russian Citizens.” ​Article Library,5 Dec. 2014,

Scott, James Brown. “Nationality: Jus Soli or Jus Sanguinis.” ​The American Journal of International Law,vol. 24, no. 1, 1930, pp. 58–64.​JSTOR, Accessed 8 Mar. 2020.

Simonsen, Kristina Bakkær. “Does citizenship always further Immigrants’ feeling of belonging to the host nation? A study of policies and public attitudes in 14 Western democracies.” Comparative migration studies vol. 5,1 (2017): 3. doi:10.1186/s40878-017-0050-6.

Slaughter, Anne-Marie. “Three Responsibilities Every Government Has towards Its Citizens.”World Economic Forum,13 Feb. 2017,

Waas, Laura Van, et al. “The World’s Stateless: A New Report on Why Size Does and Doesn’tMatter.” EuropeanNetwork on Statelessness,Institutes on Statelessness and Inclusion, 15 Dec. 2014, doesn%E2%80%99t-matter.

“Welcoming Ceremony for All New Swedes.” ​The Local,21 Apr. 2006,


[1] Moulton​ 89

[2]Moulton 90

[3] Moulton 90

[4] Miller

[5] Simonsen​ 1

[6] Scott​ 60

[7] International Justice Resource Center

[8] Moulton 89

[9] Ahren


[11] Office​ of the High Commissioner

[12] Article​ Library

[13] Political​ Science Notes

[14] Office​ of the High Commissioner

[15] Achiron​ 2

[16] Waas​ et al.

[17] Finnigan

[18] Human​ Rights Watch

[19] PRS​ Legislative Research

[20] Chaudhry