United Nations Legal Identity Agenda


Everyone has the right to be recognized as a person before the law, as enshrined in Article 6 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 16 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Several International human rights instruments, such as Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 24(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also recognized a right to birth registration.

Sustainable Development Goal Target 16.9 ("legal identity for all, including birth registration, by 2030") is key to advance the 2030 Agenda commitment to leave no one behind, and equally relevant is SDG 17.19 — support to statistical capacity-building in developing countries, monitored by the indicator "proportion of countries that have achieved 100 per cent birth registration and 80 per cent death registration".

SDG Goal 16.9: By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration indicator 16.9.1 Proportion of children under 5 years of age whose births have been registered with a civil authority, by age.

Indicator 17.19.2 Proportion of countries that (a) have conducted at least one population and housing census in the last 10 years; and (b) have achieved 100 per cent birth registration and 80 per cent death registration.

In developing international mechanism for achieving these important SDG Targets, and inspired by the Secretary-General's determination to tackle the global problem of statelessness, the Secretary-General's Executive Committee, in January 2018, requested the DSG's office to "convene UN entities to develop, in collaboration with the World Bank Group, a common approach to the broader issues of registration and legal identity".

UN Operational Definition of Legal Identity

Legal identity is defined as the basic characteristics of an individual's identity. e.g. name, sex, place and date of birth conferred through registration and the issuance of a certificate by an authorized civil registration authority following the occurrence of birth. In the absence of birth registration, legal identity may be conferred by a legally-recognized identification authority. This system should be linked to the civil registration system to ensure a holistic approach to legal identity from birth to death. Legal identity is retired by the issuance of a death certificate by the civil registration authority upon registration of death.

In the case of refugees, Member States are primarily responsible for issuing proof of legal identity. The issuance of proof of legal identity to refugees may also be administered by an internationally recognized and mandated authority.

Proof of legal identity is defined as a credential, such as birth certificate, identity card or digital identity credential that is recognized as proof of legal identity under national law and in accordance with emerging international norms and principles.

Civil registration is defined as the continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events pertaining to the population, as provided through decree or regulation is accordance with the legal requirement in each country. Civil registration is carried out primarily for the purpose of establishing the documents provided by the law.

UN Legal Identity Task Force (UN LIA TF)

At the request of DSG Ms. Amina Mohammed, a time-bound inter-agency group — UN Legal Identity Expert Group (UN LIEG) was established in September 2018 under the purview of the UN Sustainable Development Group's Strategic Results Group on SDG Implementation, to form a united UN front. The LIEG is composed of 17 UN agencies. The substantive focus of the LIEG is an emphasis on building legal identity system founded on civil registration from birth to death, and with a human rights approach.

In December 2019 the UN LIEG transitioned into the United Nations Legal Identity Task Force under the same chairmanship (UNSD/DESA, UNICEF, UNDP). The responsibilities of the UN LIA TF are

  • To oversee the implementation of the UN LIA at the regional and national level;
  • To develop and maintain normative work related to the UN LIA (with UNDESA leading as normative focal point);
  • To fully engage in fund raising, advocacy and communication of the UN LIA;
  • To convoke UN system-wide meetings to advance the implementation of the UN LIA;
  • To brief the DSG and other senior UN principals as required (including the Strategic Results Group on SDG Implementation) on latest developments in the implementation of the UN LIA;
  • To support the UNDP Administrator in his role as member of the WBG ID4D programme's High-Level Advisory Council.