Several countries on different continents provide explicitly in their legislation for the possibility to grant of honorary citizenship, usually on the basis of exceptional individual achievements. In Romania (Article 36 of the Citizenship Act) a person may be granted honorary citizenship by parliament for making a special contribution to the country. No other conditions need to be fulfilled and the person enjoys all civil and political rights, except to run for election and hold public office. Similarly, in Paraguay (Article 151 of the Constitution) a person may be granted honorary citizenship for having rendered eminent services to the country. In Asia, Article 11(9) of the Nepalese Constitution and Article 6 of the Citizenship Act provide that honorary citizenship of Nepal may be granted ‘to any internationally renowned person’.
The concept of honorary citizenship already existed in classical antiquity. In Athens, honorary citizenship could be granted to those who conferred benefits on the city, such as military assistance or financial aid; in Rome too, Sherman-White has pointed out, ‘the gift of honorary citizenship to individuals in return for services rendered was a long-established practice’. Another well-known example is that in the aftermath of the French Revolution, honorary citizenship was granted to a number of non-French supporters of the revolution.
Honorary citizenship is only rarely awarded. In Canada, for example, only six persons have so far been granted the status, although Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship was recently revoked over her inaction as Myanmar’s civilian leader regarding military violence against the Rohingya Muslims.
In the pacific island of Vanuatu, jointly governed by France and Britain between 1906-1980
under the name Condominium of the New Hebrides, honorary citizenship may be granted by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister (Article 20 of the Citizenship Act). The Citizenship Office explains that honorary citizenship is part of the Vanuatu Development Support Program, and a practice has developed where honorary citizenship of Vanuatu can
be obtained against a one time contribution of US$200,000.
Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk