MONTPELIER, VERMONT —
Mos Def's arrest in South Africa shined a light on the world passport, a document invented by a Vermont man in the aftermath of World War II.
The 42-year-old rapper and actor, who is also known as Yasiin Bey, was accused of trying to leave South Africa while using a passport not recognized by that country.
Mos Def has been living in South Africa for almost three years and had used a U.S. passport when previously entering and leaving the country. He was arrested when he tried to leave Jan. 14 using a passport issued by the World Service Authority.
Some background on the documents:
What is a world passport?
The world passport is a machine readable travel document that resembles traditional passports issued by most nations of the world. The passports are now administered by a Washington-based non-profit called the World Service Authority.
What is the World Service Authority?
The authority promotes the concept world citizenship, the idea that a person should find community in all people of the planet as opposed to within a nation state. It also offers marriage certificates, birth cards and other documents typically issued by governments.
What is its history?
In 1948, Garry Davis, a former Broadway actor and a former World War II bomber pilot, renounced his U.S. citizenship and declared himself a "citizen of the world." In 1953 in Ellworth, Maine, Davis declared the founding of the World Government of World Citizens. He later established the authority to be its administration arm. Davis, of South Burlington, died two years ago at 91.
Why would someone get a world passport?
World passports were created in the 1950s by Davis as a way of giving stateless people and refugees access to identification that could be used to cross international boundaries. The authority says the world passport represents the "inalienable human right of freedom of travel on planet Earth."
How many governments recognize the world passport?
It's unclear. The World Service Authority website lists 183 countries that the organization claims have recognized the passports by stamping a visa or exit or entry stamp in them. It also claims a handful of countries have officially recognized the passport. Davis himself was arrested repeatedly for attempting to enter countries without official papers.
How does one get a world passport?
Passport-seekers can fill out applications on the World Service Authority website. A 10-year passport costs $100, plus shipping and handling.