Home Civil Society Voices Home minister’s defence of controversial citizenship amendments is indefensible

Home minister’s defence of controversial citizenship amendments is indefensible

Stateless children in Malaysia - EPA/AL JAZEERA

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s statement in Parliament on 1 November in which he defended the proposed amendments to the Federal Constitution relating to citizenship laws.

The proposed amendment, among others, is to amend the Second Schedule, Part II, Section 1(e) that grants every stateless person born in Malaysia citizenship by operation of law, as well as the Second Schedule, Part III, Section 19(b) which grants abandoned children citizenship by operation of law.

The proposed amendments aim to make the grant of citizenship the sole power of the Ministry of Home Affairs instead of automatic for those who fulfil the requirements of the 2nd Schedule as it currently stands.

It is appalling that Saifuddin is obstinately defending the proposed amendments, callously ignoring the plight of the stateless and instead framing it as a security issue due to the country purportedly facing “problems involving migrants and others”.

This in itself shows, at best, a total lack of understanding by the home minister and, at worst, a deliberate misrepresentation of the issue of statelessness in the country. Those who are stateless deserve citizenship by operation of law in line with the Constitution but remain in the predicament due to the oversight and failure of the National Registration Department and the Ministry of Home Affairs to correctly administer the law.

The stateless are not “migrants and others”; they are Malaysian citizens unlawfully made stateless due to the actions and omissions of the government.

Most of the stateless cases referred to Registration Department are not resolved due to the very action of the department in failing or refusing to facilitate the process of getting their citizenship recognised. Even the acquisition of Form E, the proper form for the confirmation of citizenship in line with Section 14(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution, can scarcely be obtained without legal intervention.

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The Registration Department has also repeatedly refused to comply with the law in cases of abandoned children, even when the Federal Court in the case of CCH & Anor v Pendaftar Besar bagi Kelahiran dan Kematian, Malaysia has clearly stated that abandoned children are entitled to citizenship under Second Schedule, Part III, Section 19(b).

The Registration Department’s deliberate action of ignoring clear provisions of the law and obfuscating the citizenship process are the primary causes of the prolonged suffering of the stateless. They have missed out on the opportunity to acquire education and gain access to healthcare. They are unable to obtain gainful employment, [and are instead] condemned to a life on the margins of society due to their statelessness.

It is thus baffling that this government has chosen to worsen the statelessness problem with the proposed amendments instead of resolving it. The amendments will steal the constitutional guarantee of Malaysian citizenship from the stateless, eternally dooming them to become strangers in the only home they have ever known.

The introduction of the proposed amendments also entirely ignores the legislative history regarding citizenship. The Constitution at independence applied the principle of jus soli, allowing everyone born on Malaysian soil to acquire citizenship. Though it was later amended, the first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, was cognisant of the statelessness problem and introduced safeguards to ensure that no one would be rendered stateless. The safeguard has remained in our Constitution, now in the form of Section 1(e), Part II of the Second Schedule.

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As such, we urge the government to see reason and return to the spirit of the Constitution that acknowledges the rights to citizenship and its assurance that no one would be made stateless within our shores.

Withdraw the proposed amendments unequivocally and without delay. The stateless have suffered enough at the hands of the government and should be accorded the right that the Constitution has guaranteed them all this while. – LFL

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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