Home Civil Society Voices Reassess and suspend regressive proposed citizenship law amendments

Reassess and suspend regressive proposed citizenship law amendments

Stateless children in Malaysia - EPA/AL JAZEERA

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Every year on 10 December, the Malaysian Bar commemorates Human Rights Day to raise awareness of the universality and indivisibility of human rights, with a vision of empowering all of us to fight for our rights and to take action.

This year, the Malaysian Bar directs its focus particularly towards a long-simmering issue in need of immediate attention by the government – citizenship and statelessness in Malaysia.

The Malaysian Bar commends the government’s decision on 18 February in approving amendments to the Federal Constitution in relation to citizenship, in particular Article 14(1)(b) and Sections 1(b) and 1(c) of the Second Schedule, Part II of the Constitution, to address the current discriminatory laws and grant automatic citizenship to children born overseas to Malaysian mothers but non-Malaysian fathers.

However, the government had expressed that “other amendments related to citizenship, especially Part III, will be studied in greater detail by a committee established under the home ministry and will be tabled before the Cabinet after these proposed amendments have been finalised, taking into consideration feedback from engagements with all interested parties”.

The Malaysian Bar notes that the Ministry of Home Affairs engaged with civil society organisations on 23 June to seek views on the proposed amendments to Part III of the Constitution on citizenship matters. Some of the key proposed amendments include:

  • Entirely removing Sections 1(e) and 2(3) of the Second Schedule, Part II of the Constitution, which fundamentally protect persons from becoming stateless
  • Removing the right of foundlings, including abandoned children, to citizenship by operation of law under Section 19B of the Second Schedule, Part III of the Constitution
  • Deleting the words “permanently resident” in Section 1(a) of the Second Schedule, Part II of the Constitution
  • Including provisions consolidating and granting more discretion to the government to reject or postpone citizenship applications
  • Repealing Articles 15(3) and 16A of the Constitution for consistency
  • Lowering the age limit from 21 to 18 to obtain citizenship in particular Articles 15, 15A, 19 and 23(3) of the Constitution and
  • Replacing the phrase “date of marriage” with “date of obtaining citizenship” on Article 15(1) read with Article 26(2) of the Constitution
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The Malaysian Bar is deeply perturbed about the above seven proposed amendments to the Constitution, which will have far-reaching and detrimental effects to our society. They will affect the lives of vulnerable persons and significantly exacerbate the long-standing issue of statelessness in Malaysia.

These proposed amendments to the Constitution are devoid of justifications and unsupported by proper data, and would remove the existing constitutional protection for some categories of stateless children, leaving them without any constitutional safeguards.

For instance, removing Section 1(e) in its entirety will only exacerbate the current situation and add a new category of stateless persons to the existing long list of categories.

The negative impact – politically, economically and socially – on the lives of stateless persons cannot be overstated. They would be denied access to, among other things, fundamental rights, including formal education, healthcare, formal employment and access to justice. Due to all these disadvantages, they become vulnerable and earmarked for abuse, mistreatment and subsequently, become victims of social ills.

The Malaysian Bar further notes that despite immense pushback from the various stakeholders at multiple platforms, the “unity government” appears to assert that their course of action is limited and is dependent on the decision of the Conference of Rulers, as the proposed amendments to the Constitution have been presented to them for consent.

The Malaysian Bar urges the government to re-evaluate and halt the proposed amendments to the Constitution as it is a step backwards and is perilous to the already vulnerable segment of our society.

READ MORE:  Halt and review regressive citizenship law amendments

A transparent, thorough and genuine consultation process with the relevant stakeholders, as well as undertaking further research to fully understand the implications and impact of the proposed amendments to the Constitution, would be the right course of next action.

Instead of implementing the proposed amendments, the unity government must ameliorate the current existing citizenship framework, preserving the safeguards within the Constitution and the recent court decisions, giving life to these existing constitutional safeguards.

Surely these existing constitutional safeguards have been in place since independence and have been conferred because the Constitution drafters thought it would not be detrimental to the interests of the country to do so.

The Malaysian Bar takes the position that the original provisions of the Constitution, which provided the Constitution with its basic foundation and structure, took into account the dignity and freedom of individuals, and cannot be destroyed by any form of amendment.

The powers to amend the Constitution should not abrogate, emasculate, or damage any of the fundamental rights or the essential elements in the basic structure of the Constitution.

The government should therefore prioritise the welfare of the country, both citizen and non-citizen, including those currently stateless, but who have been living as Malaysians, considering Malaysia their only home.

The government should emphasise the amendments to grant automatic citizenship to children born overseas to Malaysian mothers and non-Malaysian fathers, and put aside its plan to combine and package the seven listed proposed amendments to the Constitution, which would only serve to complicate the issue.

READ MORE:  Regressive constitutional amendments will worsen statelessness in Malaysia

The Malaysian Bar is committed to supporting efforts to reduce the gap in this matter and pursuing other necessary legal reforms, and will continue to engage and participate in stakeholder engagements to provide our perspective and point of view and assist in reviewing and giving feedback on the current state of laws.

Karen Cheah Yee Lynn is president of the Malaysian Bar

This piece is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only.

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.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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