“Myanmar must change its citizenship law to respect human rights.”

Nyo Mar Than, Myanmar
APMA 2019

The Myanmar Government must take responsibility for the rights of minorities in their country. In particular, the Government must follow through with the implementation of human rights and practice respect human rights by not discriminating between the minority people and majority people based on ethnicity, race, and religion, as in the case of Myanmar’s Muslim community.

The Myanmar government has historically not respected and taken responsibility for its minority people who are members of the Muslim community. More than 200 years ago, before the Myanmar government’s independence from colonization by the British, the Myanmar Muslim community settled in the different states in Myanmar’s area, because they did not have their own state. The Myanmar Muslim community includes three ethnic minority groups of people called Myanmar Muslim, Pathie Muslim and Rohingya Muslim.

Beginning in 1962,  when General Ne Win seized power and committed what was then formally known as “Burma” to the so-called “Burmese way to socialism,” Myanmar’s peoples were divided into 135 ethnic groups which did not take into account religious identities. This categorization of ethnic groups was part of the citizenship law announced by the Myanmar government in 1982. As a result, Muslim minority groups in the country were discriminated against. The source of discrimination in the 1982 law is due to the creation of three different classification of citizens which are the:

  • True citizenship (pink card)
  • Associated citizenship (blue card)
  • Nationalized citizenship (white card)

Each category is assigned a different color ID card. However, it is unclear how the Myanmar Muslim community would fit into either of these categories of citizenship. As a result, when people from the Myanmar Muslim community went to get their national identification cards, they would receive different color cards, because there was no overall understanding of which type of citizenship Myanmar Muslims belonged to.

The 1982 law did not clearly identify the Myanmar Muslim community as citizens. Before the 1982 law, citizenship was granted to those who were in the country before 1824. Therefore, the Myanmar Muslim community were entitled to citizenship if they could prove their ancestors were in the country before 1824. This citizenship was based on the colonial British’s definition of citizenship as those primarily belonging to the “national race.”

However, this 1982 law changed the citizenship status of Myanmar Muslim community so there was no clear understanding and criteria for deciding which type of citizenship the Muslim community is entitled to. As a result, some members of the Myanmar Muslim community are now restricted from moving around the country and do not have access to education and social services.

The law and its three categories of citizenship has resulted in negative consequences on the Myanmar Muslim community. For instance, even if someone has a university degree, if he or she does not have an ID card because of the 1982 citizenship law, she or he cannot get a job.

This is a human rights violation.

Therefore, the Myanmar government should follow these solutions:

  • Myanmar government should change the 1982 citizenship law so it does discriminate based on ethnicity, race and religion. It must remove racial identification in national ID cards to ensure that people are not discriminated on the basis of their race.
  • The Myanmar citizenship law must give all Myanmar people citizenship.
  • The Myanmar citizenship law should ensure and consider the children who are born in stateless areas in Myanmar to get official citizenship (pink identification cards) even if their parents to do not have citizenship status. This will prevent the problems from the lack of citizenship in the next generation of stateless people, and will ensure Myanmar meets its obligations set by UNCRC.
  • The Myanmar citizenship law should ensure the nationalization procedures are fair, responsible, accessible and accountable to those who have a clear link to Myanmar, which includes the Myanmar Muslim community.
  • Myanmar law should implement non-discrimination into its citizenship law, and should not apply citizenship in an arbitrary manner and should not reinforce categories of citizenship such as full citizenship, associated citizenship and naturalised citizenship. All citizens should have the same and equal access to rights in Myanmar.
  • Lastly, the Myanmar citizenship law should enhance and improve the whole policy framework to protect human rights for all non-citizens within the territory.

The 1982 citizenship law has not been questioned for its legality and discrimination against minorities. Therefore, he international community should not consider the citizenship law as simply a sensitive domestic issue that should be dealt with internally by the government of Myanmar. Both Myanmar and the international community must take the responsibility to protect Myanmar minority population, particularly in cases where there is ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in the country.

Photo:Qantara.de

*The contents of this opinion piece are solely those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the view of the either Global Campus of Human Rights Asia Pacific, the universities under it, or the APMA program.