Citizenship laws: Suhakam opposes proposed amendments

Stateless children in Malaysia - EPA/AL JAZEERA

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Malaysia’s human rights commission Suhakam has reiterated its concerns and objections to the proposed series of amendments to the citizenship provisions of the Federal Constitution.

However, Suhakam supports and welcomes the proposal to amend Article 14(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution to recognise gender equality. The response of the Home Affairs Minister, Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, stating that the National Registration Department has been actively clearing the backlog of citizenship applications is applauded and highly appreciated.

However, Suhakam’s major concern lies with the other five proposed amendments which will affect children born out of wedlock to Malaysian men, stateless children adopted by Malaysian parents, and foundlings.

Our concerns revolve around the fact that such significant issues of citizenship provisions and rights must be enshrined in the Constitution and not left to the discretion of the minister.

The major hurdle within the existing provisions is the bureaucracy and unresponsive attitude of the National Registration Department towards applicants.

There is already a significant trust deficit in the workings of the bureaucracy, and the thrust of the proposed amendments, which shifts constitutional rights to the discretion of civil servants, is highly unsatisfactory. Without a doubt, the proposed amendments would exacerbate statelessness among children.

The proposed amendment to Section 19B Part III of the Second Schedule – requiring any person to register foundlings within one year – is regressive for the innocent child as it deprives them of citizenship due to parental or other third-party neglect.

Suhakam is appalled that despite strong objections, the cabinet seems to have agreed to all the proposed amendments.

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Suhakam has repeatedly raised its concerns that these proposals would aggravate the challenges faced by intergenerational justice for stateless individuals in Malaysia.

These proposed oppressive and regressive amendments would then create generational issues of statelessness, further burdening the state with individuals who are unable to fend for themselves and contribute to the nation.

In view of these issues, Suhakam once again urges the government to seriously adopt a holistic and comprehensive approach in addressing these citizenship issues.

Thorough research on the potential impacts of these amendments should be conducted. The government must engage in a strategic collective engagement with stakeholders, including civil society organisations and experts in children’s rights and statelessness, in an extensive consultation process.

It is crucial that each amendment be carefully considered for its unique implications to ensure that the fundamental rights of all individuals, particularly children, are upheld.

Again, Suhakam reiterates that the right to a nationality is a fundamental human right. As a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the government should ensure that there are no stateless children in the country by taking steps towards the elimination of statelessness.

At the same time, the indigenous populations of Sabah, Sarawak and the Orang Asal have also expressed their concerns about the matter.

Unfortunately, there are still indigenous people on the outskirts of Sabah who are permanent residents due to documentation issues. Subsequent to the proposed amendments, children from these couples will no longer be citizens by operation of law. Civil society groups from Sabah have frequently expressed such concerns, but still, no action has been taken to resolve the matter.

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Suhakam’s stand is clear. We must stop blaming the children’s history and instead make efforts to overcome statelessness while prioritising the child’s best interests. After all, all children are innocent. – Suhakam

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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