Rights group slams Saifuddin’s defence of citizenship law amendments

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has slammed Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s defence of the proposed constitutional amendments on citizenship.

The human rights NGO’s director Zaid Malek said in doing so, Saifuddin is ignoring the plight of the stateless, instead framing it as a security issue due to the country purportedly facing “problems involving migrants and others”.

“It is appalling that Saifuddin is obstinately defending the proposed amendments. This in itself, at best, shows 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 as per the Constitution but remain in the predicament due to the oversight and failure of the National Registration Department (NRD) and the Home Ministry to correctly administer the law,” Zaid said in a statement today.

He was responding to the remarks by Saifuddin in Parliament yesterday, defending the proposal to table eight proposals to amend relevant provisions related to the granting of citizenships under the Federal Constitution.

Saifuddin said the eight include a “sensitive” proposal over granting citizenship to stateless children and foundlings – an infant abandoned by their parents and discovered and cared for by others.

Jabatan Penerangan Malaysia

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 Second Schedule, Part III, section 19(b) which grants abandoned children citizenship by operation of law.

Elaborating, Zaid said the proposed amendments would make granting citizenship the sole power of the Home Ministry instead of it being automatic for those who fulfil the requirements of the 2nd Schedule as it currently stands.

“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 NRD 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 as per Section 14(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution, can scarcely be obtained without legal intervention,” said Zaid.

According to him, NRD also repeatedly refused to comply with the law in cases concerning abandoned children, even when a previous Federal Court ruling stated that such children are entitled to citizenship under Second Schedule, Part III, Section 19(b), of the Constitution.

Zaid further blamed NRD for ignoring legal provisions and obfuscating the citizenship process, which he said were the primary causes of the prolonged suffering of the stateless.

“They (the stateless) have missed out on the opportunity to acquire education and access to healthcare and are unable to obtain gainful employment, condemned to a life in 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 be strangers in the only home they have ever known.”

Zaid stressed that the proposed amendments also “entirely ignore” legislative history regarding citizenship, where everyone born on Malaysian soil was accorded citizenship under the jus soli principle.

“Though it was later amended, our first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, was cognisant of the statelessness problem and introduced safeguards to ensure 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,” Zaid said.

In that spirit, he urged Putrajaya to acknowledge the right to citizenship and give assurance that no one would be made stateless on Malaysian soil.

“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.” – Malaysiakini