STOP PLAYING POLITICAL FOOTBALL WITH CITIZENSHIP: SOLVE THE PLIGHT OF ALL STATELESS MALAYSIANS NOW!

STOP PLAYING POLITICAL FOOTBALL WITH CITIZENSHIP:
SOLVE THE PLIGHT OF ALL STATELESS MALAYSIANS NOW!

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 18 June 2016

SUARAM calls for the cessation of “political football” by the BN government when it gives out citizenship to a token group of Non-Malays just before every election only when it wants Non-Malay votes. The current by-elections once again saw the continuation of this feudal practice when in fact citizenship for Malaysians who have lived here for decades should be a right they enjoy.

In the last two weeks of the by-election campaign, the mainstream press has highlighted the case of a 100-year-old Malaysian Chinese woman who has been in this country for decades being finally given citizenship.  There was also the case of another Malaysian Chinese restaurateur who has been in the country for more than 40 years. Were they expected to be grateful to the Barisan Nasional government for finally getting their citizenship or should they be angry at the BN government for depriving them of Malaysian citizenship they deserved many years ago?

Right to Citizenship

The right to a nationality is a fundamental human right. It implies the right of each individual to acquire, change and retain a nationality. International human rights law provides that the right of States to decide who their nationals are is not absolute and, in particular, States must comply with their human rights obligations concerning the granting and loss of nationality. The right to retain a nationality corresponds to the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality.

The right to a nationality is recognized in a series of international legal instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and others. The issue of nationality is also regulated in the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

The prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality can be found in numerous international instruments. In particular, it is worth noting that article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly provides that no one should be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality. The General Assembly, in its resolution 50/152, also recognized the fundamental nature of the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality.

The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons defines “stateless person” as “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.” States are expected to introduce safeguards to prevent statelessness by granting their nationality to persons who would otherwise be stateless and are either born in their territory or are born abroad.

The Human Rights Council, of which Malaysia is a member, has addressed the enjoyment of the right to a nationality and the avoidance of statelessness in several resolutions on “Human rights and arbitrary deprivation of nationality”.

Reveal the statistics on stateless Malaysians now!

To meet these human rights obligations, the Malaysian government should first and foremost release the statistics on the number of stateless Malaysians according to the various ethnic groups and the length of time they have been living in this country. The government should also give us a cogent explanation for why these Malaysians who have lived in this country for more than 10 years have not been given citizenship.

Article 19(3) of the Malaysian Constitution stipulates:

“The periods of residence in the Federation or the relevant part of it which are required for the grant of a certificate of naturalisation are periods which amount in the aggregate to not less than ten years in the twelve years immediately preceding the date of the application for the certificate, and which included the twelve months immediately preceding that date.”

The figures for stateless people in Peninsula Malaysia alone range from 40,000 (UNHCR 2013) to over 300,000 (Hindraf). We do not need to remind Malaysians of the deprivation of basic rights that stateless people suffer.

This perennial problem of citizenship for stateless Malaysians must be solved once and for all and we are not prepared to accept the sickening spectacle only during an election, of citizenship being dished out in drips to a small group of Malaysians who have lived in this country for decades.