ICJ convenes panel discussion on citizenship and human rights in Myanmar

The ICJ convened a half-day panel discussion today in Yangon, Myanmar, to discuss national laws governing citizenship, and outline how, throughout the country, they have a discriminatory impact on people’s enjoyment of their human rights.

The event also provided the opportunity to introduce the ICJ’s new legal briefing Citizenship and Human Rights in Myanmar: Why Law Reform is Urgent and Possible

ICJ legal researcher Ja Seng Ing and legal adviser Sean Bain kicked off the event by noting that Myanmar’s legal framework for citizenship – enacted by unelected military governments – fuels widespread discrimination against members of ethnic minority groups throughout the country.

Bain highlighted the incompatibility of the domestic legal framework governing citizenship in Myanmar with core rule of law principles and with the State’s obligations under international human rights law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

He presented the ICJ’s practical recommendations for law reform, outlined in the ICJ’s new legal briefing, including with respect to the 1982 Citizenship Law and the 2008 Constitution, and to the Child Rights Bill currently under consideration by Myanmar’s national parliament.

Senior Advocate U Ohn Maung, a lawyer with decades of experience supporting access for members of minority groups to the official documentation often necessary to obtain even basic services, emphasized that citizenship in Myanmar should be a more inclusive concept, reflective of its pluralistic, multi-ethnic demography.

Daw Zarchi Oo and Daw Su Chit shared the findings of independent civil society research.

They highlighted various groups including: migrants and migrant workers; individuals belonging to sexual and/or gender minorities; single mothers; the children of fathers who are foreign nationals or who are estranged from their fathers; and people living with disabilities, who are all adversely impacted by current legal arrangements for citizenship and by their discriminatory implementation.

Daw Zarchi Oo also spoke about her own past experience of being stateless, and Daw Su Chit elaborated on her work with civil society and others to develop a gendered analysis of the impact of discriminatory citizenship laws in Myanmar.

Around 60 participants, including from domestic civil society, the legal community, international non-government organizations, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, the diplomatic community and others joined this event, and participated in the discussions.

The 1982 Citizenship Law embedded the current narrow definition of citizenship, which generally links its acquisition to membership of a prescribed “national race.”

Many of the 2008 Constitution’s provisions on “fundamental rights” are restricted to citizens only, with a result being that the State generally does not recognize the human rights of persons who do not qualify as citizens under domestic law, or are otherwise excluded due to the laws’ discriminatory implementation.

The intentionally discriminatory character of the 1982 Law, and its discriminatory implementation, largely explains why many long-term residents of Myanmar lack a legal identity (more than 25 percent of persons enumerated in the 2014 Census).

The situation of Rohingya people, who the State generally does not recognize as citizens, is the most egregious example of the human rights violations associated with this system.

This event is part of the ICJ’s broader support to promote and protect human rights in Myanmar through research, analysis, advocacy and creating spaces for discussion.

See also:

ICJ convenes workshop on reforming 1982 Citizenship law

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