Myanmar: ICJ convenes workshop on reforming 1982 Citizenship law

The ICJ held a workshop on reforming Myanmar’s 1982 citizenship law in Yangon from 1 to 2 September 2018.

The workshop convened a group of international and national legal experts, human rights defenders, political scientist, academics and researchers to jointly consider the way forward to identify creative legal and non-legal advocacy approaches for reforming Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law.

The ICJ, UN organs and civil society organizations, through research and legal analysis, have consistently found this law to be discriminatory both in its content and application.

Unlike many other laws promulgated during the military junta era of General Ne Win, this law remains in force. Its tiered hierarchy of citizenship has effectively rendered many individuals as second- or third-class citizens, or in some instances stateless.

In August 2017, the government’s own Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, chaired by the late Kofi Annan, recommended a review of the Citizenship Law. The recommendation was accepted by the Government of Myanmar in principle, but in practice this commitment has not been followed up by any implementing measures.

The workshop’s participants included academics, researchers, human rights defenders, political scientist, legal and non-legal experts of different ethnic and religious backgrounds from a range of organizations from the U.K, Spain, Australia, Kachin, Chin, Mandalay, Rakhine, and Yangon.

The ICJ’s legal adviser, Sean Bain, introduced the workshop by noting that legal recognition of nationality is central to the enjoyment of many human rights.

Noting that protecting the right to nationality is an essential part of the rule of law in any democratic society, he highlighted that too often it is members of minority groups who experience a violation of their human rights due to discriminatory laws and their application with regards to citizenship.

The ICJ’s legal researcher Dr. Ja Seng Ing presented the overview and assessment of the Citizenship Law, including problematic provisions and key institutional actors with authority in Myanmar.

Amal de Chickera, a Sri Lankan Human Rights lawyer and Co-Director of Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, delivered an introduction on the International law and comparative studies and the approaches and strategies for law reform from international perspectives.

José María Arraiza, Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance Specialist, Norwegian Refugee Council, spoke about a number of approaches and strategies for legal reform, including imperative role of collective identities, inclusive dialogue and evidence based advocacy strategies with comparative international experiences.

Michelle Yesudas, a Malaysian Human Rights lawyer, shared good practices and lesson learned from application of strategic litigation in citizenship related cases in Malaysian context to raise the awareness of the public and also discussed potential strategies for pushing the legislative reform and enforcement of the law in Myanmar.

The ICJ’s legal adviser Daw Hnin Win Aung, facilitated a panel discussion where the Senior legal scholars and researchers from Myanmar also provided their perspectives, based on their own independent research and writing on the legal and non-legal opportunities and challenges for law reform in Myanmar.

Advocate lawyer, Daw Zar Li Aye highlighted the legal consequences of mixed-nationality marriage in Myanmar, for instance, the authorities used physical appearance of the children as a determining factor when considering provision of citizenship / documentation in practice.

The participants considered a wide range of issues relating to statelessness and citizenship in Myanmar with comparative case studies, including the varying approaches for law reform across the region to improve understanding of the advocacy target groups on the issue and potentially inform public policy.

The participants also recognized the importance of multidisciplinary approaches, including strategic litigation in citizenship related cases, for developing advocacy strategies for law reform and to increase knowledge and understanding of the general public on the issue.

This event is part of the ICJ’s ongoing efforts to convene civil society actors including lawyers to discuss critical human rights issues in Myanmar with a view to advancing the protection of human rights in the country.

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