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Constitutional expert warns govt against 'cruel' and 'heartless' amendments to citizenship laws

Shad Saleem Faruqi also calls for thorough scrutiny of the amendments by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Malay rulers.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
Constitutional expert Shad Saleem Faruqi. Photo: Bernama
Constitutional expert Shad Saleem Faruqi. Photo: Bernama

A prominent constitutional expert has joined the growing criticism of the government's move to push ahead with amendments that would effectively deny citizenship to tens of thousands of stateless children, describing them as "inhuman, cruel, heartless" and in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Shad Saleem Faruqi said the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Malay rulers must be informed of such amendments, adding that he hoped they would thoroughly scrutinise them as there were "provisions that were hidden from the public".

"These alleged proposals will augment the suffering and deprivation of many helpless, dehumanised and victimised persons and groups, namely abandoned children, children born out of wedlock (even if the parents then marry), adopted children, children of generational undocumented families, and stateless persons and their offspring whose statelessness will spiral down the generations," he said in a statement.

Last week, civil society groups and individual activists involved in the rights of stateless individuals warned the government against any attempt to quietly amend citizenship laws that could victimise children born out of wedlock, those adopted by Malaysians, as well as abandoned children and those from generational undocumented families.

They said while the government was right in announcing changes to the constitution to help those born abroad to Malaysian women, it did not justify curtailing the rights of stateless people in other categories. 

They also said there had been little in way of details on the amendments proposed by the government, adding that these were being done "in a shroud of secrecy and without due consultation".

Shad warned that if the government removed the constitutional safeguards to protect individuals from becoming stateless, there would be a large new class of stateless persons. 

"Such regressive proposals may reach the decisive point because the Malaysian system of enacting and amending laws lacks transparency and consultative processes. 

"There is a top-down approach to all decision-making," he said, adding that the Official Secrets Act had been abused to stop the public from being informed of bills before they are tabled in Parliament. 

Shad hoped that the Conference of Rulers would scrutinise the controversial changes for royal assent under Article 159(5), saying they should not allow the bill to get by without thorough royal scrutiny. 

Shad said apart from gender inequality, the government must also address the injustice faced by children born out of wedlock.

"There are structural issues that prevent poor or uneducated families from meeting their kids’ registration requirements," he said.

On Tuesday, rights group Lawyers for Liberty said the amendments could see the removal of Section 1(e) of the Second Schedule Part 2 of the constitution, a provision which protects individuals from becoming stateless.

"It is shocking and devastating that the Pakatan Harapan political coalition which claimed to fight for reform and stateless persons while in the opposition is now responsible as the government of the day for these unacceptable and unjustifiable amendments," said LFL director Zaid Malek.

"It is a massive step backwards, in breach of the basic human right of citizenship of persons born in this country who are not citizens of any other country."