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Don't feign ignorance, rights group tells Anwar on amendments to citizenship laws

Lawyers for Liberty says the prime minister has only commented on equal citizenship for children born overseas to Malaysian women, and not the amendments affecting stateless children.

Staff Writers
3 minute read
Members of the public wait at the National Registration Department in Putrajaya, in this file picture. Photo: Bernama
Members of the public wait at the National Registration Department in Putrajaya, in this file picture. Photo: Bernama

Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today hit out at Anwar Ibrahim over his remarks on the proposed amendments to citizenship laws which experts and activists have warned would victimise tens of thousands of stateless children, accusing the prime minister of "feigning ignorance" by commenting only on equal citizenship for children born overseas to Malaysian women. 

In a statement, LFL director Zaid Malek said Anwar had said nothing on the proposal to remove Section 1(e) of the Second Schedule Part 2 of the constitution which protects stateless individuals, or the right to citizenship for foundlings and orphans in Section 19B. 

"He appears to have no inkling as to the gravity and the impact of the proposed amendments on the stateless, and this is baffling and unacceptable coming from the prime minister," he said. 

"Was Anwar not briefed on the issue by his officers or is he side-stepping the issue?"

Anwar had said on July 10 that the proposed amendments would be presented to the Conference of Malay Rulers soon, in a bid to solve the citizenship problems plaguing the overseas-born children of Malaysian women with foreign husbands.

"The law states that citizenship is given to children whose father is a citizen; it doesn't include the mother. So we want both parents to be included in the constitution... it's not fair to have just the father (stated in the constitution) but not the mother. That's all the matter to be presented," he told reporters after opening the International Malaysian Law Conference 2023 in Kuala Lumpur. 

On the plight of the stateless, he said the home ministry had received numerous citizenship requests under Article 15(A) of the constitution which underscored the urgent need for action.

He also said that several critical issues had contributed to the challenges faced by stateless persons in Malaysia. 

More than 100 organisations and activists involved in the fight for equal citizenship previously warned Putrajaya against any attempt to quietly amend citizenship laws that could victimise stateless children.

Constitutional expert Shad Saleem Faruqi said any decision to remove the constitutional safeguards to protect individuals from becoming stateless would result in a large new class of stateless people, while the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) said the proposed amendments appeared "detached from the necessity to take into consideration the contextual circumstances that render individuals, especially children, stateless in the first place". 

But Zaid said that despite the criticism from Suhakam and other stakeholders, the home minister had "maintained a deafening silence", while Anwar himself had only remarked on the amendments to laws on citizenship for children born overseas to Malaysian mothers. 

"If you were to listen to Anwar, it would seem that this is the only amendment being proposed," he said. 

Adding that Pakatan Harapan (PH) had promised since its time in the opposition to resolve the problem of statelessness, he said PH "cannot and must not abandon that promise" now that it holds federal power. 

"As prime minister, the buck stops with Anwar," he said. 

"He must immediately withdraw those parts of the home ministry’s amendments which will jeopardise the lives and future of orphans, foundlings and other stateless persons.

"Anwar must not preside over the creation of a large new class of stateless persons in Malaysia, which is what his government’s proposed amendments will certainly do."