Rights lawyers at the forefront of opposition to the government's move to amend citizenship provisions in the Federal Constitution have called out the home minister for stating his desire to resolve the issue of stateless children.
Zaid Malek of Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) repeated the stand by opponents of the amendments that they would not only punish the stateless but "deprive them entirely of their right to statehood and reduce them to a desperate existence on the edges of society".
"It is baffling and incomprehensible why the minister is adamant on pushing through controversial amendments to the Federal Constitution which will create a massive new class of stateless persons in Malaysia, by removing the safeguards against statelessness which are built into the constitution," said Zaid.
"To avoid the condemnation of history, the home minister and this government must heed public concerns and withdraw these pernicious proposed amendments which punish children, orphans, foundlings and stateless Malaysians who were born here and only know this country as their home."
Yesterday, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said he wanted a "win-win solution", in response to growing opposition to the the proposed amendments.
"My approach in resolving the issue of stateless children is to facilitate the applicants, not to punish them.
"I am all for engaging with NGOs to seek a win-win solution to the issue of stateless children and foundlings," he reportedly said, a day after coming under fire from activists who previously fought for the equal right of automatic citizenship for babies born to Malaysian mothers overseas.
Zaid questioned Saifuddin's reaction to the backlash over the proposed amendments that critics said would create a new class of stateless people who are born and bred in Malaysia, despite fulfilling the current constitutional provisions for being recognised as Malaysians.
"These are horrendous amendments that go against the spirit of the constitution that has always ensured that no one would be left stateless in our country. Is it a wonder that the minister is facing a backlash from the public?
"Saifuddin’s now notorious amendments punish children for circumstances out of their control, depriving them of their rights to education, healthcare, and future employment, dooming them to a life without any legal protection or hope for a future. It is unprecedented and destroys lives and futures," said the vocal rights lawyer.
Zaid said the law in its current form would allow those entitled to citizenship to become Malaysians on condition that the minister ensured it was implemented by the National Registration Department (JPN).
But Zaid said Saifuddin had failed to address JPN’s role in worsening the problem of statelessness.
"JPN has largely contributed to the growing number of stateless persons; they have given the wrong advice, directing the stateless to the wrong type of application, unilaterally adding unnecessary stipulations to applications contrary to the law," he said.
Zaid added that JPN had gone against the Federal Court's decision declaring the right of foundlings to citizenship under Section 19B of Part III of the Second Schedule of the constitution.
"How then can Saifuddin assert that his officers are 'guided by the Federal Constitution on the provisions for citizenships'?"