Claiming Home Ministry snub, groups ask PM Anwar for chance to make case against citizenship law change

KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 — Human rights groups today issued an open letter asking to meet Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim or his Cabinet before the government tables allegedly regressive amendments to citizenship laws in Parliament.

In the open letter to Anwar, the groups said the Home Ministry had over the last nine months declined to give them the opportunity to have meaningful discussions on the proposed constitutional amendments.

“We, civil society organisations under the umbrella of the Malaysian Citizenship Rights Alliance (MCRA), respectfully request to brief the Cabinet or alternatively [yourself] directly before the government’s proposed amendments to citizenship rights are considered by Cabinet, and introduced in Parliament,” the groups said.

The human rights groups expressed support for the government’s plan to amend the Federal Constitution to give Malaysian mothers the equal right (which Malaysian fathers already enjoy) to pass on their citizenship to their overseas-born children, and also said they understood the government’s need to ensure protection of all Malaysians and national security concerns.

“However, we remain very concerned about five of the proposed amendments which we consider very regressive, that will strip away constitutionally guaranteed citizenship rights for vulnerable groups of children, with long lasting consequences,” they said.

The groups said they had over the last nine months tried to highlight to Anwar’s government that the regressive amendments would harm its legacy and be disastrous to children’s rights and interests.

“Over the same nine-month period, we have repeatedly tried to discuss our concerns directly with the minister of home affairs and relevant ministry officials, but they have refused to grant us an opportunity for meaningful discussion,” they said.

The human rights groups said their experience, expertise on, and work with stateless cases have enabled them to correct numerous mistakes in the government’s claims about the proposed citizenship amendments.

“Because of what we have seen in our work, we can say with authority that the regressive amendments will not solve the occurrence of statelessness; instead, it will exacerbate the problem, creating a new class of invisible stateless persons in Malaysia, create more avenues for trafficking in persons, and corruption which this government has campaigned to stamp out,” they said.

“Because of what we have witnessed in dealings with public officials within the system, we can give voice to a legitimate fear that the regressive amendments will place more arbitrary power in the hands of faceless unelected public officials, which they could potentially wield without judicial oversight or proper accountability,” they said.

The human rights groups also expressed concern over the wrong data and information being used to justify the regressive amendments to the Cabinet, MPs and the public, and listed several examples of such questionable data and information from the government so far.

“These examples of data deficiency or data inaccuracy show that the regressive amendments may not be adequately evidence-based. These examples also underscore the importance of halting the presentation of the regressive amendments until further study and consultation can take place,” they said.

The human rights activists concluded by saying to Anwar: “In that regard, we hope that YAB and the members of Cabinet will give us an opportunity to present our concerns and recommendations with regard to the government’s proposed citizenship amendments.”

The open letter was signed off by the Malaysian Citizenship Rights Alliance (MCRA), organisations and activists working to address statelessness and citizenship rights.

The open letter was endorsed by a whopping 79 civil society organisations, including the Malaysian CSO SDG Alliance (MCSA) which has 90 member organisations; reform movement Aliran; Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM); the Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (Centhra); the National Human Rights Society (Hakam); Society for Promotion of Human Rights Malaysia (Proham); Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram); Stateless Malaysian Citizenship Movement (SMCM) and Malaysia Stateless Alliance.

Also included in the list of civil society organisations are Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia or Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS); as well as those with a focus on or based in Sabah and Sarawak such as Borneo Komrad; ANAK Sabah; Sabah Human Rights Centre (SHRC); PACOS Trust; Iskul Sama diLaut Omadal; Lawyer Kamek; and Sarawak Women for Women Society.

The other civil society organisations include Undi18; G25 Malaysia; Project Stability and Accountability for Malaysia (Projek SAMA); Pusat Komas; The Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Centre); Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK); Yayasan Chow Kit; Buku Jalanan Chow Kit; Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO); Voice of Children (VoC); Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas (DHRRA) Malaysia; Family Frontiers and think-tanks Bait Al Amanah; Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS); IMAN Research.

Also endorsing the open letter are 36 individuals including activists from Sarawak (Agnes Padan, Bill Jugah); indigenous women (Sabahan Beverly Joeman and Ita Bah Nan who is an Orang Asli from peninsular Malaysia); advocates such as Deborah Henry; activists such as women’s rights activist Ivy Josiah, actor Jo Kukathas, child disability activist Datuk Dr Amar-Singh HSS, child rights activist Datuk Hartini Zainudin; former stateless persons Alanis Mah Siao Yen, Wong Kueng Hui, and Wong Yew Lee.

Also in the list of 36 individuals are academics such as university professor Zaharom Nain, lawyers such as Deva Kunjari Tun Sambanthan, experts such as Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) expert Shanthi Dairiam who is the founding director of the International Women Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW).




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