The Myanmar government, supported by the political opposition and various MPs, has objected to the United Nations human rights committee’s call to grant equal access to citizenship for Rohingya people, saying that the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law will be used to decide the issue.
Earlier this week, the United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee passed a resolution urging Myanmar to give equal access to citizenship to the Rohingyas, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
The government, political parties, and members of parliament have expressed disagreement with the UN resolution.
“We oppose the use of the term ‘Rohingya’ by the United Nations as the government has already announced there are no Rohingyas in Myanmar. Citizenship rights for the Bengalis will be determined by the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Law,” said a senior official from the President’s Office, who requested not to be named.
“It has already been stated that there are no Rohingya ethnics in our country. The term ‘Rohingya’ also isn’t used here. This is illegal, according to the immigration law. We oppose it. Regarding the Bengalis in Rakhine State, the government is not denying them citizenship rights. But at the same time, not all the Bengalis here can be given citizenship. We will grant citizenship to those who can be granted it in accordance with the 1982 Citizenship Law,” said the senior official.
“The Rohingya people are not included among the 135 ethnic minorities in Myanmar. The citizenship requested by the Bengalis will be decided according to the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Law,” Minister for Immigration and Population Khin Yi said in an interview with the 7 Day News Journal yesterday.
Nyan Win, spokesperson for Myanmar’s key opposition party, the National League for Democracy, said that with its human rights committee resolution the UN itself is interfering with Myanmar’s internal affairs.
“We all accept that a person can become a citizen according to the law of the country. However, we do not accept [the term] ‘Rohingya.’ There is no ‘Rohingya’ in the history of Burma. If the term is to be used, we do not accept it,” said Nyan Win.
Aye Thar Aung, chairperson of the Arakan League for Democracy, said the UN human rights committee’s resolution is an insult to the country’s sovereignty.
“Because a country has its own laws, it can assess the citizenship rights of any person or any people with the existing law. It is unacceptable that a person or a people can become citizens automatically,” said Aye Thar Aung. “Myanmar has 1982 Citizenship Law that decides which person can be granted citizenship. Therefore, neither the United Nations nor any other organization has the right to say, or advocate, that any person or any people must be granted citizenship in Myanmar.”
NLD MP Khine Maung Yi said that not every decision by the United Nations could be described as fair.
“They have also made wrong decisions. They have always decided in favour of the strong nations. Also, in this case, the country must decide whether or not to accept [citizenship claims] using logic and reasoning,” said the MP.
Upper House MP Dr Aye Maung of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, said that citizenship rights must be decided according to the law.
“Whether for the Chinese, Hindu, Bengali, Pakistani or any other people, those that can be citizens according to the law must be granted citizenship. If they want to live in a country, they must accept the laws of the country. They must accept the culture,” said Aye Maung. “We don’t want the Bangladeshi or Pakistani culture to influence Myanmar. Can they be faithful to the country? Can they value and respect our national anthem and salute our national flag? Can they live among our culture? We don’t totally accept different nationalities wearing different clothing.”
In order to evaluate the citizenship qualifications for Bengalis, the government tried to gather evidence but the tasks were disrupted when the Bengalis insisted they would not accept the survey unless they were regarded as ‘Rohingyas’, said the senior official from the President’s Office.
“We need to carry out identification in order to know who qualifies in accordance with the citizenship law and who does not. Therefore, the immigration department implemented it. At first, it was okay. But, there were disruptions later. They said they would allow it only if they were regarded as Rohingyas. According to the existing law, there is no Rohingya ethnic category in Myanmar. So, we could not accept and they made arguments, disputes and protests. Then, transparently, we took the Rakhine Region government and immigration officials together and went there. But there were problems, and the tasks stopped,” he explained.
“There are many Bengalis living in Rakhine State. They have problems with local people from time to time. These occur because they [Bengalis] can’t behave like guests. There is no country in the world that accepts such guests,” said Sittway resident Tha Barn.
Economist Aung Ko Ko said that the UN committee’s resolution misses a key point in Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law.
“Actually, religious freedom in Myanmar is better than that in the U.S., UK and Japan. Religious holidays are also designated. Such countries of religious freedom are rare, but Myanmar is one of them,” he said.
According to the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Law, the following persons are regarded as Myanmar citizens: (a) persons born of parents, both of whom are citizens; (b) persons born of parents, one of whom is a citizen and the other an associate citizen; (c) persons born of parents, one of whom is a citizen and the other a naturalized citizen; (d) persons born of parents one of whom is (i) a citizen; or (ii) an associate citizen; or (iii) a naturalized citizen; and the other is born of parents, both of whom are associate citizens; (e) persons born of parents, one of whom is (i) a citizen; or (ii) an associate citizen; or (iii) a naturalized citizen; and the other is born of parents, both of whom are naturalized citizens; (f) persons born of parents one of whom is (i) a citizen; or (ii) an associate citizen; or (iii) a naturalized citizen; and the other is born of parents, one of whom is an associate citizen and the other a naturalized citizen.
“There is the law, and no one is above the law. Amending the laws is a concern of the parliament, a separate independent sector. If the parliament amends a law, the government has to follow it. If the parliament does not, the government has to continue using the existing law,” said the senior official from the President’s Office.
Currently, the Bengali population in Myanmar is estimated to be more than 1.33 million, of which 1.08 million live in Rakhine State, according to statistics of the Ministry of Immigration and Population.