LFL Press Statement
2 November 2014

We refer to the concerns raised by Sabah politicians including Joseph Kitingan, Jeffrey Kitingan, Yong Teck Lee and Darell Leiking on Home Minister Zahid Hamidi’s recent announcement that Putrajaya would be working with the National Registration Department and Education Department to issue birth certificates to stateless children, on humanitarian grounds, so as to allow them access to education.
While we do not doubt the issues they have raised, we view with serious concerns the populist and alarmist nature of their demands that may have serious repercussion on the lives and human rights of some of the most vulnerable people in Sabah including undocumented women and street children of refugee/ migrant descent. Many live in poverty and a life of exploitation, unable to access basic social services like healthcare and education but are also unfairly blamed and easily targeted by politicians for social ills including insecurity and violent crimes in Sabah.
Birth registration is a fundamental right of all children and a basic function of all modern governments. It is also an international obligation as required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by 194 States including Malaysia.
Let us be clear, birth registration only certifies birth, place of birth, parentage and is wholly different from the issue of citizenship. All citizenship matters including grant of citizenship, identity documents and registration in the electoral roll must be conducted properly and in accordance with established laws, regulations and practises and not through corrupt practises, fraud or for improper political gains – which should not be connected with the issue of birth registration.
Sabah like any other bustling frontier territory attracts both short and long term cross border migration, some who have entered and stayed legally, while others illegally. However, in our endeavour to enquire into wrongful past practises, we must be mindful that these are generations of migrants and refugees with varying histories and circumstances, many of whom have permanently settled in Sabah, intermarried, born or lived all their lives in the state.
Consequently, these people may have properly acquired citizenship or permanent resident status and all the accompanying rights. They have a relevant and genuine link with Sabah/ Malaysia (through birth, habitual residence, descent, marriage or naturalisation) and rights under Malaysian and international law including not to be made stateless, freedom from arbitrary arrest/ detention, torture, inhumane and other degrading treatment and right to life.
While the issues at stake are serious and have far reaching consequences, the citizenship and fundamental human rights of persons should not be sacrificed for the sake of political mileage or sensationalism.
Lawyers for Liberty therefore calls for all parties to remain level-headed and not let prejudicial or xenophobic sentiments cloud their judgment as statelessness affecting children is especially serious and it is high time steps are taken for these children to be recognised and protected by the State.
Released by:
Eric Paulsen
Executive Director
Lawyers for Liberty
2 November 2014
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