Press Statement
PH government must move away from previous BN policies that perpetuated statelessness
3 June 2018

Lawyers for Liberty notes with concern the discriminatory policies of the National Registration Department (NRD) against stateless Malaysians, a practice that was prevalent under the previous BN government.  Although it is early days, the new PH government does not seem to acknowledge the serious problem of statelessness affecting Malaysians from all walks of life, choosing to focus only on statelessness affecting the Indian community (Promise 1 of the Special Commitment for the Indian Community).

Statelessness is a nationwide problem that affects more than one ethnic group, and it is imperative that efforts to correct this grave injustice be extended to all stateless persons, not just those of Indian descent.

There are several categories or reasons for statelessness: (1) persons who were residents before independence but failed to acquire citizenship after independence; (2) unregistered birth; (3) persons who have lost important documentation such as birth certificates, marriage certificates etc; (4) abandoned children (foundlings) and adopted children born in Malaysia; (5) children of mixed marriages to foreign spouses; (6) children born before a marriage was registered; (7) children born overseas to Malaysian parents; (8) Indigenous persons.

It is important to stress that these policies that caused or perpetuated statelessness come from the Home Ministry, which is responsible for the NRD. Despite the PH victory, it appears as if nothing has changed, and the struggle for the right to citizenship for stateless children will go on at the Federal Court on 4 June. Of these children, three have unknown birth parents and were adopted by Malaysians; two others were born to Malaysian fathers and foreign spouses before their marriages were registered.

After years of legal wrangling at the High Court and Court of Appeal, this will mark the last hope for these children. Perhaps worse still, should the judges rule against them, a bad precedent will be set, impacting thousands more lives, and perpetuating their suffering indefinitely. Yet, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, at the direction of the NRD, continues to maintain their objections for these children to be accorded citizenship.

Many bright futures have been crushed by this cruel and entirely self-made problem. Without the MyKad, these stateless persons have difficulties in fully accessing the rights and services that ordinary citizens enjoy or take for granted despite being born and permanently residing in the country all their lives. These rights and services include better education, healthcare, employment and business, social security, freedom of movement – all of which leads to serious social problems and the cycle of statelessness that are handed down to the next generation.

Many stateless persons, especially those of Indian descent have been treated as a political gimmick, with MIC driving citizenship registration programs whenever election season draws near. In the past, the hopes of many stateless Indians largely relied upon the odds that they would be one of the lucky few to be graced by former PM Najib Razak and MIC politicians who are keen to show they are the ones responsible for resolving their statelessness.  The PH government and its component parties must not repeat such gimmicks but instead must strive to reform the NRD policies and approach in resolving statelessness for all.

As such, we urgently appeal to Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to advise the Attorney-General’s Chambers that the NRD does not wish to object to the citizenship cases currently being litigated at the Federal Court, so that the statelessness of these children can be resolved immediately.

In the longer term, we urge the Home Minister to do away with the discriminatory and burdensome policies of the previous BN administration, and take steps to review all statelessness cases at the NRD and grant them the appropriate citizenship documents.

Released by:
Eric Paulsen
Executive Director
Lawyers for Liberty