Citizenship Law

1982 Citizenship Law in Burma and the Arbitrary Deprivation of Rohingyas’ Nationality

The Rohingyas have experienced difficulties in obtaining citizenship after 1982 Citizenship Law in Burma was enacted. Since the beginning of Burmese independence, their separate identity was recognized by the then democratic government of Premier U Nu (1948-1962). Their situation worsened after the military takeover in 1962 leaving them subject to humiliating restrictions and harsh treatment by the State. However, the Rohingya statelessness was institutionalized by the Burmese 1982 Citizenship Law. This paper argues that the citizenship is in line with international human rights standards but under international law is considered the responsibility of the State to adhere to international principles through domestic legislative systems. State sovereignty is primarily understood to entail the power to determine who will be the permanent and preferred residents of the State, or put differently, who will be citizens. The Burmese are adamant that the Rohingyas are Bengalis regardless of their residency history, and therefore belong in Bangladesh. Their Islamic religion and Indo-Aryan racial appearance do not conform with so-called ‘Burmese citizenship standard’. According to the United Nations human rights standards and mechanism, no one would be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality. This paper will examine the Burmese 1982 Citizenship Law and how it fails to meet international standards and customary practice. In this context, this paper will outline, despite human rights standard, how Rohingyas have come to be deprived of Burmese citizenship status due to their ethno-religious identity.
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