KUALA LUMPUR: The proposed constitutional amendments pertaining to the granting of citizenship are “10 steps backwards” and will not improve the statelessness situation, says the Malaysian Bar.
Its president Karen Cheah said citizenship is a basic human right and that the proposed changes may lead to more people becoming stateless by operation of law.
“I also read (home minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s) statement that there are other avenues to actually apply (for citizenship), but realistically speaking, we know how it works,” she told FMT.
“The application may go in, (but) it will never get processed. They don’t hear anything from the national registration department (JPN) for years and years. So, it’s all actually window dressing.”
Cheah said the Bar had not been consulted on the amendments and there has been no response despite writing “two to three” letters to the home ministry.
“I’m really wondering whether or not they are truly interested in reforms or is it still the same? That they are just protecting their own turf?” she asked.
In his winding-up speech for the 2024 supply bill on Wednesday, Saifuddin defended the proposal to present eight amendments regarding the provisions for granting citizenship under the Federal Constitution.
Saifuddin told the Dewan Rakyat that among the eight proposals was a particularly “sensitive” one, concerning the granting of citizenship to stateless children and foundlings – infants abandoned by their parents and later cared for by others.
One of the key amendments is directed towards altering the Second Schedule, Part II, Section 1(e), which grants Malaysian citizenship to every stateless person born in Malaysia by operation of law.
It seeks to also amend the Second Schedule, Part III, Section 19(b), which pertains granting citizenship to abandoned children.
Various activists and NGOs, including Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), have strongly criticised the amendments, saying that they could exacerbate the issue of statelessness or place stateless individuals in precarious situations.
Meanwhile, Cheah said the Bar has conveyed their dissatisfaction over the proposed amendments to the law and institutional reform minister Azalina Othman Said.
It was reported that the proposed amendments would be brought for Cabinet discussion today.
However, Cheah said mere approval at the Cabinet level is inadequate and called for proper engagement with MPs.
“So if the MPs actually understand what (the amendment) entails, I hope that the amendments will not get the two-thirds majority,” she said.
Any amendment to the Federal Constitution needs a two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat for it to be passed.