By Aman Ullah
“Citizenship is a basic right for it is nothing less than the right to have right,” Earl Warren, former U S Supreme Court Justice.
For over 800 years, from 1044 to 1885, the Burmese lived under an absolute monarchy. All legislative, executive and judicial powers were concentrated in the hands of the monarch. Justice was administered by issuing royal commands. As the loyal subject of the kings, the people needed to surrender all their wills at feet of the kings. They had neither rights nor liberties nor a say in the affairs of the state.
The rule of the Burmese kings came to an end in 1885 when Burma became Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s possession. All the people of Burma were became the subjects of the Her Majesty Queen Victoria till Burma achieved its independence on 4th January 1948.
According to the Article 3 of the Nu-Attlee Treaty, which was signed in London on 17th October 1947, “Any person who at the date of the coming into force of the present Treaty is, by virtue of the constitution of the Union of Burma, a citizen thereof and who is, or by virtue of a subsequent election is deemed to be, also a British subject, may make a declaration of alienage in the manner prescribed by the law of the Union, and thereupon shall cease to be citizen of the Union.”
There is also in 1947 Burma Independence Act Article 2 sub-section (1) “Subject to the provisions of this section, the persons specified in the First Schedule to this Act, being British subjects immediately before the appointment day, shall on that day cease to be British subjects;”.. According to the First Schedule (Section 2), “persons who were born in Burma or whose father or paternal grandfather was born in Burma and who, being British subjects immediately before the appointed day, shall cease to be British subjects”.
That’s means that, a person who by virtue of this section ceases to be British subject on the appointed day and became a citizen of Independent country of Burma. Appointed day means the fourth day of January, nineteen hundred and forty-eight in accordance to section 1 of that Act.
On 4 January 1948 the Union of Burma achieved independence. All the peoples of Burma; Burman and non-Burman including the Rohingyas, ceased the subjects of British became independent citizens of independent country. A constitution for this new sovereign independent republic was adopted on 24 September 1947 by a constituent assembly, which was drafted around the same time as the Universal Declaration for Human Rights.
The 1947 constitution provided safeguards for fundamental rights. Under this constitution, the people of Burma irrespective of “birth, religion, sex or race” equally enjoyed all the citizenships rights including right to express, right to assemble, right to associations and unions, settle in any part of the Union, to acquire property and to follow any occupation, trade, business or profession”.
However, at that time the inhabitants of the country consisted of persons of indigenous, mixed and foreign stock. Citizenship was partly defined by the Constitution thereby assuring citizenship rights to the indigenous and mixed races, but the task of defining citizenship more completely was left to the parliament. Laws were promulgated by the Parliament from time to time to define citizenship and to provide for its acquisition and anyone who was not a citizen was classified as a foreigner.
The “Residents of Burma Registration Act” was enacted in 1949 and a nine members committee was formed June 1950 to draft its rules in the name of ‘National Registration Rules Drafting Committee’. After finalizing the draft the committee submitted it to the Government for approval and the Parliament approved the Rules in the February 1951 session. It was circulated by the Ministry of Homes on February 23, 1951 as Gazette notification No. 117 in a name of , ‘Residents of Burma registration Rules, 1951’.
Every person residing in Burma shall furnish, for registration purposes, (his/her) particulars as required under this Act or its rules made there under. The Registration Officer or Assistant Registration Officer shall, in accordance with the rules made under this Act, issue to every person who has registered as such, a registration card as a proof of identity and containing prescribed particulars.
Notwithstanding anything in the above rules, the foreigners shall be exempted from the application of the said rules other than rule 29 and 31. The foreigners who were registered under 1940 Foreigner Registration rules shall be deemed that they are being registered under these rules. For the matters in the rule 29 and 31, the registration card issued under 1940 Foreigner Registration Rules shall be deemed that the card is issued under these rules.
Registration and issuing these cards was commenced on March 1, 1952 by visiting door to door in every nock and corner of the area in Rangoon District and in other 7 towns including Akyab on April1, 1952 (1953 Burma gazetteers vol.1, page-819). The tasks of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung and others 20 townships were commenced on August 1, 1953 (1954 Burmese gazetteers Vol.1, page-197).
All NRC issued in earlier years bear no additional remarks. A remark stating, “Holding this certificate shall not be considered as a conclusive proof of as to citizenship” was sealed later on NRCs. The reason behind this extra remark sealed later was the best known to the authorities. Perhaps one of the objectives of 1978, Dragon King Operation was to stamp the above remark on all NRCs.
NRCs were issued to all residents (mainly citizens) whilst registered foreigners (under Foreigners Registration Act and Rule of 1948) were issued FRCs. There was no third category of people in Burma, then. As a result, NRCs were used as a proof of nationality or citizenship. This is the most authentic document concerning Rohingya’s citizenship.
NRC is a bona fide document that allowed one to carry on all his national activities, without let or hindrance: — to possess moveable and immovable or landed properties, pursue education, including higher studies and professional courses in the country’s seats of learning, right to work and public services, including armed forces, and to obtain Burmese passport for travelling abroad, including pilgrimage to Holy Makkah.
According to the 1973 census, the population of Akyab Township was 140,000; Maungdaw 223,320; Buthidaung 163,353; and Rathedaung 95,270. FRC holders in Akyab were 841, Maungdaw 109, Buthidaung 203 and Rathedaung 55. There were also 1528 people without any documents. That’s means that there were 619, 195 persons NRC holders, 1, 208 persons FRC holders and 1528 persons undocumented in these townships, where more than 60%; of total population was Rohingyas at that time.
However, since 1970 no NRC cards were issued to the Rohingyas, whereas, as per the regulation every person above the age of 12 years would have to have NRCs. In addition to this, the government launched a military operation since 1974 in the name of ‘Sabe Operation’. During that operation thousands of Rohingyas’ NRCs were seized without any legal authorities, on various pretexts which were never returned. In these ways thousands of the poor and natural born Rohingyas were classified as foreigners, alleging filtrated from Bangladesh. Thus, the system of issuing the NRCs was directed to fit into a well-planned policy of de-nationalizing the Rohingyas of Arakan.
Moreover, following the promulgation of the 1982 Citizenship Law, all residents in Burma had to reapply for citizenship, exchanging their old identity documents for new one. In 1989, a further change was made and all residents had to apply for new Citizenship Scrutiny Cards, (in Burmese ‘naing-ngan-tha si-sit-ye kat-pya’), rather than the Identity Cards (in Burmese’ amyu-tha hmat-pon-tin kat-pya’). The new cards are colour-coded for essay identification of the citizenship status of the bearer. Pink cards were given to full citizens, blue for associate citizens and green for naturalized citizens.
The cards must be carried at all the times, the cards number has to be given when buying tickets; registering children in schools; staying overnight with friends or relatives outside one’s own council area; applying for any professional post, including all civil service posts; buying or exchanging land and other .
Thus, denying the right to citizenship in Burma is denying all the civil rights in Burma, such as the right to freedom of movement, the right to education, the right to own property, the right to be employed as civil servants’, and so on.
One of the key points of the Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs), on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, between Burma and Bangladesh and between Burma and UNHCR was that returnees be granted “appropriate identification”. In practice, however, this initially meant that the returnees received “returnee identification cards” yellow colour cards which only identified them as persons having returned from Bangladesh by giving them no legal status.
In July 1995, in response to UNHCR’s intensive advocacy efforts to document the Rohingyas, the regime moved to regularize the population of northern Arakan by issuing new cards to all Rohingya residents. According to the regime it was “first step toward to citizenship”. The new card, which is called Temporary Registration Card (TRC), was issued under the 1949 Residents of Burma Registration Act and the 1951 Residents of Burma Registration Rules, both of which acts were superseded by the 1982 Citizenship Law but were reintroduced in order to be used solely for the registration of Rohingyas.
Under the 1951 Residents of Burma Registration Rules, The record-keeper may issue “Temporary registration certificate (TRC)” for any of the following reasons:
If record-keeper suppose that entry in the registration record has been done completely in a proper way.
If an application is submitted to issue another card in lieu of the card, which is lost or damage or faded out?
If there is specific reasons by general or special order.
TRC means a certificate issued in lieu of the registration card and a proof of identity valid for a certain period specified in the certificate. The TRC must be in accord with form (3) attached to the back of this rules. The validity duration of TRC may be restricted by fixing a deadline. The holder of TRC shall surrender his card to record-keeper within 7 days after validity of the card expires. The record-keeper may reissue that card endorsing it for validity extension as and when necessary or he may issue new TRC.
Until recently the Rohingyas – as other stateless minority populations, such as the Burma-born ethnic Chinese and Indian – at least had ID cards (“white cards”) that allowed them to vote in two occasions. Allegedly, the ruling party, Union Solidarity and Development Party, chaired by the current President Thein Sein, coerced or bought Rohingya votes to secure a majority in parliament in the 2010 elections.
About 700,000 of them belong to the Rohingya Muslim in northern Arakan State. The Rohingya Muslims of Arakan have a more than 1300 years old tradition, culture, history and civilization of their own expressed in their shrines, cemeteries, sanctuaries, social and cultural institutions found scattered even today in every nock and corner of the land. By preserving their own heritages from the impact of Buddhist environments, they formed their own society with a consolidated population in Arakan well before the Burmese invasions of Arakan in 1784.
On February 2, 2015, the Burmese Parliament approved a referendum, which is called 2015 Referendum Law. This law automatically enfranchises hundreds of thousands of white card holders, who live in Burma but successive Burmese regime denied to give them full citizenship rights.
These white card holders’ vaguely-defined legal status was being abused by the USDP and government for political gains during voting. They created this policy since 2008 when the country had a referendum.
However, the President’s position has been particularly ambivalent, as he personally advocated their enfranchisement for a referendum on a constitutional amendment, only to declare the white cards invalid when protests erupted in several parts of the country to prevent their participation in any kind of upcoming election. Alarmingly, the protesters were not rallying behind opposition parties to demand clean, transparent elections, but rather behind Buddhist monks with nationalistic and openly racist slogans demanding their expulsion from Myanmar.
The Myanmar government has started issuing green cards to Muslims in 13 townships in restive Rakhine state to verify their identities, bringing them a step closer to applying for citizenship, a local immigration official said Monday.
“The Immigration Ministry has issued these cards to people who need and want to apply for citizenship,” Khin Soe, an immigration officer in the state capital Sittwe, told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “The advisory commission suggested that we issue the green cards, and we submitted this suggestion to the government. We have issued them according to the Immigration Act when we received permission from the government.”
Authorities have collected about 400,000 temporary identification cards, known as “white cards,” from displaced and stateless Rohingya Muslims in the state in western Myanmar as part of the process of applying for citizenship, he said, adding that the distribution of the green cards began two days ago
In return, the Muslims have received a light green and blue card containing an identification number, name of the holder, their gender, date of birth, place of birth, marital status and father’s name with visible identification marks in Burmese and English, Khin Soe said.
“We’re giving this card to people who already returned their white cards to us,” he said. “This cardholder can verify that he or she lives in Myanmar, but that person still needs to apply for and be verified for citizenship eligibility.”
“Once a person receives a green card, he can apply for citizenship, and then we will verify them,” he added.
Officials are simultaneously issuing the green cards along with application forms to apply for Myanmar citizenship in 13 townships in Rakhine state, including Sittwe, Mrauk U, Thandwe, Buthidaung and Maungdaw, he said.
The cards are valid for two years after which holders can apply for an extension, he added.
The green cards also enable holders to stay in Myanmar as long as they want without applying for citizenship by repeatedly filing for extensions, he said.
But for green card holders who cannot produce the necessary documents to become a citizen, immigration officials must look to lawmakers for advice on how to handle the situation, Khin Soe said.
Whether the green card holders will be able to vote in Myanmar’s general elections in November hinges upon a law that the country’s Election Commission will issue, Khin Soe said, adding that the body soon would issue guidelines for the card holders.
In real, the current forcing of temporary card known as green card on ethnic Rohingya requiring them to apply for citizenship by naturalization with ‘Bengali identity’ as foreign residents with a view to denationalizing and dividing the entire Rohingya people while putting them in permanent limbo.
Also these are conspiracy to deprive the Rohingya people of their time honoured rights to vote and to hold public offices after they were excluded from the UN sponsored 2014 general census held in March 2014 for identifying themselves as “Rohingya”.
Moreover the government is try to retain the Arakan under the military control by making all the Rohingyas stateless and all the Rakhines homeless, land less and effortless for total sold out of the whole Arakan to the Chinese for the money and security.