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1982 Citizenship Law and Pluralistic Ignorance

Laws & Policies

By Aman Ullah

“Everyone has the right to a nationality,” and “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.”
Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

The motion concerning the issue of citizenship scrutiny was put on record at the recent session of the Pyithu Hluttaw after the voting turned to be 154 votes for and 228 against, with 7 abstentions.

Daw Khin Saw Wai, an MP from Rakhine State, brought the motion before parliament stressing that her proposal was national, not regional. “The issue of citizenship scrutiny is a national concern, and it is not specific to Rakhine State alone,” she said.

In his discussion about the motion, U Aung Kyaw Zan of the Pauktaw constituency described the issue as unconnected with racial and religious matters as other people might have thought, putting the blame on illegal immigrants. He also called for the exercise of the Myanmar Citizenship Law 1892 in the scrutiny process, stressing that the law is up to standard.

Labour, Immigration and Population Union Minister U Thein Swe responded that the undertaking of citizenship scrutiny required security and stability. He pledged greater transparency in the scrutiny process to be conducted across the country on a national scale after the establishment of scrutiny committees at different levels in all states and regions. He called for collective cooperation in the process, which he said would present challenges. He proposed putting the issue on record, saying that the scrutiny process is included in his ministry’s 100-day plan.

Almost all of the MPs and many Rakhine political leaders of Arakan believe that the 1982 Citizenship Law is up to standard and try to use it against the Rohingya to make them illegal immigrants and stateless persons. While Daw Aung San Suu Kyi many time told that this law was unfair and any law relating to citizenship should be according to international standard and universal norms.

In true sense, the 1982 Citizenship Law is a pluralistic ignorance like the story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, a Danish fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen and first published in 1837. The story is about a situation where “no one believes, but everyone believes that everyone else believes. Or alternatively, everyone is ignorant to whether the Emperor has clothes on or not, but believes that everyone else is not ignorant.”

The story is like this,

Many years ago there lived an emperor who cared only about his clothes and about showing them off. One day he heard from two swindlers that they could make the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they said, also had the special capability that it was invisible to anyone who was either stupid or not fit for his position.

Being a bit nervous about whether he himself would be able to see the cloth, the emperor first sent two of his trusted men to see it. Of course, neither would admit that they could not see the cloth and so praised it. All the townspeople had also heard of the cloth and were interested to learn how stupid their neighbors were.

The emperor then allowed himself to be dressed in the clothes for a procession through town, never admitting that he was too unfit and stupid to see what he was wearing because he was afraid that the other people would think that he was stupid.

Of course, all the townspeople wildly praised the magnificent clothes of the emperor, afraid to admit that they could not see them, until a small child said:

“But he has nothing on”!

This was whispered from person to person until everyone in the crowd was shouting that the emperor had nothing on. The emperor heard it and felt that they were correct, but held his head high and finished the procession.

Today, the phrase “emperor’s new clothes” has become an idiom about ‘logical fallacies’ or’ pluralistic ignorance’.

Although, under the Article 202 (a) of Ne Win’s 1974 Constitution clearly states that, “This Constitution is the basic law of all the laws of the State.” Ne Win enacted this citizenship law, which was contrary to his constitution of 1974. However he and his BSPP government did not enforced it during their term and set it as dead law. The USDP and Thein Sein’s Government intentionally try to use this dead law as a legal law against the Muslims of not only Arakan but also throughout country while this law is also contrary even to the 2008 Constitution.

We welcome the recent resolution of the Pyithu Hluttaw that put on record the issue of citizenship scrutiny. We hope and pray that the new Government will respect and try to take action in accordance with the United Nations Resolution issued shortly after the election in 2015, an attempt to forestall further bloodshed by providing a framework to secure peace and reconciliation in the Arakan state.

According to that resolution, “The NLD government should immediately abolish the Rakhine Action Plan and end institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya, including the denial of citizenship. It must hold accountable all those who commit human rights abuses, including inciting ethnic and religious intolerance and violence. In Arakan/Rakhine state the government must facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their communities. Neighboring countries should offer protection and assistance to Rohingya asylum seekers. The international community must urge the new NLD government to develop a comprehensive reconciliation plan, including establishing a commission of inquiry into crimes committed against the Rohingya in Arakan/Rakhine state. The new government must demonstrably improve the welfare of ethnic and religious minorities and repeal laws and discriminatory practices that pose an existential threat to the Rohingya community.

A central component of the new government’s reform process must include constitutional reform that addresses the needs of ethnic minorities, as well as the development of an independent judiciary as a means of safeguarding human rights and tackling the culture of impunity regarding past mass atrocity crimes.”

As a member of the United Nations, Burma is legally obliged to take action to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

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