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Politics of Changing Colour of Cards

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 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”. Later more laws and acts 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 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. However, the foreigners shall be exempted from the application of the said rules and they have to register under 1940 Foreigner Registration rules.

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 National Registration Card (NCR) as a proof of identity and containing prescribed particulars. 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.

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).

U Kyaw Hla Aung, a former political prisoner and Rohingya leader from Sittwe, shows his original, laminated 1963 National Registration Card. (Paul Vrieze / Frontier)

The NRCs were in two colours, i.e., green for males and pink for females. All NRCs 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.

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, to 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 1982 Citizenship Law, essentially based on jus sanguinis criteria, identifies three categories of citizens: Full Citizens, Associate Citizens and Naturalized Citizens, who are issued with colour-coded ID cards, carrying different sets of rights. Full citizens are citizens by birth (section 3) belonging to one of 135 ‘national races’ settled in Burma/ Myanmar before 1823, the start of the British colonization of Arakan, as well as those already recognized as citizens under the previous “1948 Union Citizenship Act ” (section 6). Associate citizens were those whose application to citizenship under the 1948 Act was still pending when the 1982 Law entered into force. Access to naturalised citizenship requires two sets of qualifying criteria: evidence of long term residence in Myanmar since 4 January 1948 (section 42) or descent from, or marriage to, a person who held or holds a form of Myanmar citizenship (section 45), and fulfilling stringent requirements such as fluency in one of the recognised national languages, to be of sound mind and of good character (section 44).

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.

The official use of “Rohingya” in the Ministry of Education issued Identity Card of Primary School Headmaster, U Maung Nah (aka) Abdul Munaf.

A State’s prerogative to grant or remove nationality is constrained under international law. The Citizenship Law of 1982 is discriminatory, and contravenes the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of nationality. It violates the right of every child to acquire nationality, as it fails to protect the acquisition of citizenship for children born in Myanmar with no “genuine link” to another State. It also gives overly broad power to the Government to revoke citizenship without due protection. It has led and continues to lead to statelessness.

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.

The Government first attempted to collect data and assess Rohingyas’ citizenship in late 2012 and again in 2013, encountering widespread resistance. On 15 June 2014, the Thein Sein Government launched a Citizenship Verification programme in Rakhine State based on the 1982 Citizenship Law and requiring the Rohingya to self-identify as Bengali to apply.

A woman in a displacement camp in Arakan State’s Myebon Township holds up her white card, October 2014. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

A draft Rakhine State Action Plan dated 7 July 2014 leaked to the media stipulated that those who refuse to participate in the verification process as well as those who do not meet required criteria would be relocated to camps or deported elsewhere.

During the elections in 2010, holders of TRC were granted the right to form and join political parties, and to vote. However, later steps were taken to prevent them from participating in political life. In September 2014, the Parliament amended the Political Parties Registration Law, introducing a requirement for party leaders to be “full” citizens, and for party members to be “full” or “naturalized” citizens. In May 2015, the right of temporary identity certificate-holders to vote in the general election was revoked.

In February 2015, the previous Government announced the expiry of “temporary identity certificates” held by some 700,000 stateless people across the country, including the Rohingya, the Chinese and other minority groups. The certificate was the primary document held by stateless persons in Rakhine to confirm their legal residence in Myanmar. In June 2015, a new “identity card for nationality verification (ICNV)” was announced and those who had surrendered their expired white cards were told to exchange the receipt for a turquoise (green/blue) card called “Identity Card for Nationality Verification” (ICNV or NVC) and then proceed with an application for citizenship verification.

The ‘Identity Card for National Verification’ (referred to as NVC by the Government) is a replacement of the now cancelled white card with the difference that the TRC/TIC was issued un der the 1949 Burma Residents Registration Law whereas the NVC does not appear to have any legal basis.

The NVC does not display ethnicity and religion, but does not provide any legal status to the holder. The application form for NVCs did require self -identification as Bengali. As a result, most Rohingyas declined to apply for a NVC. Reportedly, just over 1,000 Rohingyas in Rakhine State had volunteered by the end of 2015.

The NVC is only the first step permitting holders to undergo citizenship verification, which applies to former white cards’ holders. It remains unclear how those who are undocumented and those who hold NRCs would be able to enter the verification process without NVC. The process was stalled temporarily around the 2015 elections and resumed under the new Rakhine State Committee led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi established on 31 May 2016. The new Government already confirmed that the process will continue to be based on the 1982 Citizenship Law.

On 7 June 2016, a citizenship verification process – conducted within the framework of the Citizenship Law of 1982 –was relaunched in Kyaukpyu, Myebon and Ponnagyun. This pilot project was similar to the earlier exercise, except that the NVC application no longer requires self-identification as Bengali(but does not allow to self-identify as Rohingya) in line with Aung San Suu Kyi’s instructions. In Kar Di village of Ponnagyun, Rohingyas refused to participate.

However, this exercise is opaque, lacks transparency both in terms of process and on its expected outcome and has not incorporated any trust-building and consultations with affected communities.

On 23 June 2016, the Government extended the scheme to four villages in Maungdaw as well as to Thet Kay Pyin and Aung Mingalar in Sittwe, but the Rohingya community reportedly did not come forward to apply for NVCs. At that time, there has been no report of coercion or pressure by the authorities to take part in this exercise. However, at present Rohingyas are forced to take NVC by means of compulsions, restrictions and confinement.

Any kind of enforcement is a crime and the successive Burmese governments have been committing crime against Humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Rohingyas. If the successive governments of Burma, instead spending huge sum of time, money and energy in discriminating, harassing, oppressing the Rohingyas in the name of launching operations; forming committees and commissions; making policies, programmes, propagandas and processes, the state of Arakan never been poor as today.

Moreover the government is trying 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.


About Author:
Mr. Aman Ullah, a Rohingya historian based in Bangladesh and he was a former school teacher in Ann township and the southern part of Maungdaw, Arakan State, Myanmar, who has contributed in the field of Rohingya history and humanitarian stance.