efe-epaYangon (Myanmar)

Myanmar must immediately reform its citizenship laws, which at present legitimize the discrimination of minorities and entire ethnic communities, an international human rights organization said Tuesday.

In a report, the International Commission of Jurists, which brings together 60 prominent members of the legal world, said Myanmar's current citizenship law was not compatible with international human rights law.

"Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law, which has fueled widespread discrimination against various ethnic minority groups, is irreconcilable with core rule of law principles and the State’s obligations under international human rights law," the ICJ said.

The 1982 law currently in force in Burma (as Myanmar is also known) was approved in 1982 under the dictatorship of General Ne Win and establishes as one of the main criterion for granting Burmese citizenship on the concept of "national races," which is defined as those who settled in the Burmese territory in 1823, a year before the beginning of the British colonial era.

Furthermore, the law outlines three types of citizenship and discriminates especially against the descendants of those who emigrated to Myanmar from the Indian sub-continent or from China during the colonial period, which ended in 1948 with Burma's independence.

"The intentionally discriminatory character of this law, and its equally discriminatory implementation, largely explain why many long-term residents of Myanmar lack a legal identity (more than 25 percent of persons enumerated in the 2014 Census)," the report said.

The group most affected by the law has been the predominantly Muslim Rohingya people, an ethnic group of around one million mainly confined to the northwestern Rhakine State what the United Nations and several human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have dubbed as akin to apartheid.

Considered by many in Myanmar, including top officials, to be immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, the vast majority of Rohingya were deprived of Burmese citizenship in the 1990s.

At that time, the military regime in Myanmar decided to apply the 1982 Citizenship Law in Rhakine State forcing to the Rohingya people to hand over their documents to the authorities with the false promise that they would be given new ones that would grant them the same rights as enjoyed before the application of the controversial law.

The authorities did not consider the Rohingya to qualify as part of the "national races" and the Rohingya now have no documents with which to appeal.

In 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled across the border to Bangladesh during the Burmese military cracked down on Rohingya militant groups.

The UN has accused the Burmese authorities of leading a campaign of ethnic cleansing against and possibly genocide of the Muslim minority in the region.

Just before the campaign against the Rohingya, a commission created by Myanmar's government and presided over by the erstwhile UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, had published a series of recommendations on how to deal with the simmering issue in Burma, including one to revise the 1982 law.

Myanmar's leadership has yet to make any progress on the law. EFE-EPA