Nationality is a legal bond between a state, while statelessness refers to the condition of an individual who is not considered as a national by any state.
Myanmar (Burma) has one of the world’s largest populations of stateless people and this is a massive problem because statelessness has a terrible impact on individuals by depriving them of enjoyment of the full range human rights, i.e. individuals are generally blocked from obtaining employment, education, health care services and so forth. This problem of statelessness in Myanmar (Burma) and in the rest part of the world emerges due discriminatory and inadequate nationality laws. The leading approach in the fight against statelessness is ratification and implementation of various international norms related with nationality and statelessness provided by United Nations and other international organizations, e.g. Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, as well as others such as European Convention on Nationality or Hague Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws.
The legal analysis of Myanmar’s (Burma) domestic nationality law enables to conclude that this county is very distant from the international standards in nationality field, because it has not ratified either of aforementioned statelessness Conventions which are vital to the battle against statelessness and which regulate many severely vulnerable areas.
Myanmar (Burma) has only acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. However, norms of these Conventions are very laconic and regulate just very specific aspects of statelessness problem, thus, providing far less benefit than the ratification of, for instance, Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness would. What is more, Myanmar (Burma) even fails to implement those several international obligations which it has undertaken: Article 7 of Convention on the Rights of the Child prescribes that a child has the right to acquire a nationality and States Parties are obliged to ensure the implementation of this right under the relevant international instruments, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless. However, Myanmar (Burma) has not adopted any measures or mechanisms for this.
So, if Myanmar (Burma) fails to implement its own obligations, it is meaningless to expect that this country could take into account other international principles and standards which are not applicable within its territory. The legal analysis confirms that. For instance, Burma’s Citizenship Law does not ensure nationality under Article 1 and 4 of Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness to a child born outside or inside the country, if otherwise stateless, and does not at all regulate the question of abandoned children under Article 2 of Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness or Article 14 of Hague Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws. Sadly, Burma’s Citizenship Law does not provide facilitated naturalization for stateless persons as it is required by Article 32 of Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, as well. The possibility to naturalize as a citizen of Myanmar (Burma) is not even vested for foreigners.
The worst part of the Myanmar’s (Burma) nationality laws is racial discrimination. According to Burma’s Citizenship Law provisions, the citizenship of Myanmar (Burma) is granted only to certain ethnic groups that have settled within the State in a certain period. Moreover, the Council of State may decide independently whether to grant citizenship to any ethnic group or not. These provisions apparently contradict international norms which forbid to deprive any person or group of persons of nationality on racial, ethnic, religious or political grounds.
Notwithstanding, there are aspects in which Myanmar (Burma) does better. For instance, its nationality laws provide some safeguards against statelessness in the context of loss of nationality. One of the most significant norms is Article 15(a) which ensures that citizen would not automatically lose his citizenship merely by marriage to a foreigner. This norm accords with international standard that any change in personal status (like marriage) should not affect a person’s nationality and if it nonetheless does, such change should be conditional upon not rendering the person stateless. A noticeable achievement of Myanmar’s (Burma) nationality law is non gender-sensitive norms, as well.
Taking everything into consideration, it is obvious that Myanmar’s (Burma) nationality law lacks attention to international principles and standards related with nationality and statelessness and is more incompatible with them than consistent. Therefore, United Nations and other international organizations have to work with Myanmar’s (Burma) government and persuade it to ratify more international Conventions on nationality and statelessness.
Simante Tomkeviciute, Student of the course 'Nationality, Statelessness and Human Rights' offered by the Statelessness Programme at Tilburg University