‘Using citizenship as a weapon’ Myanmar army targets critics | Political news
Since March, Myanmar’s military regime has announced the revocation of citizenship of 33 prominent dissidents, a move critics have described as a violation of human rights and a violation of international law.
Those targeted include diplomats refusing to work for the army, members of a parallel government set up in opposition to last year’s coup, outspoken celebrities and prominent activists . Three separate notices in state media said their citizenship had been revoked because they had committed “acts that may harm the interests of Myanmar”.
The military seized power in February 2021, after the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide re-election victory, which the military refused to acknowledge. The coup sparked a political crisis – hundreds of thousands of civil servants went on strike, millions took to the streets in protest and peaceful protests turned into gun battles following brutal crackdowns military.
Among those stripped of their citizenship is Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, who dramatically declared his continued loyalty to the ousted government soon after the coup. He was allowed to keep his UN seat as the military struggles for official recognition internationally. Myanmar’s ambassador to the UK, Kyaw Zwar Minn, and Thet Htar Mya Yee San, second secretary at the Myanmar embassy in the US, are other diplomats stripped of their citizenship.
The policy has also targeted prominent members of the national unity government – a rival cabinet set up by some politicians elected in the November 2020 elections.
“The junta’s desperate attempts to harm us and render us stateless are totally illegal and will not deter us or my colleagues from our work for the brave people of Myanmar who have suffered so much for so long. Indeed, it strengthens our resolve,” Dr Sasa, NUG spokesperson and Minister for International Cooperation, told Al Jazeera.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, says the policy is just the latest example of the military “using citizenship as a weapon”.
“There are still many activists from previous generations of democracy protesters in the 1990s and early 2000s who still have not regained their Burmese citizenship,” he said, adding that these issues do not are unlikely to be resolved until democracy is restored.
Emerlynne Gil, deputy regional director for research at Amnesty International, said stripping citizenship is “inconsistent with international law” if it leaves victims stateless.
“This is the likely outcome for people targeted by Myanmar’s military since the country does not allow dual citizenship,” Gil said.
She adds that the citizenship revocations “appear to be part of a climate of retaliation in the country, where the military authorities are using all means, however cruel or illegal, to silence opposition” to the coup. .
Sasa notes that depriving people of their nationality has long been a tactic of Myanmar’s “genocidal” army.
“Hundreds of thousands of Burmese, especially our Rohingya brothers and sisters, have suffered the same fate. Living stateless in the country where they were born. The only country they have ever known,” he said.
Many NLD members have previously defended the violent 2017 military crackdown on the Rohingya, which the United States recently declared genocide.
Many in the pro-democracy movement have branded the mainly Muslim Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in a bid to justify their lack of citizenship rights and treatment that Amnesty International has called “apartheid”. Aung San Suu Kyi even defended the army before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
But after the coup, the NUG reversed its approach and pledged to protect Rohingya human rights and recognize their citizenship in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s generals are not alone in using citizenship as a weapon against their opponents and critics.
Activists and politicians from other Southeast Asian countries have also faced authoritarian restrictions on their citizenship rights.
In 2019, the Cambodian Foreign Ministry canceled the passports of 12 prominent opposition politicians, apparently in an effort to prevent them from returning to the country. Thailand’s foreign ministry also reportedly revoked the passports of political activists in 2021, ostensibly to prevent them from fleeing the country.
Robertson said Cambodia and Thailand violated “the rights to freedom of movement and the right to enter and leave one’s country” and called for an “immediate halt to these practices”.
“There is only one step between the cancellation of passports and what Myanmar has done in stripping citizenship, and in both cases exiles are prevented from returning to their country of origin,” he said. he declared.
Mu Sochua, vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and a dual US citizen, was among the Cambodians whose passports were revoked.
“There is nothing more devastating than being stripped of your nationality and the right to return to your birthplace,” Sochua told Al Jazeera. She fled the country in 2017 after CNRP chairman Kem Sokha was arrested and charged with treason, in a case widely dismissed as politically motivated. She was barred from returning in 2019.
“I left Cambodia overnight leaving behind a home, a nation, the people I cared for and most importantly my husband’s ashes which I brought back to Cambodia after his death in the United States “, said Sochua.
She said that before leaving Cambodia, she visited her husband’s chedi, or tomb, on holidays and other important events to light incense and ask for his spiritual support.
Denied access to Cambodia, she can no longer perform these important rituals.
“A passport for someone living abroad is your only link to your country of origin. For any citizen of any nation, it is your legal and national identity. Even your pride. More than anything else, it is your It’s your constitutional right to have a passport,” she said. Although Sochua also has US citizenship and travel documents, she says at least five of her colleagues now have no travel documents. .
Sochua says she has been in contact with Sasa about the situation in Myanmar. “Autocratic regimes learn from each other. They belong to the same club,” she said, adding that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has failed in “many ways” to dissuade member states from taking such action.
Others warn that Western governments may also have set a bad example by stripping citizenship from nationals who joined or were linked to ISIL (ISIS).
A recent study by the Institute of Statelessness and Inclusion found an “alarming gravitation towards securing citizenship” (PDF) and noted that deprivation powers were increasingly part of citizenship laws. nationality in many European countries, as well as in the Middle East.
Although data is sparse, it found that while Bahrain had banned the most people in the past 20 years, the UK was ‘a global leader in the race to the bottom’, with 212 people stripped of citizenship in the past 20 years. during the same period.
“The actions of Western countries to strip citizenship from their citizens who have joined Islamic State fighters in Syria and elsewhere have created a slippery slope that dictators like Myanmar’s generals can use to justify their illegitimate actions,” warned Robertson.
While ISIL (ISIS) fighters may seem less sympathetic than pro-democracy activists, experts say there is no legal difference in leaving someone stateless.
“Governments at all levels should stop targeting citizenship just because they don’t like what an individual is doing,” Robertson added.
Dissidents like Sasa, meanwhile, reject the military’s ability to define their identity.
“This land, this culture, this identity, this heritage, I carry them with me in my heart. She can’t be taken away from me, she can’t be driven away from me, and I’ll never let her go. My identity is not defined by a hateful, bigoted army,” he said.