Press "Enter" to skip to content

1982 Citizenship Law of Burma: Is or Isn’t It Applicable Today?

By M.S. Anwar 

May 5, 2013, 


A lot has been said and written about and against 1982 Citizenship Law of Burma. Many, in fact, the whole world excluding few racist bigots and fascists in Burma, say that the law clearly violates the Article No. 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Article No. 15 says ““everyone has the right to a nationality and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” Let’s not forget that Burma itself was a signatory country that voted in favor of the adoption of UDHR in the United Nation General Assembly on 10th December 1948.

After the introduction and implementation of this discriminatory law, the identity of a whole community was wiped out and more than a million people were stripped off their citizenships who otherwise were the legitimate citizens of Burma under The Union Citizenship Act (Election), 1948 and The Union Citizenship Act 1948. 1982 Citizenship Law repealed Union Citizenship Act (Election), 1948 and The Union Citizenship Act 1948. These Acts were put forward by the pioneers of Burma’s independence according to the will of the people of the time and for the betterment of the nation.

Gen. Ne Win, the late dictator of Burma, with the support of some of his close allies, coined and introduced one of world’s most discriminatory and malicious laws in the history of mankind. He was an egoistic, self-centered and malicious leader that the history of Burma has seen. He saw every different thing to be the enemy of himself as well as the state. Hence, he can be called the founder of the institutional racism and fascism in Burma today. Being an extremist leader himself, he, naturally, ended up meeting with other extremist Rakhine leaders, who were his relatives-in-law through one of his wives. The trap called 1982 Citizenship Law that he together with his relatives-in-law coined was specially designed for the expulsion of an ever naive cum unfortunate people called ROHINGYAS.

There are three categories of citizens in this 1982 Citizenship Law of Burma. They are:

1)       Citizens,

2)      Associate Citizens

3)      Naturalized Citizens (For more info on this citizenship law, please visit:

To be a citizen of Burma, one, if he or she is not one of ethnic groups recognized by the STATE, needs to prove the existence of their fore-parents in Burma anterior to1823 C.E.

Though there are still plenty of collective evidences that prove Rohingyas to be indigenous, their ethnic identity was revoked by Gen. Ne Win by means of using authoritarian power and hence clearly violating the UDHR. NO elderly people (at their 60s or 70s who have enough knowledge about the country) or historians in their right minds will deny that Rohingyas were recognized as citizens and as an ethnic group by U Nu’s government, the first and ever fairly and democratically elected government in the history of Burma.

So far as the individual Rohingyas are concerned, it has been always difficult for them to individually prove the existence of their fore-parents before 1823 C.E. Because

1)      Their individual documentary evidences have either been systematically destroyed or

         confiscated by the rulers in the country.

2)      Most of Rohingyas have either been uneducated or been made so. They couldn’t keep these

         evidences in their hands.

3)      For decades, Rohingyas have been made to move from place to place. They have lost their

         documents meanwhile. There could be many reasons on top of that.

However, the fact remains is that they require these evidences to qualify them as the citizens. Since Rohingyas have lost their collective as well as individual identities, according to the law, most of them will find hard to even qualify as naturalized citizens today. Yet, the core problem that makes Rohingyas from citizens to stateless is not the law itself alone. It is the double-standard nature in the implementation of the law. The law has been discriminating and exclusively applied against Rohingya community.

If the law is, without any discriminations, applied to the staunch supporters of the law today, Rakhine people, more than three fourth of them will be disqualified as the citizens of Burma. There are two reasons for it.

1)      More than half of Rakhine populations in Arakan state today are immigrants from Bangladesh

        settled during Ne Win’s era.

2)      The original Rakhines themselves, too, can hardly show any individual evidences that can

         prove the existence of their fore-parents in Burma before 1823.

Therefore, the supporters of this law today can turn into the opponents of the law tomorrow. And I wonder how many of Burmese in general will be disqualified as the citizens of Burma if the law is equally applied to them, too!

Moreover, Section 16, Chapter II, 1982 Burma Citizenship Law says “a citizen who leaves the State permanently, or who acquires the citizenship of or registers himself as a citizen of another country, or who takes out a passport or a similar certificate of another country ceases to be a citizen.” Therefore, those racist Burmese living in exiles holding citizenships of other countries, passports or any other travel documents are no longer citizens of Burma. So, they should stop interfering in its affairs and yelling slogan against Rohingyas whether or not they are citizens of the country. And Rakhines in Arakan who are holding dual citizenships of both Bangladesh and Burma should know that they are living in Arakan illegally.

Coming back to the main question whether 1982 Citizenship Law of Burma is applicable today or not, a look back into the law itself is necessary.

1)      Section 4, Chapter 2- The Council of STATE may decide whether any ethnic group is national

         or not.

2)      Section 70 (b), Chapter VII- The decision of the Council of Ministers is final.

3)    Section 75, Chapter VII- The Council of Ministers, shall, for the purpose of carrying out the

       provisions of this Law, lay down necessary procedures with the approval of the Council

       of STATE.

In short, the STATE has the ultimate power over this law. And in section 2 (a), Chapter I, it defines STATE as the SOCIALIST REPUBLIC of The UNION of BURMA (SRUB).

1)      Today, the State as SRUB is non-existent.

2)      The state has transformed from “SRUB” to “the Union of Myanmar (UM)” to “the Republic

         of the Union of Myanmar (RUM) today.”

3)      The non-existence of the State called SRUB automatically NULLIFIES the 1982 Citizenship

         Law. It is an ineffective and inapplicable law today.

Therefore, to make the law effective and applicable, RUM needs:

1)      To crawl back to the state of SRUB

2)      To withdraw its Vote and signature of the approval of UDHR.

3)      To even withdraw its membership from UN because Myanmar is neither a sole planet itself

         nor non-member of UN. So, Myanmar needs to abide by UDHR adopted by UN.

Without doing so, the implementation of this law today in any form is illegal to the government of Myanmar itself because they have denounced the SRUB government of Ne Win. And it is violation of the article No.15 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and an insult to UN itself. Reports have it that the government of Myanmar has started implementing the law against Rohingyas in Arakan nowadays so as expel them out of Myanmar. Many Rohingyas have been being killed in the ongoing state-sponsored ethnic cleansing. They have lost their houses, properties and almost everything. In such a vulnerable situation, the imposing this violent law by the state will be adding more violence against them.

M.S. Anwar is an activist. He can be reached at: