Arakan Party Urges Govt to Investigate Suspect Citizenship Cards in Rakhine State

By Moe Myint 6 December 2018

YANGON — The Arakan National Party has urged the Union government to investigate claims that more than 3,000 National Registration Cards (NRCs) identifying the holders as ethnic Kaman were actually issued to Muslim Rohingya in southern Rakhine State over the past year.

Buddhist Arakan and Muslim Kaman communities in Rakhine have been raising concerns about the cards since September. The following month, the state legislature passed a motion encouraging the Union government to review 3,306 newly issued NRCs, which confer citizenship, in Ramree Township’s Kyauk Ni Maw village tract.

In a statement on Monday, the party said the Union government was ignoring the will of the people. It urged the government to set up an independent commission to investigate the issue, punish officials who issued cards erroneously, and ensure that the cards are properly issued from now on.

In September, Daw Htoot May, a Union lawmaker representing Ramree, submitted an “urgent proposal” asking the Upper House to approve a review of the disputed cards. But the speaker blocked the submission and advised her to change her proposal to a question for the House instead. Daw Htoot May said she made the change but was still waiting for a decision from the speaker on whether it will be passed on to the House.

“The House speaker did not explain the reason for the postponement and delay. It has been more than 20 days so far,” she said.

Government officials met with locals in Ramree to discuss the issue last week.

Ko Htin Lin Khine, a local resident who attended the meeting, said the officials included U Shein Win, deputy director-general of the Department of National Registration and Citizenship at the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population. He said the deputy told them that four Muslims from Kyauk Ni Maw, led by a man named Ba Than Htay, had asked for the NRCs from senior officials in Naypyitaw, and that those senior officials then instructed his ministry to work with officials from Ramree Township to evaluate the applications.

Ko Htin Lin Khine said the deputy told them that legal procedures were followed but did not specify the laws or articles. He said he asked the visiting officials if the government had issued the cards in accordance with Article 65 of the Citizenship Law — which states that anyone may apply for citizenship to the Central Body, a committee comprising the ministers of defense, foreign affairs and home affairs — and a June 2016 announcement from the President’s Office stating that staff from relevant departments must together decide if the applicants are to be granted association or naturalized citizenship.

Ko Htin Lin Khine said he also brought up Articles 5, 6 and 7 of the Citizenship Law, which explains who is eligible for citizenship claims based on the legal status of their parents. But he said the officials did not answer any of his questions directly.

Legal experts say that members of the 135 ethnic groups recognized by the government as native to Myanmar — the Kaman are, the Rohingya are not — need not apply to the Central Body for NRCs, raising questions among some about why those who recommended the applicants of the 3,306 cards had made multiple trips to Naypyitaw in 2017.

Ko Htin Lin Khine said he and others also had suspicions that some of the locals who recommended the applicants for the Kaman NRCs were not themselves Kaman, as is required by law.

He said U Shein Win told them that only 21 of the 3,306 card holders were found to not be ethnic Kaman and that the locals were “dissatisfied” with the claim.

An official household registration document issued by the General Administration Department in 2013, seen by The Irrawaddy, says only 500 of Kyauk Ni Maw’s 4,300 residents at the time were Kaman. Most of the township’s Kaman have moved to Yangon in recent years.

To determine whether the people recommending the applicants for Kaman NRCs were themselves Kaman, Daw Htoot May said she also tried asking the Ramree Immigration Department for their NRC numbers but was refused.

“He told me the documents were taken away by immigration officers from Naypyitaw but did not provide their [the officials’] names,” she said.

Daw Htoot May said 10 of the people who recommended the applicants were of particular interest because their names and photos have been shared on social media along with NRC application forms and recommendation letters.

“Even lawmakers are restricted from seeing the official documents of relevant departments. So I think we have to ask Parliament what type of documents are accessible or classified,” she said.

The Muslim Kaman are one of the 135 officially recognized ethnic groups in Myanmar and among the seven ethnic subgroups of Rakhine State. They served as royal archers in the Arakan Kingdom, a practice that vanished when the kingdom fell to the Burmese Konbaung Dynasty in 1784. Today there are about 45,000 Kaman across the country.