February 5, 2017 - 6:23pm
The draft Citizenship Bill, 2016, approved by Cabinet in February last year, is in contravention of the constitution, experts have told the Dhaka Tribune.
The law imposes restrictions on citizens born abroad and dual citizens in ways that make them “second-class citizens,” said Barrister Najrul Islam Khasru, a British Bangladeshi who is a tribunal judge in England.
“This is clearly inconsistent with the fundamental rights enshrined in the Bangladesh Constitution,” he said
The restrictions include being ineligible to contest a parliamentary election, hold the post of President or any local government position, or be appointed to any service of the republic including a justice of the Supreme Court. It also disallows such people from being involved in any political party.
These will apply not only to citizens living abroad and dual citizens; they will also affect resident Bangladeshis whose parents were abroad during her birth for any possible reason.
The bill, when enacted into law, will cancel out the existing Citizenship Act, 1951 and Bangladesh Citizenship (Temporary Provision) Order, 1972.
However, the new law aims to clearly define dual citizenship for Bangladeshis, a term that does not appear in the current laws.
Law Commission member Dr M Shah Alam, asked about the intent behind this proposed law, said: “The new law is focused on dual citizens and what rights they can exercise. There are some limitations in terms of their rights.”
Imposing restrictions on Bangladeshis born abroad and those with dual citizenship would violate several rights ensured in the constitution, said Dr CR Abrar, a teacher of International Relations at Dhaka University.
The proposed law breaches a number of provisions of the constitution, including the equality of all citizens, non-discrimination on grounds of birth, equality in public employment and qualifications and disqualifications of election to parliament, he said.
Citizenship of the Urdu-speaking community
One of the more controversial parts of the law is Section 3, which stipulates that the provisions in this law will prevail over other acts, judgments, decrees and legal instruments.
In an analysis presented to the press, Shahriar Sadat, a Supreme Court lawyer, pointed out that apart from potentially undermining the supremacy of the constitution, this section could override the High Court judgment passed in 2008 conferring citizenship to the Urdu-speaking community.
The burden of parents’ ‘crimes’?
The proposed law contains many scenarios under which people could lose citizenship because of the actions or identities of their parents.
It introduces a term, “alien enemy,” a state that is or was at war with Bangladesh.
If one’s parents were an alien enemy, that person could lose their citizenship.
If one’s father or mother “denies the existence of Bangladesh” or is “engaged in any activity against Bangladesh,” that any person will not be qualified to be a Bangladeshi citizen.
“The bill fails to recognise children as individuals with personal rights, holds children accountable for actions of their parents by depriving them of citizenship,” said Barrister Rashna Imam.
It can render minor children stateless by disqualifying them from citizenship if their parents have renounced Bangladeshi citizenship, she said.
“There being no guarantee that the country whose citizenship the parent are acquiring confer citizenship on the child, this provisions may render the minor child stateless,” she added.
“India has effectively dealt with this risk. A parallel provision in the Citizenship Act 1955 of India gives that child the option to resume Indian citizenship within one year of attaining full age if they wish to do so. We see no such provision in our law,” Rashna said.
Government’s dual citizens problem?
The draft law’s ban on part of the citizenry getting in public offices could potentially affect the government.
In October last year, a delegation of expatriates from European countries and Australia, who came to Bangladesh to take part in Awami League’s national council, went to Finance Minister AMA Muhith to address these issues.
UK Awami League’s President Sultan Mohammad Sharif, Vice-President MA Rohim, and General Secretary M Saidur Rahman Faruk were in the delegation.
MA Rohim had told the press they knew of many politicians who could face problems because of the law.
“We know that Public Administration Minister Syed Ashraful Islam holds a British passport. Jaitya Party Whip Selim Uddin Selim was born overseas and many people in the current parliament hold dual citizenship,” he had said.
The many inconsistencies and contradictions in the law could be an unintentional result of poor drafting, Barrister Najrul Islam Khasru said.
“This is a common problem in Bangladesh. One of the reasons why recently the World Justice Project again placed Bangladesh as one of the bottom 10 countries in the World for rule of law,” he pointed out.
Asked about the issues raised against the draft law, Law Minister Anisul Huq said the bill was at the Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Division for vetting.
Emphasising the limitations placed on dual citizenships in the proposed bill, he said: “Expatriates are worried about the citizenship bill, and the act will be finalised keeping in mind all the possible facilities and rights of the expatriates.”