Rohingyas and the Residents of Burma Registration Act

By Aman Ullah

On Burma attaining independence on 4th January 1948, it ceased to be a part of the British Commonwealth which it left of its own choice. However, at that time the inhabitants of the country consisted of persons of indigenous, mixed and foreign stock. Citizenship was partly defined by the Constitution thereby assuring citizenship rights to the indigenous and mixed races, but the task of defining citizenship more completely was left to the parliament. Laws were promulgated by the Parliament from time to time to define citizenship and to provide for its acquisition and anyone who was not a citizen was classified as a foreigner.
The “Residents of Burma Registration Act” was enact in 1949 as Act No.41, 1949 and a nine members  committee was formed  June 1950 to draft it’s rules in the name of   ‘National Registration Rules Drafting Committee’ headed by U Ka Si, Secretary for Home  Affairs. After finalizing the draft the committee submitted it to the Government for approval and the Parliament approved the Rules in the February 1951 session. It was circulated by the Ministry of Homes on February 23, 1951 as Gazette notification No. 117 in a name  of , ‘Residents of Burma registration Rules, 1951’.

In order to carry out the provisions of the Act and Rules, the President may appoint the Chief Registration Officer for the whole country in order to maintain the Registration List. The President may appoint Registration Officer, Assistant Registration Officer and other staff in order to perform duties conferred under this Act.  Duties, powers and functions of the Chief Registration Officer, Registration Officer, Assistant Registration Officer and other staff are in the manner as prescribed in the rules made under this Act.

Headmen of the wards appointed under the Town Act and/or village headmen appointed under the Village Act shall perform the duties and responsibilities of the record keepers in their respective jurisdiction.  Chief Registration Officer or any officer empowered by the Chief Registration Officer may appoint any volunteered data collector for any registration area or part of the area.  The Chief Registration Officer may direct any data collector to produce a testimonial admitting that he has performed his duties properly and empower any assistant registration officer in this regards.

Every person residing in Burma shall furnish, for registration purposes, (his/her) particulars as required under this Act or its rules made there under. The Registration Officer or Assistant Registration Officer shall, in accordance with the rules made under this Act, issue to every person who has registered as such, a registration card as a proof of identity and containing prescribed particulars.

The data collector shall make the registration list relating to the persons residing within his jurisdiction by preparing three sets of Form 1 recording the personal particulars mentioned in it.  Whoever when required by the record keeper or data collector to reduce the signature on registration forms, registration card and identity card, is responsible to do so accordingly. Should the said person be illiterate, he shall place his fingerprint in lieu of signature. Record keeper or data collector shall endorse the authenticity of signature or fingerprint.

Notwithstanding anything in the above rules, the foreigners shall be exempted from the application of the said rules other than rule 29 and 31. The foreigners who were registered under 1940 Foreigner Registration rules shall be deemed that they are being registered under these rules. For the matters in the rule 29 and 31, the registration card issued under 1940 Foreigner Registration Rules shall be deemed that the card is issued under these rules.

Registration and issuing these cards was commenced on March 1, 1952 by visiting door to door in every nock and corner of the area  in Rangoon District and in other 7 towns including Akyab on April1, 1952 (1953 Burma gazetteers vol.1, page-819).  The tasks of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung and others 20 townships were commenced on August 1, 1953 (1954 Burmese gazetteers Vol.1, page-197).

All NRC issued in earlier years bear no additional remarks. A remark stating, “Holding this certificate shall not be considered as a conclusive proof of as to citizenship” was sealed later on NRCs. The reason behind this extra remark sealed later was the best known to the authorities. Perhaps one of the objectives of 1978, Dragon King Operation was to stamp the above remark on all NRCs.

NRCs were issued to all residents (mainly citizens) whilst registered foreigners (under Foreigners Registration Act and Rule of 1948) were issued FRCs. There was no third category of people in Burma, then. As a result, NRCs were used as a proof of nationality or citizenship. This is the most authentic document concerning Rohingya’s citizenship.

NRC is a bona fide document that allowed one to carry on all his national activities, without let or hindrance: — to possess moveable and immovable or landed properties, pursue education, including higher studies and professional courses in the country’s seats of learning, right to work and public services, including armed forces, and to obtain Burmese passport for travelling abroad, including pilgrimage to Holy Makkah.

According to the 1973 census, the population of Akyab Township was 140,000; Maungdaw 223,320; Buthidaung 163,353; and Rathedaung 95,270. FRC holders in Akyab were 841, Maungdaw 109, Buthidaung 203 and Rathedaung 55. There were also 1528 people without any documents. That’s means that there were 619, 195 persons NRC holders, 1, 208 persons FRC holders and 1528 persons  undocumented in these townships, where more than 60% of total population was Rohingyas at that time.

However, since 1970 no NRC cards were issued to the Rohingyas, whereas, as per the regulation every person above the age of 12 years would have to have NRCs. In addition to this, the government launched a military operation since 1974 in the name of ‘Sabe Operation’. During that operation thousands of Rohingyas’ NRCs were seized without any legal authorities, on various pretexts which were never returned. In these ways thousands of the poor and natural born Rohingyas were classified as foreigners, alleging filtrated from Bangladesh. Thus, the system of issuing the NRCs was directed to fit into a well-planned policy of de-nationalizing the Rohingyas of Arakan.

Moreover, following the promulgation of the 1982 Citizenship Law, all residents in Burma had to reapply for citizenship, exchanging their old identity documents for new one. In 1989, a further change was made and all residents had to apply for new Citizenship Scrutiny Cards, (in Burmese ‘naing-ngan-tha si-sit-ye kat-pya’), rather than the Identity Cards (in Burmese’ amyu-tha hmat-pon-tin kat-pya’). The new cards are colour-coded for essay identification of the citizenship status of the bearer. Pink cards were given to full citizens, blue for associate citizens and green for naturalized citizens.

The cards must be carried at all the times, the cards number has to be given when buying tickets; registering children in schools; staying overnight with friends or relatives outside one’s own council area; applying for any professional post, including all civil service posts; buying or  exchanging land and other every days life.

Thus, denying the right to citizenship in Burma is denying all the civil rights in Burma, such as the right to freedom of movement, the right to education, the right to own property, the right to be employed as civil servants’, and so on.

One of the key points of the Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs), on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, between Burma and Bangladesh and between Burma and UNHCR was that returnees be granted “appropriate identification”. In practice, however, this initially meant that the returnees received “returnee identification cards” yellow colour cards which only identified them as persons having returned from Bangladesh by giving them no legal status.

In July 1995, in response to UNHCR’s intensive advocacy efforts to document the Rohingyas, the regime moved to regularize the population of northern Arakan by issuing new cards to all Rohingya residents. The new card, which is called Temporary Registration Card (TRC), was issued under the 1949 Residents of Burma Registration Act and the 1951 Residents of Burma Registration Rules, both of which acts were superseded  by the 1982 Citizenship Law but were reintroduced in order to be used solely for the registration of Rohingyas.

Under the 1951 Residents of Burma Registration Rules, The record-keeper may issue “Temporary registration certificate (TRC)” for any of the following reasons:
•    If record-keeper suppose that entry in the registration record has been done completely in a proper way.
•    If an application is submitted to issue another card in lieu of the card, which is lost or damage or faded out?
•    If there is specific reasons by general or special order.

TRC means a certificate issued in lieu of the registration card and a proof of identity valid for a certain period specified in the certificate.  The TRC must be in accord with form (3) attached to the back of this rules. The validity duration of TRC may be restricted by fixing a deadline. The holder of TRC shall surrender his card to record-keeper within 7 days after validity of the card expires. The record-keeper may reissue that card endorsing it for validity extension as and when necessary or he may issue new TRC.

The TRC carry a number, as well as the bearer’s name, photograph, year of birth, ethnicity and religion, colour of hair and eyes, father’s name and father’s ethnicity and religion, and there was nothing on the card to show place of birth or residence.

On the 32nd day of the second regular session of the first Pyithu Hluttaw, on October 4, 2013, U Maung Maung of Thayawady Constituency asked whether there was a plan to issue citizen scrutiny cards to persons born of parents of foreign-blood on recommendation of district level authority in a same period of time it took when the cards were issued to those born of parents both of whom are nationals citizens.

Union Minister for Immigration and Population U Khin Yi replied that Section 6 of the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Law stated that “A person who is already a citizen on the date this law comes into force is citizen.”

Therefore, those persons of mixed blood were approved as citizens by October 15, 1982, had been applied to become citizens in accordance with the rules and regulations. It would take time to issue citizen scrutiny cards to persons of mixed nationalities as it needed to inspect whether they made false representation to get the citizen status.

Therefore,  the  process  of  issuing  citizen  scrutiny cards  took  time  and  only region/state  head  of Immigration and National  Registration departments  were  vested with authority to issue the citizen scrutiny cards to persons born of parents of foreign-blood. Not to make mistakes in the process, the citizen scrutiny cards were issued to persons of mixed blood by the director-general of the Immigration and National Registration Department as from November, 2005, in accordance with the directive.  To avoid delays in the process, the directive was relaxed as from 4, April, 2007, and region and state head of the immigration and national registration departments had issued the cards to them. The ministry would consider to relax the rules and regulations concerning issuing the citizen scrutiny card to persons born of parents of foreign-blood if it became necessaries.

However, till to-day those Rohingyas who applied proving that they have Burmese nationality back to all eight great-grandparents were either rejected or were still waiting for decision. In addition to this, almost all Rohingyas were exclude from UN founded nation-wide census earlier this year, the first in three decades, because they did not want to register as Bengalis. And with a controversial so-called Rakhine Action Plan, the present Thein Sein Government is going to make almost all the Rohingyas not only ineligible for citizenship but also possible detainment or deportation until and unless they themselves identify as Rohingya not Bengalis.

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