8 August, 2022


The 19 Amendment & Dual Citizenship

By Asela Jayanath

Asela Jayanath

Asela Jayanath

Maithripala Sirisena became the President of Sri Lanka, winning the Presidential Election held on January 08, 2015. As he promised before the election, he introduced the Nineteenth Amendment to the country’s Constitution within a brief period, making a favourable ground for the functioning of democratic system, which had collapsed during the previous regime. Unfortunately, some regressive elements in Sri Lankan politics have somehow managed to insert a particular legal provision to this remarkable Amendment, which can be identified as a law inconsistent with the vision of the constitutional reforms.

Under this legal provision, some citizens of the country have become second class citizens, as they have been deprived of their right of becoming national law-makers in Parliament. This imprudent law stops some Sri Lankans from entering Parliament, if they posses citizenship of another country. This article attempts to explain not only the extent of unfairness of this legal provision but also disadvantages of introducing this unnecessary law.

Dual citizenship after the World War II

Civilization opened a new chapter at the end of the World War II; nations agreed to stop interfering in internal affairs of each other, and people determined to respect all rights of individuals on equal basis, after understanding the reality that colonial policy of territorial acquisition was no longer possible in the nation-state system. In parallel to this understanding, inclusivist liberal and socialist ideas based on internationalism spread throughout the world, undermining the influence of exclusivist conservative and fascist notions, and liberal minded leaders and people in many countries influenced the processes of policy-making at global and domestic levels upon the belief that individualism must be the basic concern of national and international law-makers. That is why world leaders agreed on December 10, 1948 to document the Universal Declaration of Human Rights purely upon the belief that every individual is entitled to be treated on equal basis within any national political unit.

PassportDual citizenship after the collapse of liberalism

It is a well-known fact that the socio-economic system based on Keynesian liberal theories collapsed in the early 1970s, giving space to neoliberalism that was mainly theorized by Milton Friedman of the Chicago School of Economics. Under this new system, the global economy expanded, demanding massive circulation of expertise and labour across national boundaries in the late 1970s and afterwards. Many countries introduced new laws and regulations, allowing people to hold more than a single citizenship in parallel to transnational flow of capital and technology in the early years of neoliberal development.

Democracy and dual citizens

It is very difficult to construct a general theory in support of the belief that democratic countries always promoted the concept of dual citizenship, while non-democratic countries followed restrictive practices in regard with citizenship policy. Citizenship policy has been overlapping; it is sometimes very regressive in democratic countries, while some authoritarian countries progressively practice more inclusive citizenship policies. For instance, democratically advanced Norway has a very restrictive practice in regard with the concept of dual citizenship, while many dual citizens enjoy equal rights in Central African Republic, even though this country is ranked as one of the worst authoritarian states.

Dual citizenship in Sri Lanka

The concept of dual citizenship was introduced in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s, giving opportunity for members of the educated middleclass, who completed their degrees in Sri Lankan universities, to retain their Sri Lankan nationality, when they become citizens of developed countries. However, a vast majority of the limited number of Sri Lankan dual citizens have roots in lower social strata, and most of them have earned this privilege by working hard and showing professionalism in both Sri Lanka and the foreign country they belonged to.

Advantages of granting dual citizenship

It is not difficult to explain various advantages of practicing an inclusive policy about dual citizens, even though it is very hard to justify the stand of politicians who suggest depriving the Sri Lankans with citizenships in other countries of some of their basic rights such as the right to contest the General Elections. Sri Lankan dual citizens have directly and indirectly brought enormous benefits to Sri Lanka, even though they appreciatively received nothing from consecutive governments; the advantages of dual citizenship cannot be measured only by monetary means.

An attempt to cripple wings of Sri Lankan dual citizens

Before or during the election campaign, neither politicians nor voters said that the dual citizenship has become an impediment to the advancement of the country and suggested to introduce laws to deprive Sri Lankan dual citizens of some of their fundamental rights. It was mentioned nowhere in the election manifesto of the Common Candidate. But, many people were surprised to hear the comments made by some leaders of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a political party with an attractive superficial analysis of the country’s crisis, regarding the political involvement of dual citizens, immediately after the presidential election held in January 2015.

According to the comments made by these leaders, there is a direct cause-effect relationship between dual citizenship and corruption. As they further explained, Sri Lankan politicians with citizenships in other countries steal public money and flee the country as they can find protection there. Therefore, they suggested introducing laws to stop Sri Lankan dual citizens from contesting general elections in Sri Lanka without renouncing foreign citizenship.

On one occasion, the leader of the JVP said that ‘even a doctor has to resign his job to contest the general election, but dual citizens do not have to do so,’ and he suggested to cripple the wings of the Sri Lankans who hold citizenships in foreign countries by introducing laws to prohibit them from contesting to become national law-makers. It is however difficult to understand why the JVP-leader cannot see the very clear difference between a doctor and a dual citizen.

A progressive amendment with a regressive law

Surprisingly, people came to know on the day of passing the Nineteenth Amendment that architects of the reforms have inserted this anti-democratic suggestion to the document. Shocked by the message, liberal-minded people suddenly detected the contradiction and questioned themselves why the architects of the Amendment put a blob of cow faeces to the pot of milk filled by themselves, amidst continued disturbances caused by political opportunists.

Intention of crippling wings of dual citizens

People began to interpret the motive behind introducing this law; most of them said that the Government had the intention of stopping some members and confidants of the Rajapaksha-family from contesting the forthcoming parliamentary election. If this interpretation is true, the Government has taken a very wrong decision, because this is not the correct way of defeating a political opponent. Such decisions indicate ideological bankruptcy, and they compel people to ask why the Government cannot politically defeat key figures of the previous regime by revealing the failure of Rajapaksha-strategy.

Nineteenth Amendment and UN Charter

It is certain that this disgraceful law came through the process without careful consideration of the top leadership, but it can further damage the humanitarian image of the country, as it contradicts a number of Articles included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This unfair law is directly contradictory with the Articles 1, 2, 7, 21 and 29 of the Declaration, because some citizens of the country have become second class citizens, as a result of introducing this law, but an extended discussion is unnecessary to point out the contradiction.

It is adequate paying attention merely to the Article 2, which is read as ‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.’ Among the categories in this Article 2, Sri Lankan citizens with foreign citizenships come under the category other status, and they have been discriminated against their citizenship status by this draconian law, creating a very thin stratum of second class citizens on the island for the first time after Independence. It is important for any political party learning how to solve problems in the country without depriving fellow citizens of their basic rights.

How to rectify it?

Unfortunately, this short-sighted suggestion has become not merely an ordinary law but a part of the master law, which cannot be changed without a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Therefore, it is required drawing attention of country’s leadership to rectify this mistake by introducing another amendment to the Constitution. It is also important opening a discussion on this matter and sending petitions to the political leadership. Meanwhile, Sri Lankan authorities must be reminded that the time has come to facilitate overseas Sri Lankans to cast their vote at country’s foreign missions at times of national elections.

*It is suggested to read the extended version of this article to get some facts clarified. It can be received by sending an email to the author. His email address is aselajayanath@outlook.com

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Latest comments

  • 9

    Despite all this, the Govt. Dept. involved is facing a monumental task of dealing with
    8000 applicants pending – and ones guess is that 75% would be Tamil applicants??? The
    govt. is in no hurry. MR placed a hold on the 1948 Citizenship Act in an ad-hoc manner
    after his debacle at Oxford in Feb. 2011 but issued 2000 Dual-citizenship in an illegal
    manner to henchmen. Any outcome to the investigation on this matter is not known – as
    with so many corruption matters handled by the PMs Office.

  • 9

    Asela Jayanath

    RE: The 19 Amendment & Dual Citizenship

    1. “Unfortunately, some regressive elements in Sri Lankan politics have somehow managed to insert a particular legal provision to this remarkable Amendment, which can be identified as a law inconsistent with the vision of the constitutional reforms.”

    Please remember that the dual citizenship was suspended under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime of Liars, Crooks, Thieves, Robbers and Criminals.

    2. “This imprudent law stops some Sri Lankans from entering Parliament, if they posses citizenship of another country. This article attempts to explain not only the extent of unfairness of this legal provision but also disadvantages of introducing this unnecessary law.”

    Agree that this is unfair. The biggest disadvantage is that most the dual citizens are experienced well trained professional and others with considerable international experience, and of course most have passed the GCE OL, GCE AL and even with degrees in the various filed, who are not MaRa lackeys like Dr. G. L .,Peris and Dr, Dayan Jayatillake and the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya Dons who supported Malinda Rajapaksa and the crooks.

    Note: 43% of the Current parliament have not passed the GCE OL. Wimal Modawansa says 2/2 =0.

    Question: Some of them will turn out to be lackeys. So, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff and crooks?

    3. Dual Citizenship is a Privilege, not a right. The permission of a Dual Citizen to serve in Parliament is also a privilege. In the USA, to be President, you have to be born in the US, foreign born naturalized citizen cannot be President, but can occupy other posts.


    Ceylon Citizenship Act


    The Ceylon Citizenship Act No. 18 of 1948 was a controversial law passed by the Ceylon Parliament which denied citizenship to 11% of the population.


    During the 19th and early 20th centuries the British rulers of Ceylon recruited large numbers of South Indians, primarily Indian Tamils, to work in tea, coffee, rubber and coconut plantations in Ceylon. By 1946 their numbers had grown to 780,000, 11.7% of the population. Their presence was resented by Sinhalese nationalists. There was real fear amongst the Indian Tamils that once Ceylon obtained independence, the Sinhalese, who constituted 69.4% of the population, would take steps to remove them from the country.

    The Bill

    Shortly after independence on 4 February 1948 the new Sinhalese dominated government of Ceylon introduced the Ceylon Citizenship Bill before Parliament. The outward purpose of the Bill was to provide means of obtaining citizenship, but its real purpose was to discriminate against the Indian Tamils by denying them citizenship.[1] The Bill stipulated that anyone wishing to obtain citizenship had to prove that their father was born in Ceylon i.e. that they were at least third generation immigrants. This was an impossible task for most Indian Tamils. Few were at least third generation immigrants because they tended to return to India to give birth.[1] Those who were at least third-generation immigrants rarely had the necessary documents because they rarely registered births.[1] Therefore, they could not prove the requirements for citizenship.

    The Bill was opposed fiercely in Parliament by the Ceylon Indian Congress, which represented the Indian Tamils, and the Sinhalese leftist parties. The bill was also opposed by the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, which represented the Sri Lankan Tamils, including its leader G.G. Ponnambalam.[2]

    The Bill was passed by Parliament on 20 August 1948 and became law on 15 November 1948, just 285 days after Ceylon had gained independence from Britain. Only about 5,000 Indian Tamils qualified for citizenship. More than 700,000 people, about 11% of the population, were denied citizenship and made stateless.[3]

    Part I Citizenship of Ceylon
    1. This Act may be cited as the Citizenship Act.
    (1) With effect from the appointed date, there shall be a status to be known as “the status of a citizen of Ceylon”.
    (2) A person shall be or become entitled to the status of a citizen of Ceylon in one of the following ways only:-
    (a) by right of descent as provided by this Act;
    (b) by virtue registration as provided by this Act or by any other Act authorising the grant of such status by registration in any special case of a specified description. .
    (3) Every person who is possessed of the aforesaid status is hereinafter referred to as a “citizen of Ceylon”. In any context in which a distinction is drawn according as that status is based or registration, a citizen of Ceylon is referred to as ” citizen by descent ” or ” citizen by registration “; and the status of such citizen is in the like context referred to as ” citizenship by descent ” or ” citizenship by registration “.
    3. A citizen of Ceylon may, for any purpose in Ceylon, describe his nationality by the use of the expression “Citizen of Ceylon”.

  • 4

    This is a very unfortunate aspect of the 19th amendment. This piece of legislation was specifically political to prevent Rajapakses from contesting. I have no affiliation to these people how ever removing them from contesting was to remove another option from the sri lankan voters how ever good or bad. This unfortunately is the degenerate state of Sri Lankan politics.
    The surge of economic activity in India was because of the intellectual and industrial skills brought by expatriates including dual citizens. The expatriates of sri Lanka most of whom have achieved great prominence especially in the west have not been used to render a service to their motherland. What we are left hear today is an inferior group of people who lack the skills of enterprise and have not rejuvenated the economy of this country. No doubt the present stagnant state of the economy is a result. The only development activity whether the infra structure or ports have been on borrowed money with poor return of equity and is a burden on this country. It is time SL gets wise and uses the skills and the economic might of the Ex patriates to improve the economy of this country. After al they will be more inclined to genuinely contribute to the country than those that come to exploit the slavery of our people and call it development.

  • 6

    Why stop at dual citizenship ? An extension of Jayanath’s argument would make one question whether it is undemocratic to prevent a third, fourth or fifth citizenship. Why is two the magic number ?

  • 5

    One can understand why Tamils want the Dual. Without it Eelaam on 1/3 of the Land can’t be justified .

    Didn’t the Sinhalese leave for better jobs, better lives and better everything else?.

    And some even didn’t pay the Government Bonds for free Schols…

    Fair enough if they pay the 30 bucks and come for 4 weeks.

    Why should they be given the Duals and force the House prices up in good and fashionable Post Codes.

    And squeeze out our million expats in the Middle East and EU countries from buying properties back home with their hard earned money..

    And also reduce our income in tourist attractions like Sigiriya and Pinnawela by allowing them to use the Dual Passport and get in for 2 Dollars.

    • 4

      K.A Sumanasekera

      “Why should they be given the Duals and force the House prices up in good and fashionable Post Codes. And squeeze out our million expats in the Middle East and EU countries from buying properties back home with their hard earned money..”

      And may add Locals who never left the shores who have to compete with expats paying exorbitant pries.

  • 5

    This is one of the most un-democratic processes introduced by RW and MY3 to prevent Gotabaya Rajapakse entering the Parliament or contesting the presidential elections.

    How ever, Gota is more smarter than these Yahapalanaya “Booruwas” who introduced this undemocratic process. He openly declared that he is willing to give up the US citizenship, if there is a need.

    Sri Lanka can learn a lot of from Italy and Australia about how they treat dual citizens in those countries. Italian Government allows dual citizens of Italy who live in Australia to vote from Australia. They also allow Italians who live in Australia as dual citizens to represent or getting elected to the Italian Parliament. Whereas our UNP “Booruwas” talk very big about democratic principles and Yahapalanaya and practices outdated third world political practices.

  • 11

    Asela Jayanath, you are such a transparent Rajapaksa lackie it isn’t even funny. Your very own Gota and clan stopped dual citizenship because they realized that tamil refugees who abandoned this country and sought refuge in foreign lands were getting dual in order to reclaim their ancestral properties…..I happen to agree wholeheartedly with this.

    Getting Sri Lankan citizenship AFTER you abandoned it to clean white people’s toilets is NOT a right, it is at the discretion of the Government. The rights you have as a dual citizen MUST be limited from that of a naturalized, tax paying Sri Lankan.

    If the Parliament of Sri Lanka determines that a dual citizenship does not hold the wellbeing of the Country at the highest level (as his/her loyalties are divided) and should not hold public office or cannot hold elected office, I applaud them.

    • 0

      I agree with your views Diluk Desinghe regarding dual citizenship being a disqualification to become an MP. When it comes to sensitive issues certainly possession of various attributes becomes a disqualification because of the seriousness of conflict of interests.

      In major examinations such as Ordinary Level or Advanced Level and even the University exams one is disqualified from being an examiner if a close relative happens to be a candidate for the same exam. Do you think is safe for the country for an Army commander to possess dual citizenship? Military Commander post is a very sensitive post and one cannot be sure for whom the commander is working for. So such disqualification for dual citizens is not discriminatory.

  • 8

    No one can and should be allowed to owe allegiance to two countries/ sovereign states.
    This is an impossible concept.
    If this is allowed, hypothetically, a person can become a legislator/lawmaker of two sovereign nations.

    Dual citizenship should be to allow residence and travel between both countries only.

    • 0

      Yes,but an MP’elected by voters of a constitituency to a particular political party can jolly well betray and cross over to another party with his/ her pocket full and decide which Lankan born going abroad to another country to earn a living CAN or NOT have citizenship in SL.
      This the type of political Yahapalanaya our country suffers from.

  • 4

    There are lots of hate towards expats in the comments. Few things to educate them:

    1. Rajapaksha’s come and go, but there are many more well-educated Sri Lankan experts out there whos services are no doubt very valuable if you can attract them back to Sri Lanka.

    2. There are many reasons for people going abroad, not always economical. People in Sri Lanka has the misunderstanding that people go abroad only for money.

    3. There are reasons for not being able to come back so soon due to various family commitments. Thos who’s children start schooling in a foreign country cannot be easily adopted to Sri Lanka. Their parents eventually want to come back to Sri Lanka after they are free from their chidren

    4. There are many developed countries (i know about UK) that has no any restrictions to their citizens for having citizenship in any number of countries. This is the true democracy. Sri Lanka is still an authoritarian state, no matter what you guys say.

    5. The educated expats have the exposure you guys do not have in all aspects – democracy, good governance, business, expert skills in their respective fields etc. etc the list continues. It is unfortunate that Sri Lanka cannot use their assistance to develop the country.

    6. Finally, what difference is there between one who goes abroad for higher education on a specific expert field in Medicine and return to country without taking the Citizenship of that country and one comes back after taking the citizenship of that country. Can you see your jealousy and hate here?

    All the best to All Sri Lankans


  • 0

    It is clear that Asela Jayantha is claiming that he too is a smart patriot like DJ.
    I wonder whether Asela yearning for an East Asian country citizenship so that he can buy free hold lands / properties in that East Asian country .

    MR’ s agreement signed with 61 organisations at Vihara Mahadevi Park clearly states that if he wins there will be many changes to 19th Amendment so that MS as a President will become toothless.

    Based on Asela ‘s pro Rajapakses advocacy , can people like Roman Gunaratne get Sri Lanka citizenship and become dual citizen ?
    Will he also advocate for dual citizenship to those who were sent back to India because of Srimavo-Shastri pact ?
    Will he advocate for dual citizenship to an Indian Citizen who marries a Sri Lanka citizen and vice versa I

  • 3

    when a Sri lankan having dual citizenship becomes a Sri lankan ambassador of the country of which he or she has the citizenship, which country that person really represents? Isn’t there any possibility of conflict of interest?

  • 0

    This issue is looked on the ground how much a foreigner consume from our economy vs the of contribution made to the National Economy. Any country the foreigner contributed to the Economy of the host country more than what they consumed. I believe the previous regime suspended it because they did not wanted the Tamils who left the Island not to enjoy this privilege a purely on communal basis. That is also after their brothers is given this privilege.

  • 1

    The Supreme Court should have held that with or without a referendum, this part of the 19th Amendment was invalid. At the very least, the court should have required a referendum on this. Under the constitution, sovereignty is INALIENABLY vested in the people, which of course includes dual citizens. So Parliament which is a mere agent cannot have the power to impose this disqualification just as much as it doesn’t have the power to deny persons of Kandyan origin the right to sit in Parliament. Thanks to Sarath Silva and MR, we now have a Supreme Moron Court!

  • 0

    Foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera believes that diaspora got enormous skills, knowledge and wealth; yet not even one diaspora has been given a position as a diplomat. Who got more knowledge about the foreign country and its customs; someone who lived in foreign country or someone who lives in Sri Lanka? The answer is not too technical for smart people, but it’s too technical and complicated for our foreign Ministers. Furthermore, diaspora who holds dual citizenship can’t contest parliament elections; but can do everything else as a Sri Lankan citizen. It is very clear that dirty politicians are protecting their jobs and their own interests; instead of doing what is good for the country.

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