Colombo Telegraph

The 19 Amendment & Dual Citizenship

By 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.

Dual 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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