The 1982 Citizenship Law
As Robert Taylor observed in his
2006 Article “The Legal Status of Indians in
Contemporary Burma”, the planning for the 1982 Citizenship Law was a
consequence of the introduction of the 1974 Burmese Constitution. This preceded
the refugee crisis arising from Operation Naga Min examined in the
“Exodus” page on this website.
The necessity for new legislation
to deal with citizenship became apparent in the mid-1970s when the bureaucracy
found themselves in a muddle over how to handle applications for citizenship,
made in the 1950s under immediate post-independence legislation, which had been
outstanding in most cases for some twenty years. The confusion was compounded
by the abolition at the time of the 1962 military coup of the 1947 Constitution
on which the legislation was based.
The new legislation was
drafted by the Burma Law Commission appointed by the Council of State in 1977.
As Taylor noted in his article (available for US$ 5.00 from ISEAS), the Law
Commission toured the country with a draft for public consultation. A revised
draft was published
in the local press in April 1982.
The new law sought especially
to deal with the problem of illegal immigration. By the late 1950s the number
of unprocessed aliens in Burma was in the region of two million. Though some 300,000
Indians and 100,000 Overseas Chinese, mainly engaged in the business and
financial sectors, had been obliged to leave Burma in the mid-1960s, there
remained a hard-core of some 1.5 million unprocessed applicants for either
Burmese citizenship or foreign residence rights as well as illegal migrants in
a state of limbo.
The law was intended to
clarify the legal position of the estimated four per cent of the population who
were of Indian or Chinese descent, whatever their citizenship status. General
Ne Win set out his intentions in a speech immediately prior to the promulgation of
An immediate concern was the
position of Arakan Muslims affected by Operation Naga Min, but the new
legislation was primarily designed to deal with a nation-wide problem. In this
Ne Win was not to succeed, mainly through lack of political will to implement
the provisions of the new law.
The issue with respect to
Arakan is discussed in detail in an article which I wrote in 2017 (at this link).