Network Myanmar

Legal Texts and Commentaries relating to Citizenship and Statelessness

Compendium of Legislation relating to Immigration and Citizenship - Online Burma Library

2008 Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar - Bilingual Version

         1982 Burma Citizenship Law and related documents

   1.     UK National Archives Kew (London): Cataogue Entry for 1982 File FCO 15/3177 - Burmese Citizenship Law

   2.     Letter to the FCO from the British Embassy commenting on the Law - 25 November 1982

   3.     Memorandum to the DFA from the Australian Embassy on the Law - 16 November 1982

   4.     Text of Burma Citizenship Law dated 15 October 1982 and of the 1983 Citizenship Rules

   5.     Another translation of the Burma Citizenship Law dated 15 October 1982, source not known

   6.     Burmese text of the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law dated 15 October 1982

   7.     Speech on the proposed citizenship law by General Ne Win on 8 October 1982

   8.     Letter to the FCO from the British Ambassador commenting on the draft law - 12 May 1982

   9.    Text of draft citizenship law: Public Consultation document - 'The Guardian' 21 April 1982

   10.   Text of the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma 1974

   11.   Extract Fleischmann "Arakan" 1981 - Pages 194 + "Zur Änderung des Staatsanghörigkeitsgesetzes"

         1948 Union Citizenship Act and 1948 Union Citizenship (Election) Act and related documents

   1.     Permanent Residence of a Foreigner Rules 2014

   2.     Compendium of Laws on Citizenship and Residence 1864-1956 R.J. Verma 1961

   3.     Residents of Burma Registration Rules 1951

  4.     Text of the Constitution Amendment Act of 1951

   5.     The Residents of Burma Registration Act 1949

   6.     Text of the Union Citizenship Act of 1948 (as amended to 1 December 1960)

          [The Union Citizenship Regulations of 1949 and Application Forms may found in the Verma Compendium at 2 above]

   7.     Text of the Union Citizenship (Election) Act of 1948

          [The Union Citizenship Rules of 1948 may be found in the Verma Compendium at 2 above.]

   8.     Text of the Constitution of the Union of Burma of 1947

   9.     Text of the Burma Immigration (Emergency Provisions) Act 1947 - minor amendments  in 1955 and in 1990

  10.   Text of the Panglong Agreement of 12 February 1947

   11.   Text of the Bangladesh Citizenship (Temporary Provisions) Order 1972

   12.   Text of the Bangladesh Citizenship Law 1951 [where "Pakistan" is substituted by  "Bangladesh"]

   13.    Bangladeshi Nationality Law - Wikipedia

          Miscellaneous related documents


    1.    Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948

    2.    Convention and Protocol on the Status of Refugees 1951

    3.    Text of Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons 1954

    4.    British Embassy Rangoon - Letter on immigration initialled FA Warner 21 January 1958   

    5.    Text of Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness 1961

    6.    Text of Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 

    7.    Text of Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness 2006




Genocide by Attrition: Fortify Rights  - June 2023

The role of identity documents in the Holocaust and the genocides of Rwanda and Myanmar.

The Challenges of Muslims and other unofficial minorities in Myanmar - 2023

Myanmar Mosaic - Lund University

A Legal History of Radicalized Citizenship in Myanmar: Elizabeth L Rhoads - 2023

Citizenship Studies 2023 Volume 27 No. 1 - Routledge

The UN Fact-Finding Mission's Mischievous Use of Historical Sources

Derek Tonkin analyses aspects of the UNFFM report with particular reference at Annex B to the 1982 Law

Peggy Brett and Kyaw Yin Hlaing: Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law in Context - November 2020
An analysis of the results of the 1982 Citizenship Law and proposals for reform.

APHR Report on Rakhine State: Annex includes description of the National Verification Card process - 2020

A report by ASEAN parliamentarians on the ASEAN response to the Rakhine crisis

Tools of Genocide: Fortify Rights - 3 September 2019

National Verification Cards and the Denial of Citizenship to the Rohingya

National Verification Cards: A Barrier to Rohingya Repatriation: Burma Human Rights Network - 11 July 2019

The experience of Rohingya in Burma is that the NVC process is another discriminatory layer in the apartheid system against them.

Rohingyas' dangerous encounters with papers and cards: Natalie Brinham - Tilburg Law Review 2 July 2019

Drawing on Rohingyas’ historical experiences of documentation and registration in Myanmar, the article explores meanings that Rohingyas attach to their identity documents.

Thant Myint-U: The Hidden History of Burma – Atlantic Books London 2019

Extract Page 17: “In 1982, a new citizenship law was enacted. There is a common perception that the Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship by this law. That’s not true….”

Citizenship and Human Rights in Myanmar: International Commission of Jurists - June 2019

Why law reform is urgent and possible: a legal briefing

Myanmar's Citizenship Law as State Crime: A Case for the ICC: Ronan Lee - State Crime Journal 2019

Myanmar’s government insists upon Rohingya participation in discriminatory citizenship processes as a precondition of refugee repatriation to Myanmar; an opportunity for the ICC to assert its jurisdiction. 

Problems with the Kofi Annan recommendations on citizenship - 16 December 2018

Why the Myanmar Government may have difficulty while accepting 81 of the 88 recommendations


Comment: "Myanmar's 'Rohingya' Problem by Anthony Ware and Costas Laoutides - 27 September 2018

A critical analysis of some aspects of this important publication

Chinese influx transforming Myanmar's quintessentail city - AP Myanmar Times 2 May 2018

The article highlights the ease with which recent Chinese migrants have secured Myanmar citizenship

Report on Citizenship Law: Myanmar: José María Arraiza and Olivier Vonk - RSCAS October 2017

An historical review of citizenship law in Myanmar, with emphasis on the current situation


Exploring the Issue of Citizenship in Rakhine State - September 2017

A fresh look at the claims of Rakhine Muslims to citizenship under the 1982 Law 

Citizens of Myanmar: Htike Nanda Win - Myanmar Times 22 September 2017

Asking what citizenship means to citizens

National Races and the Exclusion of Rohingya from Taingyintha: Nick Cheesman 2017

How in Myanmar "National Races" came to surpass citizenship and exclude Rohingya

Study on Community Perceptions of Citizenship, Documentation and Rights in Rakhine - UNHCR August 2016

A  perceptive and authoritative analysis of problems facing the various ethnic communities in Rakhine State


Problems with facts about Rohingya statelessness - Nick Cheesman December 2015

After the 1982 law passed the legislature, initially not much happened. Burma’s bureaucracy embraced it with characteristic creative inertia, doing nothing.

A genealogy of 'taingyintha', Myanmar's national races - Nick Cheesman podcast 27 October 2015

Discussion on 'taingyintha' at the Coral Bell Scool of Asia Pacific Affairs

Letter to President Thein Sein re: Amending the 1982 Citizenship Law - 13 January 2015

Human Rights Watch  appeal in the light of UNGA Resolution A/RES/69/248 of 29 December 2014


Rohingyas 'have the right' to apply for Burmese citizenship: Radio Free Asia - 13 September 2012

Minister of Immigration Khin Ye on eligibility for citizenship for Rohingyas of the third generation


President Thein Sein explains to UNHCR Antόnio Guterres the ‘Third Generation’ rule - 12 July 2012

At their meeting on 11 July 2012 President Thein Sin explained that the descendants of Bengali migrants during British rule were entitled to citizenship from the third generation.

The Rohingya Minority: Fundamental Rights Denied - Amnesty International May 2004

An analysis by Amnesty International of discrimination against the Rohingya, especially over citizenship.

Lists of Ethnic Groups

The 2014 Census: Enumeration Code Book

Population and Housing Census - Ethnicity/Foreign Nationals

Pyithu Hluttaw statement on the origins of the 135 races

In Burmese. See summary in English in Nick Cheesman's article in 2017 above

Speech by General Saw Maung on 5 July 1989

Includes passage on division of 135 national races into groups

List of 135 national races first published in Working People's Daily (Burmese) on 27 September 1990

List of 144 ethnicities used at the 1973 Census

Tables on Race and Language published in the 1931 Census Report

Cecil Lowis: The Tribes of Burma 1919

Chinese Peoples in Myanmar

Wikipaedia has a well-researched paper on Chinese historical migration and residence in Myanmar.

Opening Extract:

"Burmese Chinese, also Sino-Burmese or Tayoke, are a group of overseas Chinese born or raised in Myanmar. Although the Chinese officially make up three percent of the population, the actual figure is believed to be much higher. Among the under-counted Chinese populations are: those of mixed background;[those that have registered themselves as “ethnic Bamar” to avoid discrimination; those that moved to Myanmar from China during earlier Qing Dynasty because of Manchu rule; new Chinese immigrants and traders that have resided in Upper Myanmar since the 1990s (up to 2 million by some estimates) but are not counted due to the lack of reliable census taking."

Comments on the 1982 Citizenship Law

Extract from “How in Myanmar ‘National Races’ Came to Surpass Citizenship and Exclude Rohingya”   

Nich Cheesman: Journal of Contemporary Asia - 15 March 2017


"The process of rendering stateless hundreds of thousands hitherto identified or self-identifying as Rohingya but now officially designated 'Bengali' was not de jure but de facto. It was not achieved by complying with the terms of the Citizenship Law per se, even though the law’s contents were in their general intentions inimical to the interests of this population, but through their deliberate breach and selective application."

Extract from "The Hidden History of Burma"

Thant Myint-U: Atlantic Books London 2019

"In 1982, a new citizenship law was enacted. There is a common perception that the Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship by this law. That's not true. Under the previous law, enacted in 1948, more or less anyone who was living in Burma at the time could register to become a  citizen. Under the new law, taing-yintha native were automatically citizens, and other, for example Indian migrants, who had become citizens under the older, more liberal law were still citizens. Complicating the picture, though, were many undocumented people who were not considered native, like most Muslims in Arakan. It they or their ancestors had arrived in British times (the "Chittagonians"), they could become naturalized as "guest" citizens. Their descendants by the third generation would be considered full citizens. Thus, by today, seventy years and three generations after independence, citizenship should be equal for everyone except  actual and recent illegal immigrants. But that's all in theory. Practice was and is different, and discriminatory."



                                 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 in 1978 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, 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 the law.


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).


Derek Tonkin