Bangladeshi expatriates living abroad, especially the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia, have demanded substantial changes in the draft 'Bangladesh Citizenship Bill’ to protect the interests of over 20 lakh Bangladeshis.
Global Committee for Fair Citizenship Law in Bangladesh (GCFCLB), a London-based organisation representing different expatriates’ bodies, has submitted a memorandum containing its seven-point demand, including reconsidering the draft bill, to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Veteran community leader SM Alauddin Ahmed, Barrister Nazir Ahmed and community activist Munir Khan submitted the memorandum to the Prime Minister through Bangladesh High Commissioner to the UK M Nazmul Quaunine recently. UNB obtained a copy of the memorandum.
Their demands include ensuring scope for all dual citizens living abroad to become Bangladesh government servants, considering a person born outside Bangladesh as its citizen if his/her father or mother is a citizen of Bangladesh by birth or descent, providing people with dual citizenship with dual citizenship cards, which will be equivalent to national ID cards, through respective Bangladesh missions and cancelling the power of the executive to impose limitations on dual citizens.
Repealing the provision to scrap the citizenship of a person for the misdeed of his/her father and inserting a provision giving scope for appeal in case of any complaint made against anyone’s citizenship, cancelling provisions 21, 22 and 23, and enrolling Bangladeshis living abroad as voters through respective Bangladesh missions and making voting arrangement for them are also among the demands.
On February 1, 2016, the Cabinet approved the draft of the ‘Bangladesh Citizenship Bill, 2016’. It is now at the Law Ministry for its vetting.
About the provision 5 of the draft bill which gives the right to citizenship by descent to only the first generation of Bangladeshis born outside the country, GCFCLB said this will deny Bangladeshi citizenships by descent to over 6 lakh second and subsequent generations of Bangladeshis born in various parts of the world.
“They’ll be regarded in Bangladesh as foreigners to all intents and purposes. The consequences will be that the two million-plus Bangladeshis of all generations will lose incentive in investing, participating in development activities and retaining their assets in Bangladesh,” reads the memorandum.
It demanded that a provision be amended to read: “A person born outside of Bangladesh will be a citizen of Bangladesh provided that their father or mother is a citizen of Bangladesh by birth or descent.”
GCFCLB demanded abolishing the provision 2 that allows some people of Bangladeshi descent, under government’s rules and on conditions, to apply for Bangladeshi citizenship as expatriates.
It said if Bangladesh considers the younger and future generations of Bangladeshis born abroad as an asset that needs to be encouraged to retain their Bangladeshi identity, by making it as though their citizenship right is a favour to be bestowed by the government to those who apply and fulfil its conditions, does the very opposite.
It, however, lauded the government for its decision to remove the restrictions concerning dual citizens’ right to political activities and participation in local government elections in Bangladesh.
However, the government’s refusal to change the daft concerning prohibiting dual citizens from appointment in any kind of government job, including as Supreme Court Judges, remains of deep concern, mentioned the memorandum. “This would turn dual citizens into 2nd class citizens in Bangladesh and be in breach of citizens’ fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.”
Regarding provision 20 which deals with the revocation of citizenship, GCFCLB finds the grounds listed are too wide and arbitrary and susceptible to misuse by the executive. It expressed its fear that the complaints, crime and the bail provisions in provisions 21, 22 and 23 may be used inappropriately to harass dual citizens.
GCFCLB also described the provisions regarding taking away of birth citizenship or refusal of citizenship to people for the misdeeds of their parents as medieval practices, wholly unworthy of a modern and civilised country like Bangladesh. It said the provisions breach a number of international treaties and charters, and are likely to be ultra vires.
Law Minister Anisul Huq said the law will be finalised after consultations with the expatriates. “The expatriates have given their opinions in many ways. Their opinions will be considered with importance,” he told UNB.
He also said he had a meeting with the expatriates in London recently when he assured them that the new law will in no way jeopardise their interests.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the justified opinions of the expatriates will surely be considered before finalising the law. “As the law is in the Law Ministry for its vetting, they’ll closely scrutinise it before the finalisation,” he said.