Statelessness in Sabah: “A human rights problem’

Published January 20, 2022, 1:58 PM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki


“Statelessness is a human rights problem.”

This was stressed by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as it took up the cudgels for Filipinos who have limited access to food, livelihood, education and other basic needs in Sabah, Malaysia.

In a recent statement, CHR said that “the statelessness issue in the State of Sabah has become an intergenerational issue depriving a range of fundamental rights of an intensive population requiring immediate intervention.”

It pointed out that “certain communities in Sabah have been rendered stateless for generations due to historical reasons, among others.”

The CHR said “there are Indonesian and Filipino migrants in Sabah who lack documents.”


Based on documents, the commission said that thousands of Filipinos from the Moro ancestry have fled to neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei because of the Moro conflict in the 1970s.

But it pointed out that since Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, the Filipinos who went to Sabah were considered as illegal immigrants rather than refugees, and have been granted limited access by the state to employment, social services, and public amenities.

“While there is an Indonesian consulate in Kota Kinabalu that regularly issues birth certificates and passports for its nationals, the same cannot be said of Filipino nationals because the Philippines does not have a consulate in Sabah,” the CHR lamented.

“The struggles of stateless persons and the population at risk of statelessness remain a grave concern and a priority to us,” it CHR stressed.

“We also recognize that the denial of nationality and identification documents for these stateless persons are often associated with national security policies and are made more complicated by bureaucracy and corruption,” it noted.

To properly address the issue of statelessness in Sabah, the CHR said that the collective efforts of the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are needed.

The CHR said it has entered into a tripartite partnership with the national human rights institutions (NHRIs) of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) and Indonesia (Komnas HAM) to address this issue.

One of the concerns discussed by the NHRIs, it said, is the lack of valid data on the number of stateless persons or those at risk of statelessness in Sabah.

The NHRIs have recommended that all governments concerns should “ensure the access of stateless persons to basic rights such as to food, livelihood, and education, among others, while their documents are being processed.”

“The right of all children to have a nationality [should] be upheld. A mechanism should be developed to address the problem of statelessness within national borders and to ensure that every child is registered at birth and is granted with nationality,” the CHR stressed.

The NHRIs likewise want the National Security Council of Malaysia to prohibit the detention of stateless children in Sabah and look for alternatives to detention, it said.

“The key to addressing statelessness requires multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration. As NHRIs, we call upon the relevant government agencies, civil society organizations, international and regional human rights mechanisms to work together to address the issue of statelessness,” it added.