Most suggestions accepted

Published on Mar 23 2010 // Human Rights Monitor

March 20, 2010 – The government accepted a majority of the recommendations it received for its first universal periodic review (UPR), during the 13th session of the human rights council (HRC) held on March 18 in Geneva. Of the remainder, the delegation pointed out that some are already addressed by existing laws and the rest had been taken note of.

Bhutan received 99 recommendations when it presented its report on the human rights (HR) situation in the country last December.

HRC acknowledged that the government had made significant progress and that Bhutan’s presentation had affirmed its resolve in realising HR for all.

But it also said the government should enhance efforts to implement a durable solution on the people in the camps. Bhutan needed to demonstrate that its commitment to resolving the issue is not mere rhetoric and that it is not depending on other countries to take full responsibility through third country resettlement. Bhutan needs to assume responsibility through voluntary repatriation of genuine refugees in conditions of safety and dignity, said HRC.

The government reiterated its commitment to finding a sustainable solution through a bilateral process with Nepal, but on the basis of agreements reached between the two governments. The government also repeated that the issue is “first and foremost a humanitarian situation and that resettlement has been recognised as one of the key durable solutions.”

The government also reiterated its willingness to repatriate genuine Bhutanese nationals from the camps on the basis of agreements signed with the government of Nepal.

On ensuring the rights of minorities, the government pointed out that adequate legal frameworks and measures already exist like the constitution and civil and criminal procedure code. Equality before the law and protection from discrimination is central to all government policies and actions, it stated.

But the government did not accept a recommendation to decriminalise sodomy and other sexual activities between consenting adults. It responded that such laws would only be reviewed when “there is a felt need and desire from our people.”

A recommendation to promote and ensure freedom of religion was accepted. The government stated that “adequate measures are already in place” and that it will “continue its pursuit of existing policies, which promote harmonious coexistence of all religious groups”.

In response to a recommendation to abolish the ‘no objection’ and ‘security clearance’ certificates, the government said that the procedures are administrative requirements of all Bhutanese over age 18. The government pointed out that the procedure is a criminal record check and that the documents are not required for admission into public schools.

Bhutan accepted recommendations to strengthen the rights of women and girls, and to combat negative stereotyping of women in the local media. It pointed out that various measures are already being implemented and that two significant bills on child care and adoption will be submitted to parliament “at an early date.” Increasing the staff of the national commission on women and child rights (NCWC) by 150 percent, and according it priority and autonomy on staff recruitment, is also being implemented to promote and protect the rights of women and children, said the government. On establishing a monitoring mechanism to ensure the rights of children in monasteries, the government stated that measures are already in place.

The government did not accept a recommendation to make education compulsory on resource constraints, but stated that it is an important goal.

To improve the rights of vulnerable and disabled children, five additional institutional centres to meet the needs of children with disabilities will be established by 2013, stated the government.

In response to recommendations to establish an independent HR institution in the country, the government said the matter is under “active consideration”. On recommendations to accept visits from UN special rapporteurs or investigators, especially a request made by the special rapporteur on freedom of religion in 2006, the government pointed out that Bhutan has received and will continue to receive visits by such officials, but only after taking into account “its capacity, national priorities, and the need for adequate preparations for such visits.”

Similarly, the government said it will gradually ratify all core HR treaties, but only when Bhutan has the capacity to fulfill the requirements.

Permanent representative of Bhutan to the UN in Geneva, Yeshey Dorji, said that the UPR had been a productive and rewarding experience for Bhutan, as it had provided an opportunity for critical self-realisation on the HR situation in the country. It had allowed the government to identify areas where challenges and gaps persisted, he said.

Bhutan’s next UPR will be in 2013, where the government will report on its progress on the recommendations it has accepted.

By Gyalsten K Dorji in Kuensel