Bhutanese democracy struggle bids bye to its amble fighter

Published on Oct 20 2011 // News Analysis
By I. P. Adhikari

The Bhutanese democratic movement will not face any such terrible setbacks as it faces today – with the demise of Rongthong Kuenly Dorji. The contribution of Late Dorji will shine in golden letters in the history of Bhutanese democratic struggle. Stepping down from a luxury life to work with the most marginalized and suppressed section of the people, Dorji heightened his personality as a true leader of the Bhutanese citizens.

His story of torture, trauma and hardships in pursuit of democracy is beyond our recall. He was truly an inspiration for Bhutanese committed to democracy and people’s fundamental rights.

Dorji was arrested in Bhutan in May 18, 1991, on charges of allegedly being involved in the pro-democracy movement, imprisoned without trail or process of law and was kept in the most inhuman conditions and tortured for 49 days.

It was only after such cruel treatment that he was granted Royal pardon on July 6, 1991 and released from prison. The pardon document evidences the fact that his arrest and detention was of a political character, particularly because the signatories are no less than the Bhutanese Home Minister, Chief Justice of Bhutan, and other senior Bhutanese Government officials.

He had to leave for Gawahati, Assam, immediately thereafter, on July 8, 1991, to seek treatment for the injuries caused to him due to the torture during imprisonment. His treatment continued for almost a month. While undergoing treatment he learnt from a reliable source that he would be kidnapped from Gawahati by the Bhutanese security forces, re-arrested and eliminated, he thus fled for Nepal on August 3, 1991, with the help of well-wishers and friends.

He was examined by the Centre for the Victims of Torture in Nepal (CVICT) and its certificate evidences that he was tortured by third-degree methods in Bhutan. In Nepal the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) granted him refugee status based on which His Majesty’s Government of Nepal granted him political asylum.

Unable to let down his countrymen and bowing down to their constant pressure from both inside and outside Bhutan, Dorji formed the Druk National Congress in June 16, 1994, to work for the establishment of democracy in Bhutan under Constitutional Monarchy. He was unanimously elected as the Party’s chairman.

Anticipating the potential political threat, the Royal Bhutanese Government had been continuously trying to entice Dorji to come back to Bhutan.

In 1993, Dorji’s brother, who was a Director in the Ministry of Home was transferred to a North-western district as its Chief District Administrator. Despite knowing about his susceptibility to mountain sickness, he was ordered to accompany a survey team to the northern borders. He fell ill on the way and despite being in serious condition had to walk back to the nearest town, a day’s walk away. He died on the way. Rescue helicopters are sent to evacuate even the junior-most soldiers when their condition is life-threatening, but in the case of Dorji’s brother, who was the senior-most government officer of the District, no helicopter was sent. Dorji was contacted by the Bhutanese ambassador in New Delhi with a message from the King offering him security to come to Bhutan to attend his brother’s funeral. Dorji, informed about the plot and the trap by his supporters in the country, declined the offer.

In 1994, after the formation of the Druk National Congress, the then Chief of Police, who was also Dorji’s brother-in-law, was sent to Nepal by the King to persuade Dorji to return to Bhutan. He was offered whatever material wealth he desired in exchange for an offer to come back to Bhutan. He refused. The Chief of Police was thrown into prison on fabricated charges to serve a three-year jail-term for his failure to bring Dorji back to Bhutan.

In 1995, for the first time, the National Assembly of Bhutan, which had never before in its sessions in 1991, 1992 or 1993 mentioned Dorji’s activities in exile or his alleged loan defaults, began labeling such allegations against him. (In 1994, the year Dorji formed the Druk National Congress, the Royal Bhutanese Government, in a dilemma did not call any National Assembly session. It is pertinent to mention that the then National Assembly of Bhutan used to functions merely as a rubber stamp of king and no popular elections were held to elect its members).

Dorji led the Druk National Congress to successfully implement its programs particularly inside Bhutan, and the Bhutanese democracy movement consolidated under his leadership. In keeping with his responsibilities, he began to visit India to interact with Indian policy-makers and the Indian people. His interaction with Indian political circle had won favor of many influential personalities of India in support of the Bhutan’s democratic struggle.

The Bhutanese government panicked, apprehensive of the inevitable political change in Bhutan that would strike at the very foundation of its autocratic rule, and began to manufacture ways and means, fair or foul, to crush the Bhutanese movement for democracy. Thus, Dorji was arrested on the 18th of April, 1997 in New Delhi, on the pretext that he did not posses travel documents. Later, he faced extradition proceedings in India, in pursuance of an extradition request by the Bhutan to the Government of India.

Given the facts of the case, it is more than obvious that the wrong legal issues and circumstances have been erroneously addressed in a highly irrational, unreasonable manner while taking the decision to initiate the extradition proceedings, since no prima facie case is made out against Dorji, i.e. there is no satisfaction recorded that any sufficient ground for proceeding against him exists, and the complaint shows that, on the face of it, the essential ingredients of the extradition offence are absent, therefore any extradition proceedings against Dorji would constitute a political abuse of the Indian Extradition Act, 1962.

The attempt to extradite Dorji to Bhutan was a move designed solely in that direction.

The Royal Court of Justice, High Court of Bhutan, allegedly issued the warrant dated December 20, 1996, against Dorji on an alleged application dated December 20, 1996, made by the Royal Bhutan Police requesting for the same. The said Royal Court of Justice, as per its alleged judgment dated December 20, 1996, “carefully examined” all the different cases by making detailed investigations (in the various parts of the country), and passed its judgment and issued the warrant of arrest the very same day the application was received i. e. December 20, 1996. (It can be also noted that the dispatch number of the arrest warrant is HC (CJ-1)96-97/4046, and the judgment to issue the arrest warrant is HC(CJ-1) 96-97/4047, suggesting that the arrest warrant was issued before the judgment). The Home Minister of Bhutan, made an official request dated February 12, 1997, to the Government of India for Dorji’s extradition to Bhutan.

Based on this Royal Bhutanese request, the Government of India began extradition proceeding against Dorji vide its order dated July 1, 1997.

On realizing that as per Indian extradition law, (i) a person’s extradition cannot be sought for offences of a political character, (ii) that the warrant dated December 20, 1996, included offences of political character, (iii) that Dorji’s extradition would not be possible if based on the said warrant, the Royal Bhutanese Government manufactured another warrant dated April 25, 1997, which excluded the political charges. Repeating the same exercise, the Royal Bhutan Police allegedly makes an application dated April 24, 1997, to the Court of Justice, upon which the Court of Justice makes a detailed investigation and allegedly passes a judgment on April 25, 1997 and the warrant of arrest is allegedly issued on the same day i. e. April 25, 1997. Another Extradition Agreement, allegedly signed between Bhutan and India on December 28, 1996, is notified on May 21, 1997, to facilitate Dorji’s extradition. Then another extradition request dated June 25, 1997, was made by the Bhutanese Home Minister to the Government of India again requesting for Dorji’s extradition based on the new documents.

The documents supplied by the Royal Bhutanese Government to the Government of India in support of their extradition request can be divided into two parts. One, the documents related to financial matters which allegedly date pre-1991, and two, the documents related to the acts alleged to have been committed by Dorji after 1994, i.e. after the formation of the Druk National Congress.

The first group of fabricated charges is commercial transactions governed by the Loan Act of Bhutan, which provides procedures of civil nature for recovery of such loans. None of these charges involve any criminality or culpability in it. The documents do not contain any material to show on-going litigation or any evidence to support the charges and no criminal case or any criminal prosecution is pending against Dorji in these cases. Moreover the documents reveal contradictions, fabrications, including circumvention and violation of their own laws by the Royal Bhutanese Government in a bid to fabricate a case against Dorji. Particularly, as per the Thrimzhung Chhenpo (the Supreme Law of the Land), such unlawful acts must be brought to the notice to the Court of law within 7 days from the day such transaction was undertaken, otherwise the Court shall not entertain any complaint. Therefore, this Bhutanese statute alone renders all the charges in this group null and void under Section 31(b) of the Indian Extradition Act, 1962.

The second group of charges pertains to the post-1994 era, which saw the intensification of the Bhutanese pro-democracy movement under Dorji’s leadership. None of these fabricated charges make out any case under the National Security Act as claimed by the Royal Bhutanese Government, or for that matter under any other law of Bhutan, as the documents do not reveal anything to corroborate the charges. Even otherwise, all these charges are of political character and it is evident that the requisition for Dorji’s extradition has been sought in order to punish him for his and his Party’s active participation with other political and human rights organizations in the effort to seek a change in the system of governance in Bhutan by establishing democracy under Constitutional Monarchy. Section 31(a) of the Indian Extradition Act, 1962 prohibits the extradition of anyone if the offence in respect of which his extradition is sought is of a political character or if he is sought to be punished for an offence of political character.

The political character of both groups of charges is evident from the documents, which evidences that until the formation of the Druk National Congress in 1994, there were no allegation against Dorji and that all the charges, including those of pre-1991, have been fabricated after 1994. The Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office, responsible for his initial arrest and detention, has confirmed Dorji as a political personality by noting in its order, dated May 17,1997, that “according to the MEA/MHA (India), Dorji is the Chairman of the United Front for Democracy in Bhutan, whose avowed aim is the seek a change in the system of governance in that country”.

The mala fide nature of the extradition request and the extradition proceeding against Dorji is evident from the fact that he was residing in Nepal for almost 6 years after coming to Nepal in 1991, and despite this, his extradition is sought from India, where he had never lived before.

The letter from the India’s Ministry of External Affairs to the Ministry of Home Affairs dated, April 17, 1997, clarifies that when Dorji was arrested, the existing arrangement for extradition between India and Bhutan are governed by paragraph 1 of Article 8 of the treaty between India and Bhutan, 1949, yet he was then being tried retrospectively under the new Extradition Agreement. The legality of the new Extradition Agreement between the two countries notified on May 21, 1997 is questionable and suffers from a lacuna in that the prima facie does not apply. As per this agreement, Bhutan, a non-Commonwealth country, to which the provisions of Chapter II of the Indian Extradition Act, 1962 always applied, is now subject to the provisions of Chapter III. Chapter III applies only to Commonwealth countries with a common, essentially-the-same law and a summary procedure for the extradition and trial of fugitive criminals. This change from Chapter II to Chapter III is inconsistent with the laws guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution of India and the provisions of this agreement are inconsistent with Articles 53 and 71 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969. It is also significant to note that although there existed an extradition treaty between the two countries since 1949, no request for the surrender of any Bhutanese subject has ever been received by India from Bhutan and Dorji’s is the first such case. It is clear that this new agreement, notified a month after Dorji was arrested for extradition, was executed as it seemed expedient to apply the provisions of Chapter III of the Indian Extradition Act to facilitate the extradition of Dorji.

Amongst the numerous documents available on Bhutan’s human rights record, the first report of the SAARC Jurist Mission to Bhutan, titled “The Bhutan Tragedy, when will it end”, Amnesty International’s report on Bhutan titled “crackdown on the ‘anti-nationals’ in the East” and the US State Department’s Country report on human rights, show that Bhutan has been continuously indulging in atrocities against its citizens and gross violations of human rights. The reports also show that Bhutan has no proper legal system, and that its laws are overtly discriminatory, prohibiting any opposition to the government, denying fair public trails and awarding severest punishment for such “offences”.

Various Indian and international organizations and eminent individuals, including freedom fighters, and political and social personalities, had come out in support of Dorji, demanding the withdrawal of his extradition case and his release. The media too has been keenly following the events.

Dorji was finally released on bail on July 14, 1998. The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of Delhi, in-charge of the case, cited the political nature of the charges and evidence of its fabrication, as being the basis of his judgment dated 2.6.98, ordering the release of Mr. Dorji on bail, pending the final outcome of the extradition proceedings.

It was late 2009 that the Delhi High Court finally trashed out all allegations filed against Dorji (listen to link below regarding this). However, it was pre-planned in the Indian political circle to subdue Bhutanese democratic movement.

Death of Dorji shocked many in diaspora and inside Bhutan. Living in fear, supporters from within Bhutan denied publishing their statements while those in exile have expressed sadness and marked this incident as a huge loss to democratic struggle.

Bhutan National Democratic Party in its statement said, ‘Rongthong Kuenley Dorji had been a great friend of Bhutan National Democratic Party and we had several opportunities to work together in the movement since the establishment of Druk National Congress in 1994. Sri Rongthong Kuenley Dorji was a kind person dedicated for the establishment of egalitarian political system that would promote and protect the rights of all ethnic groups in Bhutan under the framework of constitutional monarchy. On his demise the Bhutan democratic movement lost a charismatic leader whose absence will be felt deeply by the freedom loving people of Bhutan both in exile and inside the country.’