RGoB swims naked across Universal Periodic Review: A review

Published on Dec 05 2009 // News Analysis
By Govinda Rizal

Delegates of Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) exhibited the most infamous drama, ever in the history, yesterday in Geneva in front of the human rights watchers from all over the world. Stubborn with its ostrich behavior, an ostrich puts its head under sand when it has to hide while its body stands tall in desert; the RGoB delegates took sand (report) with them till Geneva to hide their guilty face.

They not only missed the chance to win the hearts of people, they ran politically, diplomatically and historically naked in front of the universal periodic review. They rapped the pristine image of the country in front of the world. RGoB had got a rare opportunity to present Bhutan’s first human rights report for Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva on December 4, 2009. Their insolvent mentality, intention of favor driven protection of the autocrats and their inefficiency to truly represent a country ruined the opportunity into an abyss.

The delegates were supposed to define the achievements of the government and defend or explain the constraints where they had HR lapses. Instead, they made reports based on the earlier government’s propaganda that were used to brainwash the village folks with an intention to raise militia to crush the people’s movement; the propaganda that were long before proved false.

The delegation was led by a minister from the former regime that crushed the democratic movements, silenced the voices for HR, and made one sixth of the population stateless. He was there to cover the misdemeanor of the former regime under which he was a member.

As expected in an autocratic regime, the RGoB delegates began presentation of the report by praising the king for letting them use word “Democracy” that was banned until 2007. Major highlights were on this theme. The 25 pages long report presented in one hour had enough repetition, purposely done to confuse the audience and shorten the time for discussion. However, they could not escape the questions, comments and suggestions from its counterparts who were left even more suspicious and less convinced than before. The contents that came out during the interaction session showed that the delegates in the audience were more aware of the situation inside Bhutan, the plight of the people than the RGoB delegates.

The delegates cheated themselves
The delegates, who had to present the report prepared by a third party from the earlier regime, must have been made to do so either under gun point or threats. They did not have the will or a need to take the false report to ruin their image together the country’s image. They were forced to do so. The repeated answers to most questions were that “democracy is from the king”. This single phrase highlights the compulsion they are carrying with them.

In a democratic system, individual has a freedom to nurture conscience and live accordingly. Besides, the delegates were speaking on HR and in front of HR priests. Failing to recognize the strength and importance of the review, they cheated themselves with a false report that they presented, resorted to pray the rulers who coerced them to such a situation. They not only tried to fool the audience, but they themselves also were fooled and cheated. They missed a chance to speak the truth and win the hearts of the global leaders. RGoB’s delegates failed even to make an attempt to present themselves clean in rights abuses. Their report completely failed to mention the issue of more than 100,000 citizens lost to exile. They never gave a second thought that denying franchise to 90,000 eligible voters, was a lapse in the right.

Bhutanese in Exile
Bhutanese in exile represented the country more kindly and better than the delegates deputed by the RGoB. The Bhutanese people living in different European countries had gathered in Geneva to explain to delegates and visitors the truth, the reality, the bad and the good. They praised the ban on tobacco, little work of anti corruption commission and protested against the RGoB’s atrocities, discrimination and unlawful practices. Their messages were aimed at securing freedom to the people inside and repatriation of the evicted citizen. They distributed HR reports prepared by different Bhutanese groups, organizations and political parties to the delegates from different countries in the UPR meeting.

After resettlement of Bhutanese from camps in Nepal to third countries, the Thimphu government threw lavish dinner and fireworks to celebrate victory of successful eviction. The donors thought the problem was solved for good. Many people also thought that the resettlement would force the resettled people to forget Bhutan for green dollars and city life. This program was one such step that woke up the evictor, rejuvenated hope in people. The people are not going to forget so easily, rather they have become independent, strong and committed. It gives fresh hope to Bhutanese in exile and a silver lining within the sight of the people inside Bhutan.

Comments from other countries
After the presentation of the report at least 43 countries’ delegates asked questions, sought explanation or gave suggestions to the RGoB’s team.

Myanmar’s delegate asked regarding the measures taken to make judiciary and human rights effective in Bhutan. Delegate from Sri Lanka asked about constitutional provisions for ending domestic violence. Egypt was worried about food security as well as national HR commission. Delegates from Egypt, Brazil, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands and Serbia showed concern about domestic violence and suggested ways to tackle them.  Delegates from China, Cambodia, Philippines, Qatar, Pakistan, etc reacted to GNH affirmatively. Delegates from Canada, China, Austria, The Netherlands, Indonesia, Turkey, Switzerland, etc lauded transition in political system. Singapore delegate suggested setting up institutions in different towns to look after child and women issues. China asked Bhutan to focus on poverty reduction. Delegates from Cambodia and Turkey were concerned about the effect of climate change. Nepalese delegate praised the traditional friendship that existed between the two countries, became serious with the Bhutan’s negligence with the people evicted from Bhutan and asked for a time frame when Bhutan will repatriate the verified Bhutanese and when will they resume verification.

Delegates from The Philippines, Cuba, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Algeria, and Kyrgyzstan asked different aspect of health. Canadian delegate told Bhutanese counter parts to resume dialogue with Nepal, and also raised concern about stateless children, and asked Bhutan to eliminate violence against women and to ensure protection of rights of minorities.

Cuban delegate asked to improve situation of poverty and drinking water

Delegates from Cambodia, Bangladesh and India had sympathy on Bhutanese team and decided to advice them personally, so picked up only a few positive points in the public. India who is often accused as responsible for protracted refugee situation decided to share the blame, asked the rest to learn from Bhutan and did not hesitate to support Bhutan by calling the citizens terrorists. There is no doubt; India returned to Bhutan what Bhutan had given to India when Indian delegates stood in front for UPR last April.

Thailand was concerned of HIV infection, disabled people and rural discrimination in Bhutan. Indonesian delegate encouraged women participation in political process through free education and law. Delegate from Turkey asked Bhutan to combat domestic violence and to educate people on human rights and democracy. Vietnamese delegate suggested ratifying ICCPR and ICESCR.

Delegate from Brunei asked to protect HR guaranteed by the constitution. Denmark delegates asked, why religions other than Buddhism were not allowed. And added further questions; Is there religious freedom? When will Bhutan ratify many rights instruments? What measures are taken to repatriate refugees?; and emphasized that Bhutan must repatriate the refugees. Kyrgyzstan delegate asked Bhutan to end child labor, extend health care and ensure education on human rights and human trafficking. The delegates from Mexico asked Bhutan to look for the international standard definition of ‘terrorism’. It was also to tell India, what it should not learn from Bhutan.

Slovenia delegate asked the reason and basis of categorization of citizens. Italy’s delegate appreciated the abolition of capital punishment, expressed concern of refugees and minorities, asked Bhutan to ratify international human rights treaties, establish effective mechanism to protect HR, allow international HR bodies to set up office in Bhutan and expressed concern of refugees and minorities. Pakistan asked for an explanation on Kidu (welfare) system.

Chile asked Bhutan to ratify ICCPR and showed concern of children and disabled people. French delegate was worried of child labor and refugees. Iranian delegate asked Bhutan to strengthen measures to protect women and child rights and to protect rights of all religious and ethnic groups. Spanish delegate called for a special rappoteur on religious rights and asked to end use of children in pornography. Azerbaijan delegate emphasized on human rights in Bhutan.UK delegates talked on sexual abuse, political participation and media as well as on rights of minorities. Japanese delegation asked Bhutan to determine the nationality of the refugees, resolve differences through dialogues and asked Bhutan to ensure fair justice, and elimination of violence against women and children. Delegate of Switzerland expressed concern on the rights of minorities, about Lhotsampas and refugees. They also encouraged on dialogues.

Delegates of Venezuela were concerned about the gender gap in education and shortage of teachers. Delegate of Poland were alarmed at the Nepalis facing discrimination, and asked how Bhutan will end the statelessness and domestic violence.

Delegate from USA whose country has agreed to resettle 60,000 of Bhutanese citizen evicted and neglected by Bhutan asked what plan RGoB had to stop ethnic discrimination, to end domestic violence and human trafficking and to leverage equality and empowerment of women. Delegate emphasized on repatriation of the people.

Almost all the countries urged Bhutan to resolve refugee issue and repatriate people. Delegate from Algeria, Nepal, Canada, etc stressed on the reunification between the family members separated between exile and inside Bhutan. Brazil’s delegate specifically asked Bhutan to do away with No objection certificate (NOC) and Police clearance certificate (PCC). Bhutanese PM had returned from Brazil, just this week after selling the concept of GNH there. There was big news in the country regarding it. But it is clear from the delegates’ questions whether Brazilians believe or not in a government that practices NOC and PCC to discriminate citizen on political ground and preaches GNH.  UK delegate talked on media freedom too.

There were hundreds of questions from more than 40 delegates but RGoB’s delegates had just two answers; democracy by the king and gross national happiness. The world must also understand correct and many meanings from a few subtle words of suppressed people. The democracy from the king means there is no democracy still. Bhutan’s delegation had no answer and shamelessly thanked them for hosting the people evicted by them on humanitarian ground. The world must understand that victims of HR violation are not only those suffering in exile and in rural villages of Bhutan, It must know about the HR violation of the delegates deputed to speak for the government against their intention. Were RGoBs delegates victims of HR violation too? True democracy only will make them give the correct answer.