UDHR Day and Southern Bhutan Problem

Published on Dec 29 2010 // News Analysis
By S. B. Subba

On the occasion of celebration of the 62nd Universal Human Rights Day 10th December 2010, the world leaders, Human rights activists and UN secretary general and UN Human Rights commissioner sent messages calling the world for peace, tolerance and respect of human rights and rights of human person. Show human compassion and kindness. No one should be subjected to suppression and discrimination on prejudice of gender, race, religion and language. There are also lofty Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International conventions and covenants to protect and promote human rights of every human person and state responsibility to ensure that no one is discriminated and deprived equal opportunity to enjoy and live in dignity. Perhaps if all the international instruments and principles as enshrined are respected and abided by without hypocrisy, the world would have been different and there would have no people sufferings. There would not have been 110000 Bhutanese refugees from a tiny Druk kingdom synonymously known “ Sangrila” to the outside world and that believes in Buddhism and advocate principle of compassion and tolerance. However, in the case of Bhutanese, especially concerning the southern Bhutanese of Nepali speaking, the story is different which is incredible to the outside world when told that people are being suppressed, discriminated on the ground of race, language and religion by the vary follower of Buddhism. These 110000 Bhutanese refugees, the victims of arbitrary denial of nationality and citizenship and evicted on ground of Nepali speaking race carry loads of harrowing stories of inhuman treatment, mental and physical tortures, humiliation, wanton arrest and intimidation at gun point to signed the so called voluntary migration forms (VMF) and eviction. The International community, the advocators and champions of Human Rights and Democracy in the world, instead of chastising Bhutan government for flagrant human rights violation and creating mass exodus of 110000 southern Bhutanese believed in the pious lies smothered in Buddhist principle of compassion and started resettling refugees, creating Nepali speaking Bhutanese diaspora. Letting the Bhutan government, the culprit smirking in its sleeves and relishing on how wittingly could fool the world and coming out clean of all their guiltiness. Persecute those who dare to speak against the three elements- the king, country and the government which in another term in so called national language – Dzonkha, Tsa- Wa-Sum. Imprison followers of other religion particularly Christianity and the constitution says that it believes in secularism. In absence of hiring defending lawyers, the decision of court in Bhutan is unilateral and thus arbitrary. It all depends upon the whims and mercy of the judges rather than jurisprudence. Not long ago and before the start of the movement for democracy and human rights in 1990, the judges were naives picked up by the king and their judgment and bestowing of justice was by threat of pistol on the table, leather straps, whips, cane, clamps and sticks hanging on the wall of the court room as decorative artifacts. Till then law study and political science were banned. So one can surmise what sort of justice prevailed in those days and how much injustice people would have suffered when even today the flair of primitive system lurks to a particular race. Perhaps many of our elders must be carrying the unhealed weal of the Buddhist justice of whips.

There are 426 political prisoners convicted for demanding Human Rights and Democracy languishing only in Chemgang central jail in Thimpu which is more than its capacity of 296 and has access of only ICRC. Many of them serving life sentence and long years of imprisonment without fair trial in absence of defending advocates. It is reported by the National Assembly Human Rights Committee that, there are eight district jails, one Dungkhag jail, one Armed Forced Jail and one rehabilitation centre with 1,078 prisoners altogether. There is no account of such prisoners in other jails in 12 districts. According to report, the jails are overcrowded, unhygienic, lack of proper lightening, ventilation, toilet, and inadequate medical attention. Neither the International community nor the International Human rights organizations that make big noise including the UN Human Rights Commission take cognizance of the inhuman prisons condition nor inquire about disappearance and custodial deaths. The International committee of Red Cross (ICRC) makes only perfunctory visit to Chemgang jail. Let alone improve the prisoners and prisons conditions in whole of the country, it has even not been able to impact RGOB to maintain human friendly jail even the one it visits.

Although Bhutan is signatory of the Universal Human Rights Declaration 1948 when becoming 127th UN member in 1971, albeit the application of it in spirit and letter is contradictory with perpetual racial discrimination, political persecution and arbitrary denationalization particularly of Southern Bhutanese. The Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) led by the then King Jigme Singye Wangchuk evicted in 1990s about 110000 southern Bhutanese to become refugees and had to take shelter in Nepal as India the immediate neighbor and the country of first asylum could not provide shelter and security. Therefore, the 110000 Bhutanese refugees had to take refuge in Nepal not by choice but by compelling circumstances of security of life and survival. After mass exodus of 110000 and hue and cry of refugees in the international forums of human rights violation, political persecution, inhuman tortures and ill treatment of prisoners, psychological and mental tortures of southern Bhutanese, the RGOB in quick response to international query of gross violation of human rights stopped direct action to cover up its crime but the mischief continued and continuing under the guise of Buddhist philosophy of tolerance and compassion. The strict censor of freedom of press, expression and outside media to explore and expose the misdeeds, the RGOB maneuvers the policies at its whim and suitability and eyewash the International community. They are very astute in coining catchword like Gross National Happiness (GNH), good governance, strengthening democracy, security of nation bla bla………and swaying the International community from the crux of real problem that manifesting to cancerous wound which will be realized only when emitted foul smell. The RGOB with its policy of honey in the mouth and sting in the tail has been successful in its articulate lies that international community easily buy. The International community that espouse Human Rights and Democracy in the world has overlooked and apathetic to the deep agony and mental pain that has been indelibly inflicted on the southern Bhutanese on prejudice of race, language and religion and sided with the thug that bolstered its nefarious action on southern Bhutanese unabated. The certificate of clean chit absolving all of its cruelties on southern Bhutanese by resettling the refugees by the core countries for Bhutanese refugees is a bonanza for the RGOB giving the impression that whatever it did was right and the refugees are wrong. Further to right the wrongs, the king Jigme Singye Wangchuk abdicated the throne to his heir eldest son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk which came as surprise of magnanimity to the world not knowing the fact that he had promised in 1993 itself that he would abdicate the throne if he could not solve the southern Bhutanese problem within three years. It was long overdue but happened only in 2007. Therefore, the installation of 5th king is not by voluntary renouncement of kingship like Gautam Budha which people considered is a gift but just to cover the shame of his inability to solve the southern Bhutanese problem. Whether 5th or 6th it makes no difference. It is just the old wine in new bottle. The rope of reign of power is still tethered in the fourth king. The king Jigme Singye Wangchuk is still the de facto king. Everything that happened in southern Bhutan and is happening is under his command. The incumbent king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, a puppet often commits in public to protect the people like parents, care like brother and serve like son. In contrary, the southern Bhutanese are treated step-motherly and there are about 80000 relatives of the refugees subjected to suffer perpetually without identity of Bhutanese nationality and deprived from enjoying all government opportunities.

The Human Rights Organization of Bhutan is thankful to the core countries for Bhutanese refugees to have empathized with the Bhutanese refugees sufferings and resettling on humanitarian ground and hauling them out of harrowing life in the camps in Nepal for last 20 years and resurrecting new life to thousands who can now begin fresh life, family and comfort and find place to call home. Nevertheless, despite the kind humanitarian gesture, we are disillusioned by the lackadaisical stand on repatriation. The core countries and the UNHCR did not keep up their assurance that in order to find a comprehensive solution of the procrastinated problem, all three options of 1.Repatriation 2. Local assimilation and 3. Resettlement would be simultaneously initiated. Non-committal to other options by opening only resettlement as Hobson’s-choice is a breach of trust. We are let down. Because of the lenient stand of the International community, our relatives still living in Bhutan are under constant harassment and discrimination. There are about 80000 southern Bhutanese whose nationality and citizenship is in bracket for being relatives of refugees and are silently suffering and people of either there or here. Their identity are stamped with various categories (F1-F7) and are deprived from all government opportunities even barring them from taking part in the voting in the first ever so called democratic election held in March 2008. They have to produce Security Clearance certificate/ No Objection Certificate from the police mandatory even to admit a child in the school and not issued to the relatives of refugees. According to recent information, the citizenship is considered only if one possesses land and land registration number which is impossible as relatives of refugees are not allowed to hold the land left behind and on the other hand, land registration is not allowed even if he/she afford to buy. Verbal orders by the local authorities not to cultivate have been issued to the one who are mending the land registered in the name of relatives who were evicted. Finally, they will be considered non-nationals alleged to have entered clandestinely taking the advantage of the porous border with India and evict them. Not only that, it is also reported that all the parents have to produce marriage certificate to register the children in the census and immigration department without which children will be considered non-national and thus become illegal immigrants and liable for eviction. The government being fully aware that majority of the parents do not possess such documents as it was not compulsory to register marriage with civil court and people lack knowledge of importance of registration and the value of the sheet of paper needed to qualify the children for nationality have not done came up with another mischief. Knowing the loopholes that many of the parents cannot produce the marriage certificate, the government preposterously laid the condition like the 1958 document of proof required in 1985 census in order to deprive citizenship to southern Bhutanese. Let alone the repatriation by rapprochement and national reconciliation, the government is looking ways and means to further evict the remaining southern Bhutanese as there are big hearted International community to believe their concocted stories and take the refugees which has already set precedent . The International community that issuing clean cheat to Bhutan government is not going to realize the predicament of southern Bhutanese particularly the fate of 80000 and brush aside if apprise them of catch-22 situation faced by the relatives of the refugees. They are not allowed to maintain link with the relatives outside. Constant vigilance is kept on individual and his/her telephone bugged. Not allowed to receive any financial help or gift from resettled relatives. Funeral rite of dead resettled relatives which is must as per the tradition and culture is not allowed and relatives coming to the camps for last meeting and bid farewell are being interrogated by the police and local authorities. They are sternly warned of dire consequences if they leak out any information or report against any authority. The International community readily listens and believes to the prime minister of Bhutan, Jigme Y Thinley’s illogical propaganda of attribution of creation of Bhutanese refugees as victims of humanitarian situation caused by demographic explosion, ecological disaster and economic depreciation as if the nature had been very selective to affect only the 110000 southern Bhutanese, but indifferent to the heart rendering stories of atrocities meted out to thousands of southern Bhutanese women and men and how unjustly evicted as non-nationals though living there for generations. Therefore, unless justice is prevailed upon, the human rights slogan is just rhetoric to us and that blips once in every year on 10th December and go with the wind for the next December 10.

Subba is chairman of the Human Rights Organization of Bhutan (HUROB)