Efforts continue to let Japanese know Bhutan’s human rights violations

Published on Nov 06 2009 // Opinion



Manfred Ringhofer is a lone army in the Japanese battlefield against the gross human rights violations in Bhutan. Having good relations with Bhutan, Japan government and the Japanese people rarely believe about human rights violations in this tiny Himalayan kingdom. Manfred, as a university professor, organized several trips for university student to refugee camps in Nepal, wrote about it and spoken on several occasions. Yet, Japanese perspective on Bhutan’s tyranny has not changed. Manfred was in Nepal visit this week, escorting his daughter for a research, where he talked about his activism on Bhutanese refugee issue. Excerpts:

How do you evaluate Japan-Bhutan relations?
Both the countries are Buddhist and are bound by the religious sentiments. Bhutanese rulers, especially the royal family, have good relations with Japan’s emperor. Two governments also maintain good relations and Japan is one of the major donors for Bhutan’s development.

What is public perception in Japan regarding Bhutan and Bhutanese refugee issue?
Japanese rarely believe that Bhutanese rulers can evict people. There are very few people who would turn to us to hear our speeches on Bhutanese refugee cause. I brought several university students to refugee camps in Nepal to see the pathetic conditions and to inform Japan the real situation. However, their activities hardly had any impact on changing Japan’s perspective on Bhutanese refugee and human right violations in Bhutan.

What do you think might be the cause behind it?
Basically, it is due to deep sentiments attached in Buddhist fraternity. The most important is lack of publicity in Japanese media. Journalists in Japan fear writing news on Bhutanese refugees. Once in 1990, a journalist had written a story on eviction. As a result, no journalists from that particular media were entertained Bhutanese visa for several years. So today, even if Japanese journalists attend lecture on Bhutanese refugee issue, they do not write in fear that they might not be given Bhutanese visa.

Also, there is no person to speak on Bhutanese refugee issue in Japan. Ratan Gazmere went twice to speak on it (1994 and 2003). Many people from INGOs, NGOs and students listened and were shocked to hear such grave human rights violations. Besides that, there are no other activities being carried out to inform Japanese people about Bhutanese refugee issue.

What are the efforts made by AHURA Japan to inform Japanese about this cause?
We organized lectures several times. We are distributing reading materials to schools, libraries to let people know the real situation in Bhutan. I told you, we invited Ratan twice to Japan for speeches. I regularly write on this humanitarian problem and circulate them. I have recently prepared a booklet in Japanese language. But the problem is there is no one to listen/read us.

What kind of problems do you think is the Bhutanese refugee issue?
This is the problem related to democracy and human rights. Many say, it is an ethnic cleansing. I do not agree with that. Bhutanese rulers are against democracy and human rights. Events observed even after parliamentary polls have shown the real attitude of Bhutanese rulers against democracy, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly and right to vote.

What’s your view on Gross National Happiness?
It is becoming a subject of debate around the world and people are accepting it without understanding its reality. GNH principles do not support multiculturalism. It rather intends to promote one religion – that of the ruling class. Bhutan being a multi-ethnic country, any views coming out of this country must support multiple views, multiple religions and multiple cultures. Principally, the theory is good but back in implementation phase the philosophy shows its bad reality. Only the rulers and high level officials are happy and I don’t think general people in Bhutan are happy.

In his recent speech in Japan, Bhutanese PM Jigmi Thinley said GNH is most appropriate for Japan. How do you think?
I think it does not suit Japanese society since it is a multicultural and multiethnic. Taking into consideration the Japanese attachment towards religion, I think GNH’s notion on building religion can suit the Japanese thoughts.

What do you think will be the results of third country resettlement?
People may prefer it to go. For younger generation, third country resettlement is a good prospect. For older generation, this is a shock. It would be very difficult for them to survive in a new society, new culture and new environment. People from older generation have deeply attached sentiments to die in the land they born. Resettlement has scattered this dream.