Human rights and Bhutan
I am quite certain that most of us are well aware of the Bhutanese refugee problem and deteriorating human rights situation inside Bhutan. Violation of human rights in Bhutan from the state authority started becoming more rampant since 1988. As a result of this, almost one-third of Bhutan’s population was forcefully evicted out of country in 1990s. Following massive pressures from rights organizations and others around the globe, the then King of Bhutan, Jigme Singey Wangchuck, played a drama in the name of change in 2008, but just aimed at blindfolding the international community by abdicating the throne to his son, Jigme Kheshar, who is the King at present. Even, the first general election was held to trumpet so-called democracy in Bhutan.
Considering the degree of suppressions on the innocent people who raised their voices for democracy and changes, the regime-gifted democracy is nothing but just the same autocratic kingship as it has excluded those who suffered for centuries to get their rights respected. The Bhutanese democracy at present is never true in its real sense as it has failed to address the issue of political prisoners who have been spending their hard lives in various jails since years. How can we accept it as democracy when it was given without releasing those political prisoners and not expressing interest to resolve the refugee problem?
In such an occasion, Bhutan failed to include the refugee community by calling them back home. Besides doing this, unfortunately the so-called democratic Government of Bhutan doesn’t have to be answerable to any sorts of human rights violations in the country. That was why it took a leap by successfully hosting the 16th SAARC summit in Thimphu this year. Presence of SAARC leaders in the summit was, indeed, an indirect gesture of support to the Bhutanese regime.
Bhutan is not responding to global queries raised against the stories of human rights violations in the country. It is simply using its own tactics to promote the art of lying through various means. Similar tone was observed when the government was made to respond to recommendations it received for its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR), during the 13th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) on March this year. The government had reiterated its commitment to finding a sustainable solution of the long-standing refugee issue through a bilateral process with Nepal, but nothing has been initiated so far. If no rigorous pressure from the international community is created against Bhutan, it is certain that the regime will table the similar assurances next year as well thereby fading the call for justice and freedom.
Bhutan is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country. Though Bhutan is a tiny kingdom as regard to its geographical parameters, 22 languages are spoken by various ethnic groups in the country. Unfortunately, the government has imposed ‘One Language and One Religion’ policy which has victimized ethnic languages. This policy accepts Dzongkha as medium of communications and Kagyurpa sect of Buddhism as a State religion. Basically, Hindu, Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism Christianity and Muslim are suppressed.
Current situation inside Bhutan
When we have gathered here to discuss the human rights situations of the South Asia, I must use this forum to inform all the delegates that a district court of Bhutan recently slapped a jail term of three and half years to one of the Nepali-speaking citizens accusing him of showing Christian film in some localities. Further, two of his innocent Christian friends are being hunted. I have heard that the duo has gone out of their family contact to avoid their arrest. Through this esteemed forum I want to urge the international community, resettlement countries and Bhutan’s donors to speak on behalf of the Bhutanese Christians and pressurize the government to immediately release the arrested citizen. Also, I regard that it is a moral obligation of all powerful nations and human rights defenders to ask the Government of Bhutan to find out the whereabouts of those two who have left their village for safety. How can a person be sent to jail for practicing the religion of his choice in the 21st century, that also in
a country which trumpets that it has a well-defined democratic system and good governmence?
The regime has illegally jailed an exiled journalist Shanti Ram Acharya associated with The Bhutan Reporter, published by Bhutan Media Society, when he has gone to Bhutan to meet some of his relatives. A young journalist of 22 years old is currently serving a jail term of 7 and half years. Though his friends and organizations have been advocating for his release globally, I urge this forum to create pressure on Bhutan to recognize his journalistic status and free unconditionally.
Further the role of Bhutanese media in exile has not been recognized by international media organizations. The Bhutanese refugee community is proud of the media activism in exile. Probably, no refugees have done the work of what our young journalists in exile are doing. Thus, encouragement and supports for them are essential since we cannot depend on the totally censored media operating inside the country.
During the time of the first so-called general election in 2008, around 80,000 Nepali-speaking citizens, who have been dwelling in Bhutan for centuries, were denied voting rights. They have been leading the life of slaves as they are without any legal documents which all citizens of a country require to live as dignified human beings. Their children are not admitted in schools.
The next thing is the regime’s decision to set a minimum education level of Bachelor’s degree as the required criteria for those who wish to file their candidacies in the election. This prevented several capable ones from filing their nominations. The next restriction was requirement of speaking Dzongkha language by the candidate.
I am very sad to mention here that even during the court procedures, every citizen is required to use Dzongkha as medium of communications. So, those who can’t speak Dzongkha are deprived of justice. Those who are to seek justice and unable to communicate in Dzongkha will have to hire government officials as their interpreters. So, the justice depends on their interpretations. Even judges are without legal backgrounds and mostly appointed by the King. Contrary to the Constitution provisions, the Chief Justice and Justices of Bhutanese Supreme Court are without legal background.
The Election Commission allowed registration of only two parties in Bhutan. These parties are formed by relatives and closed allies of the royal family. At the time of general election, even Nepali-speaking citizens of the south were asked to file their candidacy seeking membership from those parties. However, none of them were entertained at the end citing various reasons to prove their inability for involvement. So, leaders of these parties played on their innocent sentiments treating them as jokers. I must not miss here to mention that those who had active role in suppressing and evicting the southern Bhutanese in 1990s were issued the party’s membership. Thus, those who were supposed to be in jails at present for suppressing thousands of innocent citizens are currently serving the regime as ministers and lawmakers. They are travelling freely around the world, and the world knows who they are and what inhuman treatment they have committed to their fellow citizen behaviors they have been doing to their fellow citizens.
Most of the schools which were closed during 90s as they were used as detention centers for torturing innocent people are not yet resumed in the southern Bhutan. The situations are compelling even in those which are under operations. All Hindu students are forced to eat everything they are offered including meat of cows which all Hindus worship as holy creatures and use for milk. In case of their denial, such students are immediately expelled from their schools and are never accepted for enrollment. As teaching of Nepali language is officially banned, citizens are deprived from getting education in their mother tongue.
Celebrations of Hindus festivals are limited within the house as the security is always vigil to stop those celebrations. Even the authority forces some members of the same community to file their secret reports of such activities if any.
Though I have spoken about the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens, I should inform you that thousands of fellow-countrymen from the eastern Bhutan have also been treated inhumanly as Nepali-speaking southern Bhutanese, and some of them have faced even bitter fate.
So far not a single Human Rights organization is registered in Bhutan. There are even no unregistered groups working to promote human rights. This is why no reports of human rights violations are reported outside. Thus, I must appeal the SAHR to initiate its regional office inside Bhutan to monitor the issues of human rights violations.
Whatever policies and acts the government has been formulating, all are aimed at issuing clean chit for its deep-rooted irregularities and misconducts which have been in practice since very long time.
The life of refugees who have been dwelling in their ramshackle huts over two decades is getting more complicated and horrible each year. The situation is alarming after the start of the third country resettlement program in 2007. The condition of camp is such as people have started leaving the camp without any proper plans. As the educated refugees were granted the first priority, schools in camps are getting closed in absence of teachers. This has added burden to students.
The refugees are not getting their basic health facilities. They are made to suffer even while getting a treatment for a minor disease. The security inside the camp is feeble. There are series of killings inside the camp, one after the other and no culprits are punished. This has motivated such elements to operate bigger crimes inside the camps.
Some of the political prisoners who were recently set free by the regime of Bhutan have come to camps as their relatives are here. However, they have not been granted refugee status due to which they are not supplied with ration. So, they are suffocating in hunger. A significant number of refugees whose registration was completed have been waiting for their refugee identity cards as they don’t qualify to get their ration without the identity card. We owe heartfelt gratitude to the Government of Nepal for providing support and shelter to a lakh Bhutanese refugee, so it will be a kind gesture on part of the Government once again if it could verify and grant registration to those unregistered refugee at earliest. I also appeal the SAHR delegates to create environment for human rights leaders in exile to open an office to promote human rights education and monitor human rights situations inside the country.
The refugees have been compelled to stay in their leaking huts which have not been maintained since years as no construction material are supplied by the concerned agencies.
There are fraud games being played in the name of resettlement in the camps. Even, some unwanted means are applied to motivate refugees to opt resettlement forcefully. There are rumours about internal understanding with the Government of Nepal to issue the citizenship to those refugees who decide to remain in camp. If this is true, I don’t think that this will leave a positive impact to Nepal in the long run. And, I want to present here that we are not going to accept such a decision. Families of those who were killed inside the camps and in Mechi Bridge were assured of proper compensations. However, such assurances have not yet been materialized.
Third Country Resettlement
Tired of spending useless life in the camp for almost 20 years, refugees are currently in the process of getting relocated to various third countries. The program which has been termed as major breakthrough in resolving the long-standing refugee issue has created several problems. People are getting lost in search of their identity. When they are far from their religious practices, culture and society, some of them even decided to kill their self. As there are no assurances for their repatriation, they are almost certain to spend their remaining life with uncertainty. Some of the refugees in camp claim that their friends and relatives resettled in various countries have been used as cheap labour force.
Refugees including the resettled ones have been finding hard to decide upon their properties looted by the Bhutanese government. When their rights to property restitution are not accepted and Bhutan doesn’t become ready to compensate for the loss, these innocent refugees will remain disheartened forever.
We are the people of the same horizon. However, due to geographical boundaries, we the Bhutanese have been living with different status. We are compelled to lead a life of a slave due to bigger nations as they have failed to understand our real sentiments. Due to a single person like the King, nearly one-sixth of Bhutan’s population is in exile.
Bhutanese citizens enjoy the free movement in India according to Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty. But India police officials are helping the Bhutanese security officials in re-arresting such Bhutanese citizens who are released on bail by the Indian courts and whisking them illegally to Bhutan. Such action will have negative image to Indian’s democratic credentials. I therefore expect that India will hereafter uphold the democratic culture.
SAHR has organized several conferences and published material on Bhutanese refugee issues. I want SAHR to take up the issues of Bhutanese refugee with Bhutanese Government and Indian Government in finding resolution to Bhutanese refugee issues. I have mentioned Indian government because she has greater influence over Bhutan. I hope India will assist in the repatriation of Bhutanese refugee in honour and dignity.
As a victim of torture, I want to expose to this forum that Bhutan has been using mind controlling devices, which were banned by the United Nations several years back. I have authored a book Torture Killing Me Softly on this subject and request you to read the book to visualize the degree of torture the innocent Bhutanese are forced to bear in Bhutan.
The effects of such measures applied on me have been persistent. I tried to get treatment in Canada, Holland and America, but noting came out to be fruitful. This is something which only a few can believe. But, I know two Canadians who have also made similar claim like me. Even, CVICT Nepal has the record of four other similar cases from our community. So, I doubt if the regime has been applying such devices only to its innocent citizens or even to some visiting foreign guests or journalists.
Lastly, I want to express my utmost hope that experts, freedom fighters and human right defenders like you will be continuously supporting our cause and keep on putting pressure on Bhutan to resolve the Bhutanese refugee issue at the earliest and protect the citizens’ human rights. I hope, one day we will fly like a bird in the sky!
(The speech delivered at the three-day conference entitled “Challenges For South Asia: Human Rights and Democracy’ hosted by South Asian for Human Rights (SAHR) in Kathmandu on November 27, 2010)