Unchanged Bhutan

Published on Oct 26 2009 // Opinion
By I. P. Adhikari

The rulers and ruled are same, the only thing that changed is the way government is formed. As admitted by Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley during his meeting with two German constitution experts who were in Thimphu visit, Bhutan’s changes are just the showcase. It is a day dream for general people to feel the changes unless the rulers change their mindset. The way of government functioning is the same as it was in the past. The culture of promoting bureaucrats and police/army officers who were involve in abuses/suppression since 1990 has not stopped. The latest instance is army chief Kipchu Namgyal. 

Despite acclamation of democracy, the King has been using his executive powers. Whoever had played a key role in human rights violations in the past, the king has promoted to them to chief positions. The local residents are yet to acquire ability to protest government actions through demonstrations or writing in newspapers, the incidents of this kind would gradually tarnish people’s faith in an elected government and royal family.

King Jigme Khesar has promoted police chief Kipchu Namgyal to the post of Brigadier. He is the first police officer to reach that rank. All former police chiefs had held only Colonel position. Kipchu’s promotion is not a government decision but a royal award. As the supreme commander of all security forces, King promotes officers of the army, police and royal body guards at his will. 

Personal history of Kipchu Namgyal is as disputable as his promotion process is in legal terms. Born in north-west of Bhutan, Paro, Kipchu Namgyal is regarded as the closest and confident supporter. Precisely, he has received all annuities and facilities from palace through Namgyal Wangchuk, paternal uncle of former king Jigme SIngye.

Recruited to the police force in early 1980s, Kipchu’s initial training was held in Bhutan’s southern district Sarbhang (now renamed as Sarpang). During and after the training period, he stayed in southern districts for some time to make contacts with local people and study the geography. In longer run, his studies became useful to work as per the wish of the royal family. 

As an informed police officer on southern Bhutan, the then government made optimum use of Kipchu Namgyal during the 1990 suppression. For personal interests and gain, Kipchu also made best utilization of his capabilities.

Kipchu Namgyal, who had acquired the authority to arrest and determine the forms of torture to principal figures from southern districts during 1990s, had built his relations with the royal palace during this particular period. Namgyal Wangchuk, who was enraged with the report presented by councilor Tek Nath Rizal alleging him of being involved in corruption, met the best mate in Kipchu Namgyal for revenge. Shortly after the outburst of suppression era, Kipchu was promoted to the post of Major. 

The witnesses of brutalities Kipchu carried out during 1990-92 period do not regard him a human soul, but a human figure. During this period, he repeatedly travelled between Thimphu and southern districts. He has leadership role in arresting and ferrying citizens from southern districts for torture in Thimphu jail. Knowing the capacity of adopting new techniques for torture and suppression, king had appointed him as the chief of crime bureau. Torture and inhuman torture on prisoners increased manifold forth his promotion. Tek Nath Rizal, who spent 10 years of torturous life in Bhutanese jails has in his latest book ‘Torture killing me softly’ mentioned some of the inhuman activities of Kipchu Namgyal.

Kipchu used to send prisoners to senior police and army officers to work as domestic servants. In return, he not only received appreciation but also rights to adopt any measures for torturing prisoners. 

He was an excellent officer in term of compelling the prisoners to accept fake charges. For instances, when Thug Bahadur Rai of Lamidanda denied accepting government allegations at the court, Kipchu Namgyal took hostage Rai’s father and ferried him to court in Thimphu where he was forced to speak that his son was notorious since childhood. All cases of prisoners filed at the court were handled by Kipchu and he himself was in charged to table all documents on behalf of police force to prove government allegations against the prisoner. In some instances, he had interfered into court ruling saying he has received direct orders from the king on particular case.

Not only his personality but his process of promotion is disputable. The new Police Act passed by the lasted session of parliament mentions that police force is under Home Ministry. The police force is operated and managed by the ministry. On the other hand, the constitution names king as the supreme commander of the police force, thus creating confusions whether the police is under government or royal palace. When the king promotes his favorites such as Kipchu Namgyal in police force, whose prime duty is to support government’s day to day activities, it is certain that this particular security agency’s leadership will have more allegiance towards royal palace compared to government. It will hamper government’s initiative for maintaining orders. In addition to that, it has provided some substantial proof for argument how powerful is government termed to be elected and executive is.

Bhutan does not have any human rights mechanism nor are there any institutions to speak on human rights issues. Consequently, everyone has been mere spectator during the promotion of human rights abusers such as Kipchu Namgyal. UN, which does so advocacy on human rights in other countries, has remained a mere spectator in Bhutanese context. Despite improving the human rights situation of the country after the acclamation of democracy, Bhutan has indeed promoted lawlessness by promoting abusers. If the elected government did not take cautious step on time, such incidents will in long term blemish Bhutan’s image.