Senator Jeanne Shaheen, member of the senate foreign relations committee sent a concern letter to Tshering Tobgay, Prime minister of Bhutan, through Bhutan’s permanent mission in New York April 25, 2016. The letter is confirmed received by the mission’s Kunzang Namgyal, according to an email received by BNS.
The letter states the concern over human rights issue of the Lhotshampa people inside Bhutan and also the refugees in Nepal who want to return Bhutan. Calling for the PM’s attention on this matter, Senator Shaheen writes, “…to ask for your attention to a matter of importance to me and my constituents in the state of New Hampshire- that is the status of Bhutanese Lhotshampa refugees in the countries surrounding Bhutan, mainly Nepal, as well as the status of Lhotshampa who remain in Bhutan but are not afforded the same rights and privileges as your other citizens.”
In regard to the status of refugees in camps, Senator Shaheen writes, “I understand that our State Department is working with your government, the Nepalese government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to find durable solution for these individuals that includes a mix of repatriation and local integration.”
According to Suraj Budathoki, the executive director of International Campaign for Human Rights in Bhutan, a great deal of advocacy and correspondence is involved in sending this letter to Bhutan through a senator serving in the foreign relations committee has been working with multiple senators at state level and in the White House to raise the cause of human rights issue in Bhutan.
On July 30, 1993 Congressional Human Rights Caucus of US House of Representatives had also written a letter to the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck stating,’…we ask that your government do everything in its power to end any practice of pressuring ethnic Nepalese to leave their homes in Bhutan, and we ask that you work with the government of Nepal to facilitate to return to Bhutan who have been forced to flee..” It is believed that the letter played vital role and the eviction process was brought to an end. Otherwise, the home ministry’s order to southern administration was all destined to empty the districts inhabited by Lhotshampa.
Suraj is hoping to get a response from Bhutan, but he also hopes to resolve some pertinent human rights issues remaining even after resettlement is at the terminal point. The fight is for justice that has been denied for generations, per Suraj.
Suraj says, “Our attempt is also to open up a diplomatic relationship between Bhutan and the US.”
The letter to Bhutan’s PM does not mention anything about former visits by US officials including senator John McCain and undersecretary Maria Otero.
The letter also speaks on the travel of Bhutanese American to their ancestral land in Bhutan, asking the government to allow visa to the naturalized Bhutanese so that they can unite with their families left behind. BNS has learned that couple cases of visa application has been denied and the initial charges of application not returned.
Meanwhile Hillary Clinton’s letter to Suraj Budathoki mentions about continuing her unfinished task of defending human rights. It mentions- Issues specific to Bhutanese refugees were at the top of our bilateral agenda with Bhutan during my tenure as Secretary of State.
Suraj wrote to BNS, “Many of us who arrived here as refugees have now become citizens of this great country. We enjoy rights that we did not have in Bhutan. We admire efforts made by the US to encourage universal human rights around the world. While we are no longer in our country of origin, we deeply care about the happiness and rights of everyone in Bhutan and among those who were exiled. Senator Shaheen’s letter to Bhutan’s Prime Minister, we hope, is a step toward resolving the many issues that face us.”