BAF advocates for HR, justice: Karki


Earlier this month, a group of Bhutanese refugees arrived at Schiphol after a long journey that brought them from the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal to their new home in The Netherlands. One of the first to greet them at the airport was Ram Chhetri, a fellow Bhutanese who made the same journey in 2002. He has been living in the Netherlands ever since and besides being an active member of the Bhutanese community and advocating human rights for the Bhutanese he has been running a restaurant named ‘Himalayan’ in the centre of The Hague. Marnix van der Beek from Global Human Rights Defence met up with Mr. Chhetri in his restaurant and spoke to him about integration, the Bhutanese living in exile and the recently founded Bhutanese Advocacy Forum.

GHRD: You seem to have integrated into the Dutch society very well, you have your own restaurant, you speak Dutch and you recently received your Dutch passport. What advice would you give to your fellow Bhutanese who are arriving in the Netherlands, in terms of integration?
Karki: Well I have met with almost all the Bhutanese who are brought to the Netherlands for the resettlement programme and the suggestion or advice I would give to them is to concentrate more on the language, the Dutch language and to interact more with the Dutch society. Make friends with the Dutch people, go to their homes and bring them to your homes and offer tea or coffee, go out onto the market and speak Dutch.
And above all, to find volunteer work, “vrijwilligerswerk”. Instead of staying at home all the time. I advice them to ask the local authorities to provide them with voluntary work so they can interact with the Dutch people. That is the best way to integrate in a society.

GHRD: In your experience, do the Dutch people know anything about Bhutan or the situation for the refugees, are they aware of these issues?
No they are not aware of that. The first group of Bhutanese refugees who resettled in The Netherlands were given a place to live in Friesland. Two families, my brothers, were given houses there to live. So what happened, one day somebody threw a stone at my brother’s windows. So what I did was make an appointment with the mayor. And I took my brothers to her and we talked about this problem that somebody was throwing stones and that people were suspicious of us and that we were scared to live there. And what the mayor told us was to make an appointment with a journalist. And I even suggested to her to send a local journalist to their homes and write down in the local newspapers about them; who are they? why did they come to the Netherlands? what kind of people are they? what do they eat? what is their religion? Anything!

Ram Karki.
Ram Karki.

So they published their story with pictures and all the descriptions that they came from Bhutan and that they were the victims of human rights violations. That they were brought to the Netherlands by the Dutch government and they didn’t come by themselves. So then the people started reading about their history. Nowadays they are feeling very comfortable, all the villagers come to their home, they put flowers, they decorate their house. And the children will take the children to their homes.

GHRD: In general, how are the Bhutanese doing in terms of integration and learning the language?
Well the Bhutanese resettlement has just started one and a half years back. So all the Bhutanese refugees were tired after living in the refugee camps for 20 years, they were tense and mentally depressed. So now they are just starting their lives, so they haven’t started founding jobs yet. They have just started adapting to their new environment.

GHRD: Are you optimistic for the future? Do you think the Bhutanese will be able to integrate well?
Yes, quite a few of them have started the ‘taalexamen 2’ which is the highest level of Dutch language course, to get admission into the universities. So 5 or 6 of the Bhutanese refugees are doing that exam, to go for the higher studies and they are doing fine.

GHRD: You are involved in the recently founded Bhutanese Advocacy Forum, (BAF) could you tell us how this forum was established?
Last year in the first weeks of December, there was a demonstration in Geneva. And the Bhutanese refugees from around Europe, altogether 16 of them were gathered in Geneva in front of the United Nations office to protest the false human rights report presented to the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council by the Bhutanese government. We had a lot of appointments, but every time we go the appointments we are going as individual Bhutanese refugees. That made us quite uneasy, because everywhere we go they ask for visiting card, our designation, which organization we are representing. So we were in an embarrassing situation most of the time and our appointments didn’t bear any good fruits. So on the fourth of December 2009 in a hotel room in Geneva we organized a meeting and in the meeting we decided to form a loose human rights forum. That forum is very loose, it constitutes around few refugees, who are like-minded, who wanted to do advocacy work from Europe on a voluntary basis. Our main goal is to advocate the human rights and justice for the Bhutanese people living in Bhutan. Because Europe is such a strategic location for Bhutan with the EU, the UN in Geneva, the Netherlands’ government, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, these are the main funding countries of Bhutan, the main developmental partners of Bhutan. So we are here so we could at least advocate for the human rights in Bhutan with these governments, so then those governments will put human rights conditions to Bhutan before they provide any funding.

GHRD: What is the position of the BAF on the UNHCR resettlement programme?
We want the resettlement programme to go as fast as possible at this moment. We do not want to comment anymore on repatriation. Because the people that have been living in the camps since 1991 are tired. They are living in a very miserable condition for two decades. So we don’t want them to stay in the same situation. That is why we don’t advocate for the repatriation of the Bhutanese refugees to Bhutan. But our concern is: let the resettlement procedure go in the same way as now, as smoothly as possible.

GHRD: And about the human rights situation in Bhutan itself, what do you think the BAF can achieve?
We don’t have very big ends and objectives, we are just a forum to advocate for human rights and justice in Bhutan by living in Europe. So our objective is to raise awareness in Europe about the discrimination and injustice done to the Southern Bhutanese, to the Eastern Bhutanese and to the Bhutanese in general by the government of Bhutan. And we want to raise awareness among the European governments and the people that the democracy that has been introduced now in Bhutan is not a real democracy it is not inclusive. More than 80.000 people who are living in the south, who are the relatives of the refugees were not given the right to vote in the last 2008 election. So their rights have been grossly violated and if we don’t advocate strongly for them then maybe one day or another they will be thrown out of the country like they did to us.



  1. Ramji,
    I do not know you personally but have heard sure enough to make my judgement in to saying that you are one that our people around should be enthused of. To be a refugee in itself is the last option any rational person would seek for; forget about the series of unfortunate circumstances and exigencies that befall in the course as one. Despite all such odds you have not only cruised through with grit and consistence to prosper your personal life, you have plucked up enough courage to hold up our commune. I am inspired! Keep up your trend and I hope to hear more about you and your performances in future. Much kudos, Karkiji!

  2. Good job. Please launch a serious campaign together with European NGOs and civil society groups for an international fact finding in Bhutan during 1980s-1990s to assess human rights violations to file criminal cases against violators of human rights in Bhutan. You need to put more efforts.

  3. “Against a tide of international criticism in the 1990s the government of Bhutan maintained that the mass exodus of Nepalese from southern Bhutan was not a result of government or military pressure on citizens, but was a result of the refugees’ own secret little plan. Leaving Bhutan in droves was Stage I of the Plan. Coming back to Bhutan in force of numbers and on their terms was supposed to be Stage II.

    Many of the refugees-to-be wholeheartedly supported this plan. The concept of a Greater Nepal featured prominently in the delusions of the Nepalese diaspora those days, encouraged no doubt by the successes of the Gorkhaland movement in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Many of them relished the idea of Bhutan going the Sikkim way. Kanak M. Dixit, a prominent editor from Nepal even wrote a cover page article on Bhutan revealingly titled “House of Cards” that seemed to foresee imminent collapse in Bhutan (Kanak Mani Dixit: House of cards: fearing for Bhutan. Himal Vol.7 No 4, July/August 1994.). Such sentiments had to be carefully hidden however and not surprisingly were heatedly denounced as some RGOB bogey.

    Read more on this here:

  4. So, Rauju: The mostly illiterate subsistence farmers of Southern Bhutan, many of whom lived in quiet isolation except for their annual shopping for salt and sugar from the markets hours or days away, all of a sudden conceived of this grand design to create a greater Nepal and hatched this scheme and left the country. Only with a even greater scheme to come back in droves and take over a country and administration that was as mysterious, secret and opaque as any in the world. And we should all believe this theory rather than the one espoused by the refugees who have lived in indignity for almost two decades: that the ruling elites of Bhutan, threatened by the movement for Gorkhaland nearby, once bitten by the democratic movement initiated by the southern Bhutanese in the 1950s, alarmed by the movement for democracy in nearby Nepal, decided to get rid of what they thought to be the potential destabilizing factor in Bhutan’s politics.

    One can have theories and one can parade them as facts. But then there is the greater world out there one needs to convince. And that world listens to both or all sides as the case may be, does its own research and arrives at its own conclusion. Good luck with the blatant lies the blog you provided a link to propagates, but one needs to understand that philosophers with agendas or ‘researchers’ with stakes in Bhutan are less trustworthy than folks who conduct research without anticipating pecuniary or political rewards. Michael Hutt writes eloquently about the atrocities of the ‘compassionate Buddhists’ of Bhutan. The world sees more substance in what he writes than in the venom people like you spawn.

  5. One more piece of news of interest to folks like Rauju up there. Watch this Carlin clip:

    Gross (gross) National Happiness is the Bhutanese dream, and you gotta be asleep to believe it. Some southern Bhutanese were not happy enough to be dumb technocrats the de facto owners of Bhutan wanted them to be. Some others, just like us, were content to be dumb and happy. Some of us, who did not care one hoot either way, got suckered into the nasty deal just because we looked like one party and spoke their language.

    Anyway, don’t really need any of your rotten cheese but will keep setting the record straight, no matter how long it takes and no matter how irritating it gets.

  6. Bhotangey, see what trouble-making Nepalese leaders are doing now in Darjeeling and Kamlimpong. It was not the simple villagers that were making this Greater Nepal plan, but the so-called refugee leaders like Rizal, Basnet and the likes. They were encouraged by their cronies in Nepal and Darjeeling. And then they began to threaten simple villagers who were not willing to cooperate.

    Let me quote from a well written article on this issue. “There was a militant wing among the refugees that offered to shorten by 6 inches anybody who did not cooperate. Translated bluntly, this was an offer of a beheading. Since the refugees were shrewdly trying to craft a picture of a persecuted minority, this fact too had to be denied. The refugee leaders cleverly deflected the blame for the exodus on a ‘despotic kingdom’ dabbling in the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of a ‘peaceful minority’. Now which self-respecting headline reader could resist buzzwords as catchy as these?

    ……………. “Finding lessons for Bhutan from the happenings in India and Nepal has been a habit among the Nepalese leaders in Bhutan. Their agitations in Bhutan in 1952 and 1990 following the successes of the uprisings against the British in India and against the monarchy in Nepal respectively bear this out. So it was no surprise that in the successes of the Maoists of Nepal the refugee leaders found inspiration and they promptly created their very own Maoist group. Unfortunately in their excitement they forgot about the US’ penchant for overreacting to anything communist or even the colour red. Not surprisingly the US became unduly alarmed by this and decided enough was enough and offered to clear the camps with a sweeping offer of resettlement in the USA.* Most of the refugees jumped at the offer as they saw it for what it was – an opportunity of a life time.

    In this happy solution however the refugee leaders have found despair. Who will they lead is the main question. What will become of them as leaders? These hard questions have triggered the return of their hidden true nature and despite the risk of losing their hard earned image of peaceful refugees, they have once again resumed their old role of ‘guiding’ the people. According to them, the US offer is simply no good. No doubt being six inches shorter has something to do with it. Reports from Nepal describe a rapidly worsening situation as the Bhutan Communist Party and the Bhutan Tigers’ Front intensified their ‘campaign’ against third-country resettlement.

    Such is the level of fear and intimidation that has gripped the refugee camps that dozens of families have fled the camps for their safety. Many refugees now find safety in the surrounding villages.

    If there is one thing that is worse than becoming a refugee, it is for a refugee to have to seek refuge FROM a refugee camp. Abraham Abraham, the Country Representative of the UNHCR camps in Nepal must answer up to this incredible failure.
    And it is high time that he and the UNHCR organization acknowledge the sinister role played by the refugee leaders in the creation of the refugee tragedy.”

  7. It is funney to see here that the politicians in exile are turning towards human rights propaganda whihe human rights activists are silent. When there was mass violation of human rights in Bhutan and in the camp was taking place in early 1990 up to the turn of the centuary these funny pseudo so calleed human rights workers were silent. Instead they were also involving in violating others rights or misusing common people to meet their political goal. Now the human rights situation is some what improved comparing to earlier so what is point in advocating for the huma rights? What area of human rights is he going to address? I see simply he is fooling others ?????????????????????????

  8. Rauju: If “It was not the simple villagers that were making this Greater Nepal plan, but the so-called refugee leaders like Rizal, Basnet and the likes,” then why are the camps filled with innocent villagers? Could not the Bhutanese government pick up Basnet, and Budathoki, and the rest of them just like they picked up Rizal and Gazmere and Pokhrel? Why the eviction of the innocent villagers? Why the rapes? Why the intimidation? Now, don’t you give me the “they left of their own free will” bogey. One-sixth of a country’s population, especially of a peaceful country like Bhutan, does not leave of its own free will within such a short span of time.

  9. Bhotangey, I guess you were not even born or too small to understand what was happening when the 1990s problem happened. In fact, what Bhutan was trying to do was only to drive back illegal immigrants to where they came from originally. But few refugee leaders made a big political agitation and incited all southern Bhutanese. The Govt. asked the genuine citizens not to leave, but they left because they were either brainwashed or threatened with ‘beheading’. “There was a militant wing among the refugees that offered to shorten by 6 inches anybody who did not cooperate. Translated bluntly, this was an offer of a beheading.” So, many refugees left not because they were driven away by Bhutanese military as you claim, but because they were too scared of being beheaded by the thugs that belonged to groups like BPP. Do you understand now?

  10. Thanx a lot for your inspirational work. You really had amazed we all the new generations but everybody is neglecting this group. please try to keep in this mind. Life in the refugee camp is only known well by those who wasted their life under the plastic for many years.