After the southern Bhutanese problem in 1990 and demand of Democracy and Human Rights emanated from the discriminatory ethnic cleansing policy of the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) led by the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuk and forcefully evicting 110,000 Lhotsampas arbitrarily depriving nationality and citizenship though living in Bhutan for generations, the 100 year old absolute monarchy relented to constitutional monarchy in 2008. The king Jigme Singye Wangchuk even abdicated the throne to his eldest son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and officially enthroned on 6th November 2008 as fifth king of Bhutan. The abdication was taken as philanthropic and generosity of the king Jigme Singye Wangchuk and not power thirsty by the International community and people of Bhutan considered Democracy as a gift from the fourth King notwithstanding that it was over due in 1993 itself as declared by the king that he would abdicate the throne if he could not solve the southern Bhutanese problem by that time and the result of struggle and the sacrifice of southern Bhutanese. He dragged on till 2007 and the southern Bhutanese problem specifically the Bhutanese refugees’ problem remained unresolved then.
To smoother his guilt of crime against humanity and divert the attention of International community pressurizing on repatriating the Bhutanese refugees to their own homesteads in Bhutan, the democracy was floated. A constitution drafting committee was formed in 2006. The much awaited country’s constitution was drafted but vesting sacro sanct power to the king and empowering the democratic government to execute just the development plans. On the other side, RGOB adopted a strategy to lobby the International community in the name of democracy that if it had to repatriate the Refugees from the camp, the very foundation of the Democracy would be shaken and there would be question of survival of the fledgling democracy as Refugees in the camps are politically conscious and motivated and which the gullible International community believed hypocrite Bhutan government. Further, taking advantage of the gullible International community, went ahead to allege with its fear psychosis that the southern Bhutanese of Nepali speaking would swamp up the northern Bhutanese and make Bhutan a Sikkim like situation fully knowing that who was the main person to merge Sikkim with India and why?
The unstable government in Nepal, continuous political imbroglio, weak diplomatic dealings with Bhutan government coupled with lack of charismatic central Bhutanese Refugee leadership and disunity was propitious moment for International community to look for other alternative to resolve the protracted refugee problem on humanitarian ground as continuous assistance to 110,000 refugees indefinitely was becoming difficult as there was growing donor fatigue. Meanwhile, the International community, especially the US wanted to fish out of the trouble water with Bhutan at the cost of Refugees’ right to return. It bargained with RGOB to take the Bhutanese refugees for resettlement in lieu of establishment of permanent American Embassy in Bhutan, which of course yet not materialized. Bhutan agreed in alacrity. Eight countries namely, the USA, UK, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Canada, Australia and New Zealand formed a core group for accepting refugees. The ongoing third country resettlement program then began in 2008. Till date more than 75000 refugees are resettled. The USA agreed to take the highest number of refugees. The eight core countries besides humanitarian resolution of the Bhutanese refugees concomitantly endorsed the systematic ethnic cleansing policy of the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the perpetrator and thus given clean chit to crime against humanity. It can be further substantiated by their silence on issue of repatriation and the right to return of the willing refugees and not accepting resettlement. The resettlement is left to the refugees as Hobson’s choice instead of side by side executing the other two options of repatriation and local assimilation that was initial assurance pronounced by UNHCR and the core countries. Not only that, despite our incessant apprise of the pathetic situation of refugees’ relatives still living in Bhutan and Tibetan refugees without nationality and citizenship in various census category of Bhutan, deprived from government facilities and taking part in much hyped democracy and right to vote, the International community that espouse human rights and democracy in the world are quiet. There are about known 80,000 southern Bhutanese and about 5000 Tibetans, virtually stateless still in Bhutan. It is a wonder to see the International community, especially the eight core countries so apathetic and prejudicial to southern Bhutanese and what inhibits the International community to speak about those suppress, oppress, voiceless and helpless people while they make much ado on issue of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya et al.
The Democracy in Bhutan is just an eyewash to the International community. In fact the rein of power is in the hand of the king remotely controlled by the fifth king Jigme Singye Wangchuk as all the political parties’ first pledge to serve the kings and then the country and the people. The king has established welfare office parallel to district administration in different part of the country to look after the welfare of the people. There is king’s relief fund for welfare of the people but no prime minister’s relief fund as in other democratic country. There are five political parties registered for the coming parliamentary election that would be held in June/July 2013 as the fifth year term of the ruling government will be over by April 2013. Although three new parties are registered and in the election fray, the Election Commission had already issued standing order notice restricting people assembling, hold mass meeting, perform religious ceremonies, funeral rites and celebrate mass marriage. Not to discuss politics in open for early campaign.
Besides development activities, the interesting thing, there is no mention in their manifestoes of crucial, serious and sensitive national problem of southern Bhutanese including the refugee problem. Yet, the very southern districts are considered strategically very important to all five political parties. The omission indicates that how concern are the political parties on the national issue and to what extent they are inhibited by the government policy to speak about the southern Bhutanese problem and their welfare and resolution of the manifesting problem through rapprochement and national reconciliation. The media in Bhutan are restricted to write mostly the government version and anything serious especially in favor of the southern Bhutanese and their human right violation invites reprimand or action by the government. Some websites critical of government policies are being censored. No outside media are allowed unless invited inside Bhutan that would expose the government misdemeanors. Therefore Democracy in Bhutan is exclusive, rhetoric and functions with a rider.
The opinions expressed here are the writer’s personal view, and doesn’t officially represent the Bhutan News Service. The writer chairs Human Rights Organizations of Bhutan (HUROB), and can be contacted at [email protected]
- Rup Narayan Pokhrel from the United States edited this article