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HR in Bhutan: what can we expect?

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Keeping citizenship and census pending for generations has been deeply ingrained in the system. Civil liberty is not guaranteed by the fledgling democracy of the Kingdom. After one generation of stateless people is bred, it multiplies, and that gives the authority of Home Ministry reason to criminalize these generations of being illegal immigrants who entered through porous border.
Human rights and democracy in Bhutan are topics being very recently discussed in the parliament with little hope and more skepticism. The traditional bureaucrats who have now camouflaged to political elites, are all confused and perplexed to handle constitutional posts and shoulder responsibility to deliver rights and justice guaranteed by the constitution. Human rights situation have long been in a degrading situation with no freedom of expression, thoughts, association etc unless directed by the royal command. Efforts to improve the situation, at least on the face of defending human rights situation in UPR, have no implications. The general public remain uninformed about the constitutional rights they can actually exercise. Thus, the parliament is showcasing the discussion on human rights issues in the country but limited to its periphery.

Not up to the mark

The parliamentary committee on Human rights formed in June 2008, is the only body to oversee the human rights issues, which in fact is not comprised of HR experts. There is non-existence of an independent Human rights body as a constitutional organ to monitor human rights violation across the country. Although the parliamentary HR committee has set its foot to visit some jails and detention centers in the country and found deteriorating human rights situation, the recommendations made are just few to improve the situation. Moreover, it needs seriousness on the part of implementation. The committee actually unveiled the lies that the government told the world in 90s and early millennium that no such violation existed in Bhutan because of the government’s Buddhist nature of loving all sentient beings.

The jails and the detention centers are all controlled by the police and armed forces of Royal government. No attorneys are available to the detainees to defend their case more independently in the court. The cases of most political prisoners in Chemgang prison, for instance, were determined unilaterally by the government lawyers who are not free of prejudice and mostly gagged by the government policy of disallowing the dissent voices. The committee report have not considered this aspect of the rights of inmates to seek fair trial. Overcrowding, unavailability of toilet and bathrooms, isolation, cruel treatment of inmates by thrashing, punching on faces, use of electric shocks, blindfolding, trampling with boots, use of shackles even in hospital bed are continuing in Bhutanese prison. Many of the more degrading human rights situation goes unreported and unrecorded in district jails like Samdrupjongkhar, Dadimakha, Rabuna , Trashigang and Trongsa.

The undercurrents of human rights violation is not easy to feel in the context of Bhutanese legal system and legal terminology used in Dzongkha language. ‘Thrim’ in Dzongkha refers to the punishment given to the wrongdoer. But ‘Chathrim’ refers to the main law, whereas ‘thrimsungchhenmo’ refers to the constitution and ‘thrimpon’ is a judge. In other words, law is associated to punishment, constitution is a way to greater punishment and a judge is the head of punishment. This ambiguous use of derogatory word synonymously for the law, justice and constitution has given an advantage to the administrative officials, court officials and police to coerce the common people with no knowledge of law and constitutional rights. It is a form of human rights violation when the people misunderstand punishment for legal measures, or for the constitutional provisions in the course of seeking justice.

Fundamental rights remain unprotected by the law, specially for those who cannot reach out to higher officials or Dashos and even the police. Ganga’s son was taken to jail just for eloping with a girl but she was not able to get the justice, for she knew eloping was not a crime. A nineteen year old woman from east could not get her child’s right protected even moving to court to determine the father of her child (How people friendly is our legal system, kuenselonline 31 October 2010). So justice for such folks does mean punishment as the national language prescribe for them.

Violation of property rights

Human rights violation with respect to the ownership of land and access to other natural resources goes commonly unnoticed. The Bhutanese peasants indeed do not understand that it is the violation of fundamental rights. Villagers in Sarpang(previous Sarbhang) district are accused of owning orange orchard illegally in government land. The orchards are auctioned by the government which benefited the village heads at the cost of income to its actual owner. The land is made illegal after the eviction of people from these villages, and now turned to government land simply by assumption based survey( Illegally owned govt. land, kuenselonline 20 sept.2010).

Taking away of previously private land and providing the income of gold harvest to another person is a gross violation of right to own property and right to live, perpetrated by the democratic government of DPT.

As enshrined in Article 7.14 of the constitution, no one will be deprived of property by acquisition or requisition, except for public purpose and on fair payment of compensation, as per law. Yet nothing of the constitutional provision applied in the above case of deprivation of property by the government.

No voting rights

Controversy over the voting rights sparked some debate in the National Assembly, which prompted the opposition leader to question the dual part of prime minister in politics and being a member of religious organization, Mahabodhi Society.

Members of religious organizations were denied voting rights making an excuse that religion and politics should be separated, so the members should refrain from voting. In Bhutan all people belong to one or other religious groups, if not organization, be it Hinduism or Buddhism or Christianity. According to one media report, 2,277 eligible voters belong to two religious organizations, while Young Buddhist Association of Bhutan alone has 2000 student members aged 18 to 35(Bhutan Observer, October 1, 2010). Denial of voting is the most severe violation of people’s right to participate in democracy and governance. It is against the Article 7.6 of constitution, “ A Bhutanese citizen shall have right to vote.”

Education and child rights

While the government is making unusual pretensions to have succeeded in enrolling more than 75 percent children in schools, the children in some southern villages have no schools to go within half or an hour walking distance. Some of the middle schools and primary schools are still serving the army barracks. Goshi junior high school has been never opened to students since 1990. Now education minister is not able to say why security forces cannot move away from Sibsoo junior high school to allow the children take their classes.

It is probably the first time that a minister is asked about the reopening of school closed after 1990 and the Bhutanese media carried such rights-based news of parliamentary proceedings.

Bhutan ratified the convention on child rights back in 1990 and submitted first country report in 1999. But no Bhutanese child knew about the convention and their rights, at the time when they faced violation in schools with corporal punishment as severe as whipping or caning even for simple reason of not attending school assembly or evening prayers. Now, students and the parents fear the security forces to demand their right to study in their school, which was built by their contribution of labor. A good number of children below 18 years are also facing the exploitation as domestic workers, construction laborers, commuter assistants hotel stewards and even ‘sex-gifts’.

Right of every child to learn one’s mother tongue at least to primary level is violated in Bhutan. No sarchhop children could learn sarchhopkha in primary schools and for Nepali speaking southern Bhutanese it was abolished in 1989. So, about 60 percent of the population do not have the right to be literate in their mother-tongue.

Nepali had been the official language in Bhutan alongside Dzongkha since the institution of monarchy in 1907 as reflected in important government documents of 1957/58.

Conclusion

The foregoing discussion is an epitome of what rights the Bhutanese people are enjoying even after written constitution is the guiding law and lawmakers are sent through popular voting for running a democratic government. The media is in dilemma to cover the news of human rights violation as their own right to disseminate information is jeopardized by BICMA act. Several recommendations made by the committee on child rights remain unheeded. The police and armed forces are not sensitized on rights issue. Much of the data on human rights situation go unrecorded because of absence of any rights group to monitor and the field data are as usual filled out with an assumption. Discrepancy in the data has resulted the country’s HDR ranking to go blank for 2010.

It needs more political commitment and sincerity in implementation of justice, freedom and fundamental rights to the citizens to make GNH realized for all Bhutanese.

RN Pokhrel contributed to this write-up

13 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Bhudda Dai,
    I am very pleased to read your article. I am regular reader of your articles and I enjoy reading it. But, I think it would be better to include few positive as well as nagative developements that are taking place inside Bhutan. Yes, many facts which you mentioned above are real. I would also like to read something new and positive which can have positive impression to us about our country. After all we will remain Bhutanese in our heart though we will have ‘American Citizen’ or other nationalities.

  2. Dhakal wrote: “Human rights and democracy in Bhutan are topics being very recently discussed in the parliament with little hope and more skepticism.”

    Well, democracy and human rights are very vague topics. There are no right or wrong answers or solutions to problems encompassing these topics. Discussions, compalins and even agitations against democracy and human rights will go on during your and my life time and beyond because there is no wholesome answers to these issues.

    Dhakal wrote: “traditional bureaucrats who have now camouflaged to political elites, are all confused and perplexed to handle constitutional posts and shoulder responsibility to deliver rights and justice guaranteed by the constitution.”

    Perhaps Bhutanese bureaucrats are smart. They are not bewildered but rather conscious about entrusting responsibilities. They want to ensure that persons who shoulders the responsibilities don’t misuse authority –like your idol Tek Nath did in 1980s. Bhutanese love to learn from its own mistakes and mistakes from others in which case, mistakes from Nepal.

    Dhakal wrote: “Human rights situation have long been in a degrading situation with no freedom of expression, thoughts, association etc unless directed by the royal command. Efforts to improve the situation, at least on the face of defending human rights situation in UPR, have no implications. The general public remain uninformed about the constitutional rights they can actually exercise. Thus, the parliament is showcasing the discussion on human rights issues in the country but limited to its periphery.”

    Human Rights situation was degraded not because of the government of Bhutan but because of the violent activities carried out by notorious political activists of Bhutan People Party formed in the refugee camp who beheaded anyone who don’t support their party. It becomes the responsibility of any responsible government to defend it’s soveriegnity and the peaceful existence of its citizenry, even through the use of force. That was exactly what had happened in Bhutan and it will continue. It is as simple as, that if thousand of peoples’ right is protected by arresting a few disgrutled people and imprisoning them, it is not wrong to do. Every nation does that, so does Bhutan. Trying doing that in America and see where you will land!

    Dhakal wrote: “The jails and the detention centers are all controlled by the police and armed forces of Royal government.

    Jail is a place where criminal are kept. So it is laways guarded to make sure that they don’t escape and endanger others. And it is, again, true everywhere. If not, why did the US government sent hundreds to guard prisoners in Gauntanamo Bay?

    Dhakal wrote: “Overcrowding, unavailability of toilet and bathrooms, isolation, cruel treatment of inmates by thrashing, punching on faces, use of electric shocks, blindfolding, trampling with boots, use of shackles even in hospital bed are continuing in Bhutanese prison. Many of the more degrading human rights situation goes unreported and unrecorded in district jails like Samdrupjongkhar, Dadimakha, Rabuna , Trashigang and Trongsa.”

    That is why it is called ‘jail’. It is not a palace; it is not a hotel. So, it is possible that all amenities many not be in place but some of the blames you put forth, are just imaginery and baseless blame.

    Dhakal wrote: “While the government is making unusual pretensions to have succeeded in enrolling more than 75 percent children in schools, the children in some southern villages have no schools to go within half or an hour walking distance. Some of the middle schools and primary schools are still serving the army barracks. Goshi junior high school has been never opened to students since 1990. Now education minister is not able to say why security forces cannot move away from Sibsoo junior high school to allow the children take their classes.”

    It is 90 percent enrollment in oppose to 75 percent you mentioned. Some of the schools in southern Bhutan still remains closed due to security threat posed by the refugee maoists whom infilters through porus Indian borders. But, most parents living in those areas are sending their children to study in safer places. And, because education is free in Bhutan, including free boarding and meals, it really don’t matter where they go to school. Your accusation is simply gross.

    Dhakal wrote: “Bhutan ratified the convention on child rights back in 1990 and submitted first country report in 1999. But no Bhutanese child knew about the convention and their rights, at the time when they faced violation in schools with corporal punishment as severe as whipping or caning even for simple reason of not attending school assembly or evening prayers. Now, students and the parents fear the security forces to demand their right to study in their school, which was built by their contribution of labor. A good number of children below 18 years are also facing the exploitation as domestic workers, construction laborers, commuter assistants hotel stewards and even ‘sex-gifts’.

    I don’t think even the children of a most educated people in the west know all about their rights, except calling 911 in the US when parents advices them to not do bad things. But I have seen during my visits in the west that the parents who values traditional values discipline their children. The Bhutanese children don’t need to know about the rights, when the children and their parents are rightly shaping their future in right direction. I have heard, if not read, news that the refugees in America are facing cultural shock, because their children are revolting and demanding for their rights and, as a result, more and more parents are committing sucide. Our Bhutanese children don’t need to know the rights that gives them the right to revolt against their parents. We want to raise children based on values not based on their rights.

    Your accusation that children under 18 work in hotels, is just insane. Just because you are in America cannot compare with American. Children working is on need base. If they need money to support themselves, they should work. By working they not only gain experience but earn money. American children who are age 16, 17 or 18 work in fastfood restaurants. Their parents encourage them to work during vacations -to gain expereince. However, simply seeing them work during vacation don’t mean they are exploited. True is with Bhutanese children. Yes, they work – during vacations.

    Lastly, the GNH will flourish no matter how much you try to make it look bad. Many renowned scholars worldwide have appreciated and are reccommending their respective governments to incorporate GNH in their government policies.

  3. Dhakal Sir,
    The writeup has the weight & content but most of the information are estimates only. We assume and at times assumptions deviate from the main curve. All the time we feel of making Bhutan as Heaven, and there is nothing wrong to pin-point the loopeholes. And understand that refugee population served as the main opposition house. But the way we present and the approach we used caused the conflict in understanding.
    I have some concerns regarding the Dzongkha terminologies and as you connote, there arises certain degree of confusion. Definately the field needs refinement and expertises.
    Lotus Flower tried to clarify some of the issues, and there are good logic in his explanation. We cannot expect miracles to happen overnight. As a country it has constraints both in natural formation and human adoption. Human adoption may need higher station to view its perspective. Now people can give sufficient logic but during the intervention, government mostly the deployed staffs were bindfolded, cruel and monopolistics. It has become paradoxy like setting fire in a barn to kill the insects.
    Let’s expect that what has become is for the good and betterment of Bhutan and Bhutanese people.

  4. Lotus Flower whosoever you are you are putting the blame only on southern Bhutanese. You should be thankful at least they had the courage to challenge a dictatorial and most cruel government by sacrificing not only their land, property, homes but also their lives so that other Bhutanese will have freedom and democracy to live and enjoy. You must remember the killings in Bhutan were started by the government and not by the Lhotshampas. Man Bahadur Chhetri, a student of NIE was murdered by the government officials long before political parties were formed in Bhutan. The acts of violence were but an spontaneous response to the cruelty and barbarism RBP, RBA and RBG officials let loose in southern Bhutan by arresting and torturing anyone suspected to be an anti-national in 1980s. While I donot agree 100% with what Mr. Dhakal wrote he basically is trying to suggest more improvements in real sense are required when it comes to the questions of real freedom and human rights in the country of GNH. I hate people who blame only one section of population and forget that the problems for people are always created by the government by wrong and biased policies. And in the case of Bhutan the real trouble makers were DT and JSW who introduced policies that were against the traditional Bhutanese policy and norm of peaceful co-existence and respect for diverse ethnic and cultural groups.

  5. @ Lotus Flower
    Lotus, your arguments are totally baseless and don’t hold any water.Its crystal clear to all that the situation in Bhutan is still doom and gloom.Ha ha ha…. you teach moral values to your children??????The same moral lessons of ethnic cleansing????rape…????religious orthodoxy…..???killing innocents…???? looting the people???You teach the same values to your generation because you can only give what you have.A bad tree doesn’t yield good apples.A leopard cannot change its spots. Don’t you feel hesitation to say that all bhutanese children are getting free education when most of the southern bhutanese children have never seen schools???You are are simply trying to keep up your appearances but the reality is exactly the opposite.You are an armchair critic.Your arugument that bhutanese children don’t need to know the rights is behind the time.You are not allowing them to learn about their rights so that you can keep on exploiting them as long as you like.You mean to say that our people in resettled countries are commiting suicide just due to the cultural shock but what about the people who commit suicide in your country and in other parts of the world??Its a common thing that happen everywhere even in Bhutan but the medias are muzzled there. So such news don’t come out.Don’ feel proud of the dictated peace you are enjoying.Mad dog can bite anybody at any time. So,be careful with your own government.Your GNH will flourish only in the so called Royal Palace of Gigme singey Wangchuck and in the houses of his few servants.

  6. I agree with Raghu Ji.

    People kill themselves everywhere in the world, not only in America. Sometimes people kill themselves after they lose faith in themselves.

    Just a few days ago, I read a news that a 20-year old former Bhutanese refugee woman resettled in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, Miss Menuka Poudel, killed herself. Many commentators here on Bhutan News Service pointed fingers at resettle agencies, American culture, many other groups or factors and even close friends and family members of Ms. Menuka Poudel. A Bhutanese refugees leader Mr. Tek Nath Rizal also blamed “Resettlement in other countries” for the incidents of suicide in America.

    On December 13, 2010, responding to reports of suicide cases in the US, American Ambassador to Nepal, DeLisi said the government is serious about loss of a single life in America. “However, I don’t think this becomes an issue for discussion when we are to manage a mass of new lives.”

    Just a few days ago, I read another news coming out from Beldangi-II Extension, in Nepal, that one refugee has committed suicide Thursday morning. According to eyewitness, Garja Man Rai of Sector C-4, Hut no 56, was found hanging on the branch of tree inside the camp, very close to his hut, with the help of a plastic rope.

    It is common that when someone ordinary person, especially a woman is killed in a refugee camp in Nepal, for whatever reason, nobody says a word. All of these so-called “Young Bhutanese journalists in exile” remain quite. Why these young journalists apparently feel that only actions of Bhutan Royal Government constitute “Injustice”, but killing of a Bhutanese refugee woman in a camp by a Bhutanese refugee man does not constitute “Injustice”?

    I have watched a video on you tube’s website in which dead body of a Bhutanese refugee woman was shown, whose throat was cut by her husband. I also have read news of few other women killed in refugee camps in Nepal by their own husbands or relatives. None of these so-called “Young Bhutanese journalists in exile” ever made any comment on those incidents. A true journalist never fights against a Government, but he/she fights against injustice. I think overthrowing the legal Government of Bhutan should not be a goal for any journalist, but fighting against injustice, cruel treatment of humans and inequality, should be their goal.

    I salute Bhutan News Service for posting comments of commentators like Lotus Flower, who apparently presents the views of Bhutan Government. I like Bhutan News Service because it allows both parties to present the views of who oppose Bhutanese Government and who support Bhutan Government.

    The only thing I do not like about Bhutan News Service is that it allows some readers to post hateful and insulting comments directed at those who present opposing views. I hope BNS will some day will realize the fact that it has a LEGAL and moral responsibility to allow its readers to express their opinions without being discriminated against based on their religion, race or nationality, or personally attacked by those who do not agree.

    We readers are here to exchange opinions in a friendly and civilized manner, and we all must respect others opinions and views.

    Mr. Shahid M. Pasha, Massachusetts, USA

  7. Mr. Pasha,

    You are just trying to blow up cases of ‘killing of women’ in the camps as if a holocaust is going on. Your information is inaccurate and your intention is filled with malice. You also accuse BNS of not being ‘fair’ to all commentators based on religion, race and nationality, without any basis.

    Thousands of lives are lost every week in Pakistan to the bullets of the armed militants, and terrorist groups. Surprisingly, your attention has never been drawn up towards these events, which should be of deeper concern to you. You are a great puzzle.

  8. Buddha Bhai,

    The following statement is very powerful and appropriate. I applaud you for this great analysis. Appreciate it.

    Rp Subba

    “The undercurrents of human rights violation is not easy to feel in the context of Bhutanese legal system and legal terminology used in Dzongkha language. ‘Thrim’ in Dzongkha refers to the punishment given to the wrongdoer. But ‘Chathrim’ refers to the main law, whereas ‘thrimsungchhenmo’ refers to the constitution and ‘thrimpon’ is a judge. In other words, law is associated to punishment, constitution is a way to greater punishment and a judge is the head of punishment. This ambiguous use of derogatory word synonymously for the law, justice and constitution has given an advantage to the administrative officials, court officials and police to coerce the common people with no knowledge of law and constitutional rights. It is a form of human rights violation when the people misunderstand punishment for legal measures, or for the constitutional provisions in the course of seeking justice”.

  9. Mr. Pasha,
    I read your comments many times in this site. I am overwhelm by the knowledge that you have about ‘Bhutan’. Sometimes I am confussed by the way you write. It’s good to comments on many matters in which you are interested in, but at the same time it’s necessary to be careful about the commets you write. We like to have intellectual commets, which can help us to share our sarrows and happiness. Please don’t heart the sentiments of innocent Bhutanese people. I guess,but I am not so sure that, may be we were together during 1989-90s. Your name sound familer to my ear. Was your mother Dr. in profession?

    Thanks

  10. Mr. Pasha,

    First, you have no idea how badly the ruling monarch(from Naglongs dynasty) treated to other ethnic minorities, like Sharshops and Lhotshampas.

    Second, your understanding over Bhutanese refugee crises is on very surface. Do you ever learned the conspiracy of Bhutan’s monarch to depopulate economically, politically, and educationally population from South?

    Have you gone to the depth on enforcement of “Green belt policy, one nation one people policy, and unjust census in south”…….?

    It is good to see your comments, but over expressing your understanding without measuring the gravity of Refugee issue would be equivalent to empty vessels.

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