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.
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