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Atrocities and 2008 elections in Bhutan

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At a time when the election date is drawing nearer in Bhutan, the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) has once again begun inflicting atrocities on innocent citizens of ethnic Nepali origin.

The state-directed court recently announced jail terms ranging from 5-9 years to 30 innocent civilian from the southern district of the country for their alleged involvement in the Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist). The RGOB claims the accused had carried out subversive activities against Bhutan.

How could the RGOB claim such a thing when it does not have an ‘independent judiciary’ in the country? A fair trial in the name of delivering justice to the detainees has always been a farce in the context of Bhutan. This is yet another instance of Bhutan’s tactics to derail the repatriation of Bhutanese refugees, now living in camps in Nepal, to their homeland.

Bhutan’s official media, Kuensel, further stated that seditious meetings were held in Katarey and Ugyentse in Samtse, during which the participants planned to recruit the local people and set up camps in the forests to house the terrorists belonging to the CPB-MLM.

Such fabricated statements are made by the Bhutanese government when its army arrests people especially of ethnic Nepali origin. The RGOB has charged them of being active during briefing sessions in Nepal on “Political and Ideological Trainings? conducted by the cadres of the Communist Party of Bhutan and Communist Party of Nepal, Bhutan People’s Party, Druk National Congress and Bhutan Gorkha National Liberation Front.

Ironically, the message Bhutan is sending to the international community is that the UNHCR is providing shelter to radical groups inside the refugee camps in Nepal.

The court is said to have sentenced them to jail under the provisions in the National Security Act of Bhutan, 1992, and the Penal Code of Bhutan, 2004. The people were accused of holding political meetings, especially related to Maoist ideology, in the country. Even if they were involved in such activities, what crime had they committed to be given jail terms of such long periods, especially at a time when the elections are fast approaching near? Is this, in any way, to hold a ‘democratic exercise’?

The RGOB, on the other hand, should have been encouraging the people in the country to get involved in the political exercise. Besides, the condition of hundreds of such detainees arrested in the early 1990s during demonstrations in the country is still unknown to the international community.

Their whereabouts have not yet been made public. There is no one to publicise the conditions prevailing in the country.

It is a matter of shame that the RGOB should transform civilians into jailbirds for such a long period despite their innocence. The atrocities of the RGOB have crossed the limits, leaving enough space to raise questions about the effectiveness of the advocacy of international rights bodies and so-called big democracies of the world.

Isn’t Bhutan playing with the rights of the people, and would anyone believe that it is embarking on the path of democratisation? The surprising thing is – for how long will the international community stand mute spectators to all the atrocities that go around in Bhutan?

A fair trail to the detainees is not possible in Bhutan. Even if these people belong to the Maoist militia, then Bhutan should have carried out an investigation in co-ordination with international human rights bodies.

In the meantime, on November 28, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) stated that the leaders of the Bhutan People’s United Party (BPUP) have no vision, goals and aspirations for a democratic Bhutan. Besides, in a notice, the ECB said it cannot register the BPUP as a political party in the country.

The ECB’s decision indicates that the party lacks persons with direct links with the royal family like Sangey Ngedup of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Jigme Thinley of the Druk Phuensum Tshokpa (DPT).

While Bhutan is holding the first-ever elections in its history, the RGOB is trying to impose different restrictions on innocent civilians. Thus, there is little room to believe that the elections will be free and fair.

There is a need for the world community, including international human rights bodies, to initiate noteworthy and stronger measures to provide justice to Bhutan’s innocent civilians. The RGOB shouldn’t be given a free hand in committing atrocities against its people.

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