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My Turn: U.S. has chance to help people of Bhutan

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SurajBudathokiWith the historic summit between India and the United States under way, I, as an exiled new American from Bhutan, would like to urge the Obama Administration to discuss with India the possible resolution of the protracted humanitarian crisis in Bhutan, India’s neighbor.

Since the early 1980s, peace has been taken from the Lhotshampas, people living in the southern part of Bhutan who generally speak Nepali and ascribe to a different religion than the majority Bhutanese. The tragedy began by the forcible and unilateral revocation of citizenship from an innocent ethnic Nepali population (Lhotshampa) in Bhutan after changing the Citizenship Act that had adorned the Lhotshampa population there with citizenship rights.

Policy changes at that time required people to follow only the majority Buddhism culture, including wearing their clothing and speaking their language, and renounce their minority religion, Hindu, and their culture. What followed was imprisonment, torture and in some cases rape, as well as the confiscation of land, homes and property, and the eventual forced eviction of more than 100,000 innocent citizens who became stateless and homeless. And still, according to Human Rights Watch, more than 80,000 Lhotshampa and other ethnic communities are living in Bhutan without their basic human rights, including the free exercise of religion and citizenship rights, and are under constant threat of imprisonment, torture and eviction.

More than five years ago, the world community, recognizing the plight of the Bhutanese refugees, but unable to convince the Bhutanese government to grant full citizenship and stop religious and ethnic repression, began the process of resettlement of more than 90,000 refugees.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Australia and New Zealand welcomed these repressed families to their shores and into their communities.

This includes the wonderful people and communities of Concord, Laconia and Manchester right here in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire is a place where freedom, including the freedom of religion, reigns and is embraced. But those of us who are so lucky to live here still care very deeply about the plight of those who remain in Bhutan and in refugee camps in Nepal.

For the restoration of peace and human rights, it is time to initiate reconciliation between the government of Bhutan and the people it rejected.

The collaboration and effort of the largest and oldest democratic countries on earth – the United States and India – is critical to end this protracted humanitarian crisis. Both the United States and India play vital leadership roles toward advancing freedom and human rights, as well as fighting against terrorism and dictatorship in order to ensure global peace, prosperity and democracy.

The United States and India should to take up the prolonged Bhutanese refugee issue in their discussions so that justice might finally be advanced in India’s neighbor of Bhutan.

I am also hopeful that United States Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte might also voice their support for productive conversations between India and the United States on this issue. Now is the time to make forward progress for those who were not so fortunate to make it to wonderful places like New Hampshire.

The article originally appeared in the Concord Monitor on Sep 27, 2014 and BNS has reproduced it with due permission from the publisher.

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