Honorable Heads of the States, observer representatives of the
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)
Subject: The issue of Bhutan
I would like to extend my best wishes for the success of forthcoming SAARC Summit in Kathmandu. On the one hand, we have experienced reforms in many sectors after the establishment of SAARC, but on the other we have been troubled due to the lack of uniformity among SAARC nations concerning the protection of human rights and democracy. We have been equally concerned that many ethnic minorities have been deprived of justice in the absence of an independent judiciary.
Bhutan is a case in point. The minority community there has been victimized on account of religion, culture and language. The world is a witness to this gross violation of the basic human right of citizenship. I myself have been tortured, incarcerated and exiled whilst striving for the welfare of whole Bhutanese tribal and ethnic peoples, and carrying out my struggle for justice for the last 26 years.
More than 100,000 people were driven out from Bhutan, their lands confiscated by a regime that had adopted a racist policy towards its minority. While some of my inmates are still languishing in jails under false allegations, many others have now taken refuge in the US and Europe after being resettled from refugee camps in Nepal.
It is a matter of concern and great shame to the people of this region that the Bhutanese refugee problem of the last 24 years has not been resolved and we haven’t got closer. The relevance of SAARC would be justified had the commitment been made that the structure of our ruling system would respect human rights and democracy.
I would like to urge you and your government to strive for a just and complete solution to the Bhutanese refugee’s problem by including it in your agenda for comprehensive deliberations at the forthcoming SAARC Summit.
Bhutan has been crippled by a tyrannical and autocratic monarchy for decades. Under international pressure, it was forced to present a façade of semi-democracy to the world, and promoting a highly ironical policy of “Gross National Happiness”. But it is clear that the regime has never had to atone for its racist policy of ethnic cleansing. The Bhutan regime has never been held accountable for evicting up to one-sixth of its population.
This SAARC Summit is the third to be held in Nepal where the Bhutanese refugees have been living in camps, waiting for justice. It has been our misfortune that our problems neither got space for discussion at SAARC in the past, nor were any resolutions passed to this effect.
In the absence of bilateral negotiations between Nepal and Bhutan, on the other hand, the Bhutan regime has not only enslaved its own citizens but also incarcerated and detained them for the past 30 years, and has excluded them from the electoral rolls.
SAARC needs to be aware of the stateless people chased out from one member state and living in another. The Lhotshampas have been living peacefully in Bhutan for generations and contributed immensely for the infrastructural development of Bhutan by providing free labor in addition to paying hefty taxes. The National Assembly of Bhutan in 1958 had entrusted the responsibility of border security in the South to the Lhotshampas themselves and had also approved the provision of rendering them civil rights equally as other Bhutanese people. However, in 1988 the reclusive state deliberately adopted a policy of systematically evicting the Lhotshampas through harassment, detention, torture, rape, destruction and confiscation of their properties.
I would like to draw your attention to the gross violation of human rights that occurred and is still occurring in one of your member states. Bhutan’s Lhotshampa and Sarchopa Community have faced injustice, exploitation, and the sabotage of civil rights. I would also like to seek your assistance in ensuring democracy, independent judiciary and protection of human rights in Bhutan. It is shameful that the so-called representative of a country that does not believe in inclusive democracy and minority rights and thrives by continuously deceiving the international community share dais with modern democratic leaders of other nations.
If we continue to ignore this injustice under the pretext of not interfering in the internal affairs of a member state, I am afraid it will have a detrimental impact on the shared goal of democracy of the South Asian collective.
Finally, I would like to once more wish that the Summit would succeed in fostering South Asian solidarity and take steps in uplifting the living standards of its citizens through the protection of human rights and democracy.
Tek Nath Rizal