Refugees or ready-made-terrorists?

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Bhutan’s foreign minister Khandu Wangchuk on December 27 has said that bringing back the “highly-politicized camp people” into Bhutan would mean importing ready-made-terrorists. It is learnt that while addressing the Druk parliament, Wangchuk claimed many in the UNHCR-sponsored camps are listed as both “refugees and Maoist members.”

Actually, these sorts of statements made by the Druk lords are the tactics to derail the repatriation process of Bhutanese refugees. Foreign minister Wangchuk is quoted as saying “a large number of people in the camps are supporting and joining the Maoist movement in Nepal”.

This makes us clear on the repatriation process that Bhutan never wanted to take back the refugees though it agreed to form a joint verification team. It also sends a clear message to Nepal and international community that the Druk regime wanted Nepal to settle the issue alone. Now Bhutan will blame Nepal if the situation as described by Wangchuk is real.

Bhutan’s well-planned tactics to divert the attention of the refugee plight is working. Although India knows it that the Druk dictator rendered the one-fifth of the population stateless, Bhutan employs, under the Indian guard, the propaganda to outweigh the repatriation process.

The recent statement terming the refugees as “ready-made-terrorists” is no exception, the trouble shooters continue to take the refugee repatriation process as just Nepali efforts rather than that of the international community.

The political exercise in the run up to the signing of Nepal’s Comprehensive Peace Accord was a means to influence Bhutanese refugees. It is too early for Bhutan to claim the involvement of Bhutanese refugees in Maoist activities. It must provide evidences, first. If the Bhutanese refugees are real ‘terrorists’, as claimed by the foreign minister of an absolute regime, why are the UNHCR and other international aid agencies rendering their assistance?

Bhutan should also learn a lesson that these refugees are victims of Bhutan’s ethnic cleansing. The lawless nation has no mantle to it otherwise.

During the early 1990s, when the Bhutanese were forcefully evicted, Bhutan imposed ‘Security Acts’ which resulted in gross violation of human rights. Hundreds of innocent people lost their lives. A number of them from Southern Bhutan were imprisoned and tortured. A number of them are still missing. The whereabouts of these detainees is still unknown. Women and young girls were raped by the security personnel.

The international community should help the refugees form probe commission to investigate into these atrocities. We are waiting for the moment to come. It takes time no matter how long it will be.

Can the Bhutanese foreign minister call the one-fifth of the total population terrorists? The foreign minister must tell the truth — how it deBhutanized the one-fifth of the population and why he calls them now terrorists. Does it mean that the Bhutanese have no right to voice against the discriminatory royal edicts?

A country run without constitution should see into what it has treated its citizens rather than terming the innocent refugees terrorists.

Bhutan has neither allowed human rights activists to set up its office, nor has any international human rights organization investigated the atrocities meted out to ethnic minorities. The freedom of press and expression is unknown to the Bhutanese nationals. The people are treated as subjects and the so called the largest democratic country continues to ignore the incidents of human rights violation. India has no right to advocate freedom and democracy so long as it protects an autocratic regime under its armpit.

The foreign minister of Bhutan has said that “the camps have been infiltrated by Maoist elements, and several radical parties like the Bhutan Communist Party, Bhutan Gorkha National Liberation Front and the Bhutan Revolutionary Students Union have been formed with the declared objective of carrying out an armed struggle to overthrow the government of Bhutan”.

It is worth mentioning here that Bhutan called “terrorists” are democrats and they have been fighting for their rights. Bhutan has to yield to democratic forces sooner than later. Bhutan must acknowledge the fact that the one-fifth of the population are looking for a peaceful transition of power from the king to the people.

The Bhutanese refugees believe in democracy, human rights and a peaceful means of fighting for their rights. It is also true but sad that Bhutan cannot ignore the plight of the refugees who are slowing dragging the Druk dictators to the international court of justice for the crimes they have committed in the early 1990s.

The Bhutanese leaders should admit that the crimes they have committed. They must pay due attention to resolve the refugee impasse. The delay in the refugee repatriation is not denying the refugees’ right to return Bhutan, but it is constricting the throat of the autocratic regime that continues to violate human rights and treats its citizens as mere subjects. The current propaganda that Bhutan will hold elections to elect parliamentarians is nothing but a hollow exercise to cover up the atrocities committed by the century-old autocratic regime.

The statement that the “refugees are ready-made-terrorists” is just an attempt to draw the attention of the international community. But it cannot easily ignore the atrocities meted out to the one fifth of the population simply calling terrorists when it knows how it evicted them. Bhutan must seek a peaceful solution to the refugee problem before it is too late.

The writer is President of the Third World Media Network-Bhutan Chapter
Originally published by The Kathmandu Post, December 29, 2006. 

Next articleState of media in Bhutan

A father, husband, public speaker, and a freelancer, Mr. Mishra returns to this news portal as the Executive Editor after he had served in the same capacity for nearly three years in the recent past. Born in Dagana, Bhutan and raised in the refugee camp in Nepal, Mishra’s entry into journalism began as early as 2002, and he has been volunteering in the area since then.

Mr. Mishra worked as a special correspondent for The Bhutan Reporter (TBR) Monthly for a few years in the early-mid 2000s. Later, he became Editor at the same newspaper, and also served as the Chief Editor of TBR for two years. He is one of the founder members of Bhutan News Service (BNS), where he started serving as Editor (2006-2009), and later Chief Editor (2009-2011).

Mr. Mishra also served as one of the main hosts of the radio program, Saranarthi Sarokar (translates to ‘Refugee Concern’ in English) in one of the local FM stations in Kathmandu, Nepal from 2007 through 2009. As a host of the program, he interviewed dozens of high-profile Nepalese and Bhutanese politicians, academicians, social and community leaders, including foreign diplomats then based in Kathmandu and Jhapa, Nepal.

Aside from his reporting work while in Kathmandu, Mr. Mishra also got involved in other philanthropic work, and helped needy refugees. Mr. Mishra led two donation campaigns through the lobby in Kathmandu among fellow Bhutanese refugees and supported fire victims in the refugee camp in the eastern part of the country. Mr. Mishra also directly assisted dozens of sick patients with various illnesses from the refugee camps in Jhapa to get their appropriate treatment in Kathmandu-based hospitals at a discounted rate and/or free of cost.

Mr. Mishra has appeared in various national, regional and international publications including the Wall Street Journal, Aljazeera America, Explore Parts Unknown, Global Post, Himal Southasian, among dozens of other media outlets with articles aimed at advocating the Bhutanese refugee issue. The New York Times, BBC, Guardian Weekly, among many others have featured Mishra’s work. Mr. Mishra has also written articles extensively reflecting the state of ‘freedom of speech & expression in Bhutan.’

Mr. Mishra is also the author of a handbook called Becoming a Journalist in Exile.

Mr. Mishra is the recipient of two awards—one by the Bhutan Press Union (2006), and the other by the Organization of Bhutanese Communities in America (2011) for his contributions in the related field. Founder President of the Bhutan Chapter of the Third World Media Network (2006-2012), Mishra has also represented Bhutan in various regional and national-level trainings and seminars on media freedom while during his stay in Nepal.

Mr. Mishra holds his first Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Purbanchal University in Nepal, and the second Bachelor’s degree in International Studies from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.