My first impression on the US State Department country report on Bhutan 2017 is that the report largely speaks Bhutan government’s version of the human rights situation. The rights of the silently suffering people from the eastern and southern Bhutan have been continued to be kept in the dark. They have not at all been interviewed or considered despite the glaring fact that Bhutan Government had expelled one-sixth of its population out of their generation of homes in Bhutan. It appears that the officials not at all visited especially southern Bhutan to take note of the ground situation.
Bhutan’s democracy is not democratic in the real sense of the term. The fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck selected two individuals from within the circle of the Royal relationships namely- Jigme Y Thinley, a royal in-law, and Sangay Ngedup, maternal uncle of the present king and instructed them to form two political parties in 2007. Jigme Y Thinley was assigned to form Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and Sangay Ngedup to form People’s Democratic Party (PDP). And, the subsequently staged general elections sent the two parties to the power from 2008 to 2018.
To hoodwink the outside world- other people were given the option to form political parties under the underlined conditions set forth by the palace. But, those parties other than DPT and PDP were made minority parties in the pretext of primary elections or Election Commission of Bhutan disqualified without letting them seek people’s voice. It took good ten years for the third party to outshine; Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) that was trying its luck since 2013 finally won the general election on October 18, 2018.
The ruling class and a coterie of the elites have stage-managed a system under the brand name ‘Democracy Gift from the Throne’ as a showpiece to the world community. The sole power and majority of the representations are arranged by the coterie of the elites-the presence of members from other ethnic groups has always been a distant dream.
Just for an instance-Southern Bhutanese constitute a significant number in Bhutanese population – whereby their proportionate representation has always been a question? Their presence in the constitutional bodies is zero. The majority of Bhutanese do not even know the meaning of the names of the parties. Does that ensure racial equity?
The security forces – Royal Bhutan Army and Royal Bhutan Police are reported cautiously posing fear mainly among the southern Bhutanese with an intent of subjugating them to the whims of the rulers. The State report is silent on how the Bhutan government practices the policy of Drukpaization in the name of Bhutanization.
It is hard for someone to comprehend that all the citizens are required to have painted their houses in the Tibetan style preferred by the ruling class; although other ethnic groups have their own cultural designs to paint. The villages in southern Bhutan which used to have Nepali names from the time those places got their first names have been renamed erasing the age-old inherited history. The human rights situation report does not throw any light on the fact that the language and culture of the southern Bhutanese are banned for no reasons- resulting in the gross violation of fundamental human rights.
An excerpt from Bhutan: 2017 Human Rights report reads, “Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claimed that 28 political prisoners remained in Chamgang Central Jail in Thimphu. Regional media reports corroborated these figures. Family members of the prisoners are allowed to meet their relatives and receive a travel allowance paid by the ICRC. Most political prisoners were Nepali-speaking persons associated with protests in the early 1990s. … No international human rights groups seeking access to monitor prisons during the year. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) has not renewed its memorandum of understanding with the government since 2012 and did not request access to prisons during the year.”
Requesting anonymity many people state that the country is ruled with fear-psychosis that is silently felt notably by the eastern and southern Bhutanese and there does arise a situation where the state acts with impunity. In practice there is no freedom of assembly, expression or association; just, all these terms are meant for writing in the constitution. If it is seen to be there it is definitely with the consent of the government rather a dramatized situation.
One of the main points missed in the state report is that the Bhutan Government forced one-sixth of its population; mainly Nepali speaking from the southern districts and Sharchops mostly from the eastern districts in the 1990s. Their relatives in Bhutan still suffer for no reason.
Bhutan Government enacted the racist 1985 Citizenship Act which was retroactively implemented through a census survey in 1989 turning citizens into illegal immigrants overnight. All these citizens were genuine Bhutanese under the 1958 Law and the 1977 Citizenship Act. This is Bhutan government’s ploy to use the 1985 Citizenship Act as a seedbed of illegal immigrants. Legal experts assert that Bhutan’s Citizenship Law is a prescription for statelessness.
The report also very categorically states that there is freedom to participate in the political process. But who are the voted? They do not represent their community but individuals secretly approved by the government – it is more selection than election. This must be reminded again that the first thing to fix in Bhutan is proportionate representation on the basis of the ethnic population – in the legislative, executive and judiciary. One can easily see that Bhutan is a case of racial discrimination very shrewdly implemented by those in power. Why is an independent human rights organization doesn’t exist in Bhutan? The Human Rights situation report is silent on human rights organization(s) and is incomplete.
The author, who is based in Des Moines, IA, is a Human Rights Activist of Bhutan, and one of the contributing authors for Bhutan News Service.