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Bhutan


Contents

I. Ranking in Human Rights Violators Index: 2nd
II. Political freedom
III. Right to life
IV. Judiciary and administration of justice
V. Status of National Human Rights Institutions
VI. Repression on human rights defenders
VII. Freedom of the press
VIII. Violations of the rights of minorities
a. India’s obstruction for exercising the right to return
b. Deplorable conditions of the refugees
c. Denial of cultural rights
IX. Violence against women
X. Violations of the rights of the child
 

I. Ranking in Human Rights Violators Index: 2nd 

Ruled under the absolute monarchy of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk, Bhutan which coined the infamous “Gross National Happiness”, has been ranked 2nd in the SAARC Human Rights Violators Index 2006.

A landlocked and closed country, little information on the human rights violations was available. The serious restrictions on the freedom of movement in the name of preserving the socalled “Shangrila” made collection, collation and analysis of human rights violations in Bhutan the most difficult in South Asia. In more ways than one, the absence of a written constitution, political parties, freedom of association and assembly, press and independent judiciary made Bhutan No. 2 human rights violator in South Asia. However, if absence of reports on human rights violations were to be the yardsticks for measuring the state of human rights, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea will have a better human rights record than most democratic countries.

II. Political freedom

There were no political parties in Bhutan. Bhutan also failed to release any political prisoner, approximately 70 arrested persons mainly from the ethnic Sarchops and Nepalis, who remained incarcerated in prison connection with violence associated with political dissidence during 1991-92. 

However, there were no reports of political killings.

On 26 March 2005, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk released the draft Constitution with 34-articles for public review. The draft constitution was nothing more than a replica of the condemned 1998 Constitution of Maldives.

The draft constitution proposed establishment of two houses of parliament – a 25-member National Council and a 75-member National Assembly – with the King as the head of State. If adopted, the Constitution would replace the royal decree of 1953 that gives the king absolute power and turn Bhutan into a two-party parliamentary democracy.[1] The proposed Constitution also provided 22 fundamental rights, including the right to life, right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression, freedom of the press, right to information, right to privacy, right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion etc.

On 17 December 2005, on the occasion of Bhutan’s 98th National Day, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk announced that he would abdicate the throne in favor of his eldest son, Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and hold country’s first national elections in 2008 to establish full-fledged parliamentary democracy in Bhutan.[2]

If the proposed constitution of Bhutan were to be adopted, His Majesty would enjoy the same powers as that of the President of Maldives under the 1998 Constitution. Apart from being the Head of the State, His Majesty would have the power to appoint and dismiss the Chief Justices and other judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court, the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners, the Auditor General, the Chairperson and members of the Royal Civil Service Commission, the Chairperson and members of the Anti-Corruption Commission, the heads of the Defence Forces, the Attorney General and the Council of Ministers, among others. His Majesty shall enjoy absolute immunity under Article 2 (15) unless a National Referendum decides otherwise. 

III. Right to life

There were no reported cases of violations of the right to life.

IV. Judiciary and administration of justice

Bhutan did not have an independent judiciary. His Majesty  remained the supreme head of the judiciary and the only authority to grant pardon, and appoint and dismiss the judges. His Majesty exercised these powers in the name of National Judicial Commission. Only judges for the Dungkhag (sub-district) Courts are appointed by the Chief Justice of the High Court.[3] 

The draft Constitution of Bhutan proposed setting up of Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice of Bhutan. But under article 2(19) of the proposed constitution, the King would appoint the Chief Justice and other judges of the Supreme Court, and the Chief Justice and other judges of the High Court and have the power to remove them. Article 21(15) states that the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court would enjoy independence “provided that a Drangpon [judge] may be censored or suspended by a command of the Druk Gyalpo [i.e. the King of Bhutan] on the recommendation of the National Judicial Commission for proven misbehaviour, which, in the opinion of the Commission, does not deserve impeachment”. The members of the National Judicial Commission were also appointed by the King under Article 21(17). Moreover, the draft constitution does not define what constitutes “misbehaviour”, and any act or sign of defiance of the King by the judge could be construed as misbehaviour leading to his/her removal by the King.  

The judiciary would continue to remain subservient to the King in Bhutan.

In December 2005, the 84th session of the National Assembly passed “The Evidence Act of Bhutan, 2005”. The Act for the first time laid down several significant provisions with the objective that “no person shall be convicted on the basis of suspicion, doubt or hearsay until the charges are proven and supported by witnesses or evidences”. The Act identified evidence as all types of proof presented and permitted by the court of law at a legal proceeding including testimonials, documents, electronic records and other physical evidence related to matters under inquiry in the court of law.[4] The Act contained 13 chapters on various clauses related to the presentation of evidence in the court of law from its relevancy and admissibility, and types of evidences such as oral, physical and documentary to questioning of witnesses and criminal confessions.

V. Status of National Human Rights Institutions

Bhutan did not have a National Human Rights Institution.  The government of Bhutan had not expressed any intention to establish such a Commission in the future.

VI. Repression on human rights defenders

Bhutan did not allow registration of human rights organisations. The exiled leaders ran human rights organisations and political parties from India and Nepal.

The Human Rights Council of Bhutan, headed by exiled refugee leader Teknath Rizal and the Bhutanese Refugee Repatriation Representative Committee were based in Nepal. Some of the prominent political parties in exile were Bhutan People’s Party, Druk National Congress, and Bhutan Gorkha National Liberation Front.

VII. Freedom of the press

There was no freedom of speech and independent press. The only newspaper, Kuensel, was controlled by the government.

Although television was introduced in 1999, the government of Bhutan continues to impose restrictions on many TV channels, including news channels, on the ground that they were not good for the health of Bhutanese culture.

In March 2005, Bhutan banned some of the Indian TV channels such as Zee News, Aaj Tak, Sun TV and international TV channels such as MTV, FTV and Ten Sports on the ground that a media impact study carried out by Bhutan Communication Authority during 2003-2004 concluded that many foreign channels were a ‘‘bad influence’’ on Bhutanese social and cultural values.[5] Many Indian TV channels were again banned in July 2005 on the ground of cultural invasion.[6]

VIII. Violations of the rights of minorities

Despite Bhutan-Nepal Joint Verifica-tion Team recognising hundreds of refugees as citizens of Bhutan, during 2005, Bhutan failed to take back a single refugee. Over 100,000 refugees have ben sheltered in eastern Nepal. Bhutan took full advantage of the political turmoil in Nepal.

a. India’s obstruction for exercising the right to return

Bhutan was helped by India in the suppression of rights of the refugees. India repeatedly prevented the return of the Bhutanese refugees throughout 2005 though they have the right to travel through India under Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 1950. In fact, in 1990s, when the ethnic Nepalis were fleeing from Bhutan, Indian authorities put them on trucks and other vehicles and dumped them to Nepal.

Frustrated by the procrastinated repatriation process, the Bhutanese refugees made attempts at self-repatriation under the Volunteer Homeland Return and National Reconciliation Programme supported by Bhutan Gorkha National Liberation Front and Human Rights Organization of Bhutan since August 2005. Such self-repatriation bids continued even after the warning by UNHCR that it was risky and against the agreement between Nepal and Bhutan. The UNHCR also clarified that since it was not a party to the bilateral dialogue between Bhutan and Nepal, it was “not capable of monitoring repatriation and rehabilitation of the refugees in their home country.”[7]

The refugees were prevented by the Indian security forces from entering into India.

On 3 August 2005, Indian and Nepalese police prevented 323 Bhutanese refugees (from 4 months to 75 years of age), including 157 women from the Beldangi camps from crossing the Nepal-India border at Mechi Bridge to enter Panitanki in West Bengal state of India en route to Bhutan. While nine persons were detained, Nepal police took others back to their camps in Jhapa in two trucks and a bus.[8]

On 14 August 2005, a group of about 100 Bhutanese refugees reached Phuentsholing, a Bhutanese town along the India-Bhutan border to hand over a letter addressed to King Jigme Singye Wangchuk but were forcibly sent back to India by the Bhutanese police. About a dozen refugees were detained by the Bhutanese police for six hours before handing them over to the Indian authorities.[9]

On 4 October 2005, a group of 21 persons belonging to five families from Beldangi refugee camps led by Bhutan Gorkha National Liberation Front vice-president, Dalli Ram Katel were reportedly arrested by the Bhutanese Police while attempting to enter the kingdom at the gateway to Phuentsholing. They were later handed over to the Indian police.[10]

On 28 November 2005, the Bhutanese police arrested 4 Bhutanese refugees who entered Bhutan through Kakadvitta transit.[11]

On 10 December 2005, Indian police prevented around 300 Bhutanese refugees from seven refugee camps from crossing the Mechi Bridge at the Nepal-India border en route to Bhutan. Nepal police drove them back to their camps.[12]

On 17 December 2005, Indian security personnel barred Bhutanese refugees from entering India at the Mechi Bridge on their way to Bhutan. A confrontation between the Indian security personnel and the Bhutanese refugees resulted in the injury of nine refugees.[13]

In December 2005, the Association of Press Freedom Activists, Bhutan, alleged that the government of Bhutan resettled people belonging to the ruling tribe on the lands of the ethnic Nepali refugees at Dagana, Punakha, Samdrup Jongkhar, Sarpang, Samtse, and Tsirang. It also alleged that Samdrup, Jongkhar and Sarpang Chief Districts Offices had already submitted proposal to allocate the refugees’ lands to so-called landless people from dominant tribes.[14]

b. Deplorable conditions of the refugees        

UNHCR provided essential food and non-food items, shelter, medical care and education to the Bhutanese refugees living in seven refugee camps in Nepal. The UNHCR have been managing the camps with support from the United States, European Commission, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom and France.[15] However, facilities being provided to the refugees were not adequate by any means. Global rise in oil price further forced UNHCR to reduce the already limited aid provided to the refugees.

UNHCR had substantially reduced facilities such as ration, kerosene, medical facilities, education aid and allowance for maintenance of the camps’ roofs in the later part of 2004. Association of Medical Doctors of Asia and the UNHCR were sponsoring health service to the refugees and education up to the 12th grade for their children. However, during 2005, it was reported that only the first aid health service and school level education were available to the refugees.[16] The refugees also complained of inadequate food quota.[17] Supply of vegetables and fruits was also severely lowered and other staple food reduced during 2005.[18]

In absence of electricity, kerosene had been the main cooking and lighting fuel for the Bhutanese refugees in the seven camps. Due to rise in the price of kerosene, UNHCR cut down its supply in January 2005.[19] The reduction of kerosene quota forced the refugees to cook their food with firewood. This created conflicts with the local people as the refugees collected fallen trees, dried leaves and wigs from the nearby forests, which was resented by the local community.[20]

The refugees also lacked adequate shelter. In big families, unmarried adults and married couples were compelled to live in the same tiny plot of hut area allocated to the respective families. Leaking of roofs made life further difficult for the refugees during the rainy days.[21]

The refugees did not have any job opportunity, as paid work is officially not allowed both inside and outside the camps. However, some of the women refugees did casual jobs like weaving,[22] and in some camps they were allowed to crush stones from the dry Timai River bed to sell to local construction contractors.[23]

There have been reports of rising number of suicides in the refugee camps.[24] Frustration and domestic violence are believed to be the main factors.

c. Denial of cultural rights      

On 19 November 2005, the National Assembly directed the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs to issue a nationwide notification that all conferences and public meetings must be conducted in the national language, Dzongkha, pursuant to a 1993 Kasho (edict) issued by His Majesty the King. However, if the meetings were meant specifically only for foreigners they could be conducted in English.[25]  The minorities like Nepalis or Sarchops have no right to their language.

Bhutan also failed to address discriminatory laws such as Bhutan Citizenship Act of 1985 which provides for termination of citizenship of any naturalized citizen at any time if he or she “has shown by act or speech to be disloyal in any manner whatsoever to the king, country, and people of Bhutan”. Bhutanese were virtually discouraged from marrying non-Bhutanese under the Marriage Act of 1980.

IX. Violence against women  

Women in general enjoyed freedom and equality. Yet, literacy rate among the women is only 48.7% in comparison to 69.1% among males.[26] According to Bhutanese Women and Youth Empowerment Programme, about 52% of refugees from Bhutan in Nepal were women and they are denied their rights.

Though Bhutan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1981 and established a National Commission for Women and Children in 2004, it failed to address discrimination against women under the Inheritance Act of 1980 and the Marriage Act of 1980 (amended in 1996). Under the Marriage Act those who marry non-Bhutanese are deprived of benefits including promotion in Government job with effect from 11 June 1977, termination of services from the national defence department or in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, deprivation of governmental welfare services and schemes, including distribution of land, cash loans, various grants, and educational and training facilities.

In addition, the Citizenship Act of 1985 was strictly enforced to target the ethnic Nepalis of Bhutan whom the government officially recognizes as foreigners.

X. Violations of the rights of the child

Bhutan was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 23 May 1990. The government amended the Marriage Act of 1980 in 1996 and enacted the Rape Act in 1993. But, Bhutan failed to adopt the draft Administration of Juvenile Justice Act and draft Immoral Traffic Act.

A large number of children of the Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal have been denied the right to nationality. Bhutan failed to take any measure to ensure return of the refugees and ensure the rights of the children. 

About 78 % of the populations reportedly had access to safe drinking water. Yet, six out of ten children in rural Bhutan suffered from diarrhoea, worms, and skin and eye infections largely due to lack of safe drinking water and poor environmental sanitation.[27] Both infant mortality (60.5 per 1,000 live births) and maternal mortality (255 per 100,000 live births) were high.[28] The government has been providing  universal, free, and compulsory primary school education upto 11 years. The primary school enrollment increased 4.4 percent per year since 1995, with enrollment of girls increasing at 5.6 percent.[29] Gross Primary school enrolment rate was 72%.[30] Yet, about 3 out of every 10 children of school-going age did not go to school, especially in the remote areas.[31]

Many students in rural areas have to travel long distances to reach the nearest school. Lack of schools in several rural areas forced children to leave home to attend the school regularly. Some parents built small mud huts for their children near the school, away from the home. Lack of electricity made it difficult for the children to study at night.[32]

There was no accurate data on child labour in Bhutan as of 2005. In 2000, the ILO projected 124,000 economically active children in the age group of 10-14 years, representing 51.1% of this age group. Of them, 69,000 were boys and 55,000 were girls.[33]

Bhutan also failed to withdraw the draconian rule introduced in 1990 under which all Nepali-speaking citizens need to produce a No Objection Certificate or Police Clearance Certificate or Security Clearance Certificate from the police stating that none of their relative had taken part in the pro-democracy movement against monarchy during September-October 1990 in order to get admission in schools or sit for examinations.[34] Under this draconian rule the children of Nepali-speaking community, especially those whose relatives were living in refugee camps in Nepal, as well as some Christian children continued to be denied access to education.                        

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