Appeal to Donors of Bhutan and International Community
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APPEAL TO DONORS AND INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY

February 11, 2003

 

An Appeal to all the following development partners of Bhutan was sent on February 11, 2003

 

1 H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary General, the United Nations Organization.

2. H.E. the Presidents of Austria,  Finland and  India.

3. H.E. the Prime Ministers of  Australia, Canada,  Denmark,  Finland,  India,  Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

4. H.E. the Chancellors of Austria,  Germany and Switzerland.

5. H.E. Ministers  of Foreign Affairs of  AustraliaAustria,  Canada, Denmark, , Finland, , Germany,  India, Japan,  the Netherlands,  Norway, Switzerland and the  Secretary of State, USA.

6. H.E. Minister for Economic and Labour, Austria, HE Minister  of Economic and business affairs, Denmark, Minister of DIDC, Finland, Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany.

7. H.E. the President of European Union,   the Secretary  General ,  Council of EU, European Parliament, EU  Commissioner for External Relations, EU Development Aid  Division, EU Humanitarian Aid Office, EC  Directorate-General for External Relations, EU Head of Human Rights, EU Head of relations with the UN   committee on human rights and European Community.

8. The diplomatic missions of   Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, European Union, Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway,  Sweden, Switzerland,  United Kingdom, United States of America based in New Delhi, India.

9. The diplomatic missions Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, European Union, Finland, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland,  United Kingdom, United States of America based  in Kathmandu, Nepal.

10. The Presidents of  World Bank, Washington DC, USA and the Asian Development Bank, Manila, Philippines.

11. The Resident Representatives,   World Bank, New Delhi, India and Kathmandu, Nepal

12.The Resident Representatives,   Asian Development Bank, New Delhi, India and Kathmandu, Nepal

13.The Resident Representatives , UNDP, Thimphu, Bhutan and Kathmandu, Nepal

14.The United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, Geneva

15.The Unite Nations  High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva

16.The Resident Representative  UNHCR, Kathmandu, Nepal

17.The  India Embassy, India  House, Thimphu, Bhutan

18.The Head Offices Aid agencies to Bhutan -  Austrian Coordination Bureau, Vienna,  Aust Aid, Australia, Canadian Cooperation Office, Canada,   DANIDA, Denmark,   GTZ, Germany,  Helvetas, Switzerland,  JICA, Japan,  Save the Children USA, Washington,  SNV, Netherlands and SADC, Switzerland

19.International human rights organizations-  Amnesty International, London, UK,  Human Rights Watch, USA and  the Minority Rights Group, London

 

Subject: Appeal to Bhutan’s Donor Countries and Agencies at the Round Table Meeting, (RTM) Geneva  February 18-19, 2003 on the plight of Bhutanese Refugees and Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa citizens inside Bhutan .

 

Excellencies,

 

The representatives of  donor countries,  donor agencies, multilateral agencies  and the specialize agencies of the United Nations are  scheduled to meet in Geneva for the Eighth Round Table Meeting of the Royal  Government of Bhutan and international development partners on February 18-19, 2003. The meeting is taking at a time when the Bhutanese refugees have staged  a month-old  relay hunger strike demanding  their return   to their homeland, Bhutan with dignity and honour from their 12 years exile in the camps in Nepal and at a time when the human rights situation is very grim inside  Bhutan.  In this context, we take this opportunity  to draw Your Excellency’s kind attention to the plight of Bhutanese refugees,  Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa citizens inside Bhutan and human rights situation in Bhutan and seek international  support for repatriation of Bhutanese refugees and establishment of human rights in Bhutan.  

 

The tranquil image of Shangri-La as Bhutan was called has been shattered in the last one decade as Bhutan  has been responsible for generating one of the highest per capita refugees in the world.  Approximately one sixth of the total population of Bhutan are now forced to live as refugees.   There are over 110,000 Bhutanese refugees living in  the UNHCR administered camps in Nepal and another 25,000 Bhutanese refugees are living outside of camps  in Nepal and India.  The Nepali-speaking Lhotshampas  from Bhutan were forced to leave their country not because of a civil war,  foreign intervention or natural calamity, which entitled them to a voluntary return upon restoration of previous status. They were forcefully evicted form their homeland under a well planned  strategy of Royal Government of Bhutan to reduce their numbers at all costs.  They are victims of human rights abuses, persecution, torture  and the reprehensible practice of ‘ethnic cleansing’  undertaken by the Royal Government of Bhutan ( RGOB). Thus, their return is possible only if Bhutan accepts them back  In the past, refugees themselves initiated voluntary repatriation several times - only to be dumped back at Nepal border check post by Bhutanese and Indian police.

 

The evicted Lhotshampas not only lost their homes and neighbourhood in which they had invested considerable proportion of their income, but they were dispossessed of their personal possessions. The human costs of forced evictions of Lhotshampas are substantial and involves a wide range of additional negative impacts on their livelihood, safety and security of their children. Lhotshampas are facing a situation of statelessness, physical, psychological and emotional trauma, insecurity of the future of their children, loss of livelihood, problem of educating their children, loss of faith in the legal and political system of the country, tensions, increased social criminalization and so on. This is a grave humanitarian situation  that seeks immediate attention of international community. Bhutanese refugees have collective and inalienable rights under the international law to return to their homes and property, from which they had been forcefully evicted and uprooted by the RGOB. The right to return to one’s homeland is a universal right protected by various international laws including Article 13 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and  Article 12 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

As of date, twelfth rounds of Nepal Bhutan Joint Ministerial Level Committee Talk (JMLCT) have been held since 1993, the last being held on February 06, 2003. These talks are held as per the need and pleasure of Bhutan.  All these  talks have failed to arrive even at a common agreement let alone the resolution of Bhutanese refugee issue. Bhutan hurriedly called the  one day 12th round of JMLCT on February 06, 2003, just ahead of  Bhutan’s  donors’ meeting in Geneva. As expected the JMLCT  ended inconclusively, as Bhutan has never shown sincerity to take back its citizens. By holding the 12th Talk, Bhutan  wanted to create  impression on the donors and  international community that it is engaged in finding  solution to the issue of Bhutanese refugees.    However, it became clearly  evident from the recently concluded twelfth round of JMLCT  that refugees issue  cannot be resolved through bilateral efforts of Nepal and Bhutan. Practically, the refugee issue today stands where it began in 1993, the first JMLC Talk. Bhutan has been making and breaking promises to take back its citizens from the camps for last one decade.  A decade of lies of  Bhutan  has compelled the  refugees  to distrust Bhutan.    It has lost complete credibility. How can a country coolly dump  its citizens in another country for such a long time with impunity?. Is there no international law which can be applied against Bhutan?

 

Under  sustained international pressure, the Nepal-Bhutan Joint Verification Team ( JVT) was formed. The JVT completed verification of refugees living in Khudunabari camp. 98% of verified Bhutanese refugees could produce documents to prove their origin to Bhutan. Since, a year has passed, neither the result of verification of refugees has been made public nor the  verification of the remaining camps have been started. The process of past verification was extremely slow. At this pace, it will take at least six to ten years to complete the interviews of refugees and verification of their documents.  There must be a time-bound completion of verification process and the repatriation of refugees. The number of JVT group must be increased to at least 12, two groups each per six camps. The JVT must  complete the verification of  at least 400 refugees  per day. The verification must start in all the camps simultaneously and  complete  within a year. 

 

Categorization:  The refugees do not accept their categorization into four categories. There should be only  two categories – Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese. Categorization has become a stumbling block in the resolution of refugee issue.  The failure of  harmonization of two countries’  position on categorization  has seriously impeded the progress of bilateral Ministerial initiatives.

 

Resettlement:  Bhutan is still continuing to transfer population from north and east of the country and settle them  on the lands  left behind  by refugees in Southern Bhutan.  This will make it very difficult for refugees to return to the land they previously owned. The King of Bhutan in his national day address on December 17, 2002 indicated the continuation of resettlement programme and allotment of  land to 600 families in southern Bhutan. This clearly demonstrates RGOB’s  desire to sabotage any attempt of refugee repatriation to their original homesteads. The resettlement must be stopped.

 

Constitution: In the past few months Bhutan undertook a major international media propaganda  regarding its drafting of a democratic Constitution. However, no member from Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa community was included in  the drafting committee, thus, muting the minority voice in  its formulation. The Constitution is being officially publicised as a ‘Royal Gift" without the desire or the demands of people. Since, the Constitution is imposed by the RGOB without peoples’ aspirations or demands, it will only  serve the interests of the rulers and not of the ruled.

 

In Bhutan, people even today do not enjoy the  basic personal freedoms like wearing the dresses of their own choice.  And here the government is talking about the ‘Bill of Rights and democracy’ in a grandiose manner. The RGOB does not tolerate any criticism of its action and policies. People have no right to freedom of expression and press, which are the basic pillars of a democratic society. There are hundreds of political prisoners in Bhutanese prisons incarcerated for their criticism of the government policies and voicing concern for political and human rights. Bhutanese people inside the country live under constant fear of intimidation and persecution. It is impossible for the people who are still being denied and deprived of their basic rights to believe that  current feudal system will change just because, it has adopted a 50 pages of the document and that this document will bring qualitative and real change to their lives.  The Constitution is  RGOB ‘s gimmick to deceive the international community about  Bhutan’s so-called democratic credential to secure more economic aid for suppressing and oppressing people. It is also designed to deflect international opinion from the real issue of the  repatriation of Bhutanese refugees, resettlement and human rights abuses inside Bhutan.

 

While the Constitution was at the final stage of  drafting, a country-wide election was held on October 29, 2002 for the post of 201 village headman which  was not conducted by any independent Election Commission, but by the Dzongdas (district administrators) as usual.  The election was farce as the people were not given the right to choose the candidate of their choice. In the southern Bhutan, the Dzongdas  selected  the  candidates of their choice. In fact, the administration published the name of only one candidate in Chargharay constituency in  Samchi district.  The people were asked to caste their votes for the lone candidate  in the ballot boxes, on top of which was  written   ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. The people overwhelmingly voted ‘No’ to this particular candidate. The authorities then instantly proposed the name of a voter, who was  in queue to caste his vote  as candidate. The people voted the new  candidate, who was declared winner. This reveals the anti-democratic credential of the RGOB and how the   RGOB   makes mockery of democratic norms and principles.

 

Persecution of Lhotshampas: Lhotshampas inside Bhutan are still being hounded and persecuted by the RGOB. Since 1991, schools in southern Bhutan do not admit  the children of Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa citizens. They only admit the children of government officials and security personnel. Several thousand Lhotshampa children are deprived of education. Lhotshampas do not get government contracts and business permits directly. The government,  in the southern districts awards contracts and issues business permits to persons of Ngalung or Sharchop community only. Lhotshampas have to  secure sub-contract from Ngalungs or Sharchop contractors after paying them hefty commission.  The relatives of Dzongdas (district magistrate) in southern Bhutan hold contract licences, secure contract and sub-contract to the Lhotshampas. The corruption in southern Bhutan is rampant, but the government turns a blind eye, or else it will loose officials’ loyalty. The more government officials harass Lhotshampas, the faster they get promotion and plum posting. Since 1991, Lhotshampas must obtain a Security Clearance Certificate (SCC) from the local administration to admit their children in local schools, obtain passport, scholarship, renew trade, business licence, secure government business and contracts. The administration does not issue SCC to Lhotshampas since the majority of Lhotshampas have their relatives among refugees. 

 

Bhutanese JVT leader is now the Director of Special Task Force (STF) in the Home Ministry. The STF maintains the record of refugees in Nepal and of those still residing inside the Bhutan. Lhotshampas are required to obtain SCC from the STF. The STF checks the refugee records and immediately deregisters the relatives of refugees in Nepal from the census register and denies SCC. The STF has deregistered hundreds of Lhotshampas and denationalized them after the refugee verification.

 

The Lhotshampas are still forced to contribute free labour. They are required to  clear the  land for new settlers. There is a wide spread discrimination against the Lhotshampas in  the villages. The RGOB discriminates in providing services to the Lhotshampa villagers. The piped drinking water and electricity are supplied to the houses of newly arrived  settlers, but the same are denied to the Lhotshampas  who have been living in the area for  generations. Some educated Lhotshampas have moved to capital Thimphu  to evade harassment in the districts with their children and families. But now the government has ordered that the children from other districts should not be admitted to schools in Thimphu. The  RGOB has terminated thousands of Lhotshampa civil servants from various government offices often with out compensation. Since a decade, all the developments in the southern are stopped  citing flimsy  security reasons. Development activities are taking place only in northern Bhutan, especially in and around Thimphu and Paro. The presence of huge contingents of army in the civilian areas in the south has also created enormous  social problems for the people.

 

Bhutan cannot achieve good governance by alienation, economic and  social  exclusion of a section of  population inside Bhutan and banishment of one sixth of  total population as refugees. 

 

Persecution of Christians: Since 2001, the RGOB has been persecuting Christians in Bhutan. Many of them have been denationalized. They are denied jobs, school admission, passport, government business etc.

 

In the last Seventh RTM held in   Thimphu in 2001, the donors  had expressed concerns on increased unemployment, alienation  and  social exclusion of Lhotshampas,  denial of  citizenship ID card,  education, government employment and trade licenses to them and  solution of  refugee issue. However, even after two years, Bhutan has not made any  progress at all in these areas of donors’ concern  Now the time has come for the international  donors to demand Bhutan’s compliance to international human rights standards, elimination of discrimination against Lhotshampas and  repatriation of refugees. The donor communities should  judge Bhutan by its over all human rights situation  record and not merely project completion records.

 

We, Bhutanese people feel that Bhutan could not have acted with such impunity, had there not been an uninterrupted flow of money and support from the donors. The assistance enabled Bhutan to divert its internally generated resources to bankroll its repressive agenda.  So long as Bhutan secures support and fund from  international community, it will continue its repressive policies. Only international admonishment and blocking  of economic aid can make Bhutan to comply to the international human rights standards.

 

In view the above we on behalf of the Bhutanese people both living in exile and people living inside the country appeal to  the donor countries, donor agencies, international community and the United Nations to:

 

1. Pressurize  Bhutan to submit a  concrete road map to the international community for the speedy repatriation and rehabilitation of Bhutanese refugee back to their original homesteads  in  Bhutan within a year.

 

2. Ask Bhutan to immediately stop the  resettlement in the land left behind by the refugees  in the interest of just and durable repatriation of Bhutanese refugees and  in full consonance with international human rights and humanitarian law under its obligations as State of Origin and  withdraw the already settled people.

 

3. Ask Bhutan to immediately resume verification process of the refugees in remaining six camps simultaneously  and increase the number of JVT groups for the speedy verification of refugees.

 

4. Appoint a Special Rapporteur  for Bhutanese refugees and  form an international monitoring committee  of donor countries, human    rights groups, and experts to over see the process of verification, repatriation, and rehabilitation of the refugees.

 

5. Ask Bhutan to include the representatives from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the JMLCT and JVT.

 

6. Pressurize  Bhutan to abrogate all  racial and discriminatory laws and policies against minority Lhotshampas, stop their persecution and treat them with equality and dignity.

 

7. Ask Bhutan to repeal all laws which discriminate, repress, and punish citizens who do not support government policies.

 

8. Pressurize Bhutan to remove the requirement of the Security Clearance Certificate for all purposes and  provide equal opportunity to Lhotshampas  in employment, business, trade, education etc..

 

9. Ask Bhutan to open all the schools in the southern Bhutan, make education available to the children of all ethnic groups

 

10. Make human rights a precondition for any international assistance committed to Bhutan. In this context, ask  Bhutan to  immediately accede to, without limiting reservations, and implement the following international human rights treaties - the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its (First) Optional Protocol;  the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;  the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;   the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

 

11. Urge  Bhutan to initiate development activities in the southern Bhutan

 

12.  Pressurize Bhutan to respect the rights of minorities under various international human rights instruments.

 

13. Ask Bhutan to  open dialogue with the refugees and dissidents  to resolve the long standing human rights and political issues in Bhutan.

 

14. Tie up  the disbursement of economic aid to Bhutan with Bhutan’s  compliance to the  above.

 

15.  Pressurize Bhutan to submit  a report on its  compliance to above  within a year.

 

Thanking you

 

Excellency’s sincerely,

 

Rakesh Chhetri

Executive Director

 

Centre for Protection of Minorities and Against  Racism and Discrimination in Bhutan (CEMARD-Bhutan)

 

 

Website: http://www.oocities.org/bhutaneserefugees

Website: http://www.oocities.org/cemardbhutan

Website: http://www.bhutannewsonline.com

 

 

President

Bhutan Women and Children Organisation (BWCO)

 

Website:    http://www.oocities.org/bhutanwomen 

 
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