Nepal-Bhutan Ministeral Joint Committe Meeting
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NEPAL-BHUTAN  MINISTERIAL JOINT COMMITTEE  MEETING (MJC)

Update on April 16, 2004

 

 For MJC press Release please click on MJC Press

 

Refugees are not born but created by states, individuals and groups. Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has rightly said that "the issue of human rights and the problems of refugees are inextricably linked. The vast majority of refugees are driven from their homes by human rights abuses. Persecution, torture, killings and the reprehensible practice of ‘ethnic cleansing’ generate huge flow of refugees". The Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees just fit in her description. They were driven off from their homes by the racist Bhutanese government since 1990 -- and over 135, 000 of them, approximately twenty percent of Bhutan’s population, are now living in the refugee camps in Nepal.

 

The first official dialogue on the problems of Bhutanese refugees was held between the Bhutanese King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and the Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala on the sidelines of the seventh SAARC Summit, Dhaka on April 10, 1993.

 

On 25 April, 1993, Nepal sent a letter to Thimphu expressing desire to hold direct bilateral talks for resolving Bhutanese refugees crisis. The two sides then, decided to discuss the refugee issue bilaterally. Bhutan invited Nepalese delegation for talks to Thimphu on July 15, 1993. The Nepalese Home Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and his Bhutanese counterpart, Dago Tshering held the first meeting. At the end of meeting, the two ministers signed a joint statement agreeing to the formation of a six-member Nepal Bhutan  Ministerial Joint Committee ( MJC)  comprising three members from each country. The committee was entrusted with the following mandates: 

  • to determine the different categories of people claiming to have come from Bhutan in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal;  

  • to specify the positions of the two governments on each of these categories . 

  • to arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement on each of these categories, which will provide the basis for the resolution of the problem. Nepal created blunder by accepting Bhutan’s proposal.

On 13 September, 1993, the Nepal Bhutan  Ministerial Joint Committee ( MJC)  on refugee problems, comprising Home Minister of both countries was constituted.

 

The Fourteenth and Fifteenth rounds of  Nepal Bhutan Ministerial Joint Committee (MJC) Meeting  was held in Kathmandu, Nepal  on May  19-22, 2003 and  on October 20-23, 2003 in THimphu respectively. Please click on the link to read about the fourteenth ( 14th) and Fifteenth MJC meetings..

 

The details of  First to Thirteenth MJC Meetings are given below:

 

First MJC Meeting: The first MJC meeting  was held in Kathmandu on October 4-7, 1993. Dago Tshering and Sher Bahadur Deuba led their respective delegations. The two sides agreed to place the Bhutanese refugees into four categories; 

  • Bonafide Bhutanese, if they have been evicted forcefully; 

  • Bhutanese who emigrated; 

  • Non- Bhutanese people; and 

  • Bhutanese who have committed criminal acts. 

A joint statement said that on completion of the verification of refugees, the two sides would specify their positions on each categories and reach a mutually acceptable agreement, which would provide the basis for the resolution of the problem. However, the verification process of refugees into four categories has not begun mainly because of Bhutanese intransigence. Nepal created another blunder by agreeing to categorization.

 

Second MJC Meeting: The second MJC meeting held in Thimphu on February 21-24, 1994, discussed the "mechanism for verification of the four agreed categories of people in the refugee camps in Nepal". Nepal proposed the involvement of a third party, which was rejected by Bhutan. The succeeding talks thereafter focused on establishment of verification mechanism and harmonization of positions on categories of refugees, but in vain.

 

Third  MJC Meeting: The third MJC meeting held on April 4-7, 1994 in Kathmandu also did not go beyond deciding "to determine a mechanism for verification of the four categories of people in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal".

 

Fourth MJC Meeting: Both sides again failed to harmonise their positions on four categories of refugees at the fourth MJC meet held in Thimphu in June, 1994.

 

Fifth MJC Meeting: The fifth MJC meeting held in Kathmandu on February 27-March 1, 1995 also failed to reach an agreement on harmonization of two sides’ position on four categories of refugees. Mr.  K P Oli, the Nepalese Home Minister, led the Nepalese delegation.

 

Sixth MJC Meeting: The sixth MJC meet held in Thimphu on April 20, 1995 also received the same fate as earlier talks.

 

Seventh MJC Meeting : The Seventh MJC meeting  held at the Foreign Ministers’ level in Kathmandu on April 4-8, 1996 ended in a stalemate. Prakash Chandra Lohani and Dawa Tsering led their countries at the talks. There was an interregnum of three and half years between the seventh and the eighth talks.

 

Eighth MJC Meeting: Jigmi Y Thinley, the Bhutanese Foreign Minister and his Nepalese counterpart Dr Ram Sharan Mahat led their respective delegation at the eighth talk held in Kathmandu on September 13-16, 1999. This also concluded in disagreement on verification process. Bhutan proposed to start verification on a dubious list of 3000 refugees prepared by the UNHCR. Nepal rejecting Bhutan’s proposal, rightly proposed that the verification should be started from one of the refugee camps.

 

Ninth MJC Meeting: The ninth round of talk held May 22-25, 2000 at Thimphu, also ended without any breakthrough.. Both sides had agreed on naming the verification team within 15 days and starting the verification process within two months. The request for the 10th round of the MJC meeting scheduled for 25 December came from Bhutan, facing a mounting international pressure. Many Bhutanese believe that Bhutan’s gesture is phony and, as usual, intended to hoodwink the international community. Some significant developments have taken place concerning refugees since the ninth talk.

 

Tenth MJC Meeting: The  tenth round of MJC meeting was held on December 25-28, 2000 in Kathmandu. Bhutanese team was led by its Foreign Minister Jigmi Yozer Thinlay and the Nepalese delegation was led by Mr. Chakra Prasad bastola, Foreign Minister of Nepal. The tenth talk was able to break ice. It decided to create  Nepal-Bhutan refugee Joint Verification Team (JVT).  The Nepalese team, was to be led by Mrs. Usha Nepal, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs and  the Bhutanese by Dr. Sonam Tenzin, Director at the Bhutanese Ministry of Home Affairs. The JVT was created and started its work of interviewing and verifying 98,886 Bhutanese refugees from Khudunabari refugee camp in Jhapa on March 26 2001. After trying since 1993 to solve the Bhutanese refugee question, the 10th round of the Nepal-Bhutan Joint Ministerial Level Committee held on 25-28 December, 2000  has finally made some progress. It is quite apparent that the progress made in the 10th talk was due to mounting international pressure which compelled Bhutan to search for a compromise. This is evident from the resolution of the European Parliament in September, concern expressed by donors on refugee issue at the Round Table Meeting of the Bhutan aid consortium held in Bhutan  from 7-9 November 2000 and the interest shown by the United States  in solving the refugee problem.

 

Eleventh MJC Meeting : The eleventh round of MJC was held in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan on August 20-23, 2001.  The Nepalese team was led by its Finance Minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat and Jigmi Yozer Thinlay led Bhutanese team. On his return form Bhutan, Finance Minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat  said that Nepal and Bhutan have agreed to begin the repatriation of Bhutanese refugees of Khudunabari camp by October. However, Nepal’s proposals to reduce the categories of the refugees into Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese was not accepted by Bhutan. The verification will go further only after the completion of the process in one camp, Dr. Mahat told media persons at the airport. The Finance Minister exuded the confidence that two neighbors have agreed to "accelerate the verification process" and said, "We expect that the verification process will now be two times faster or at least 80 per cent quicker than the current pace."

 

Another significant agreement during the 11th MJC meet in Thimphu was delegation of more authority to the JVT. Now, the JVT can take minor decisions on disputes instead of referring them to the ministerial level.  Despite these agreements on speeding up the verification process, the MJC meeting failed to fulfill Nepal’s demand. Nepal and Bhutan have differences of opinion and interpretation on the categorization of the refugees. At present, there are four categories – Bhutanese, non-Bhutanese, Bhutanese who willingly emigrated and the Bhutanese with criminal records. Nepal has been insisting on retaining only the first two categories but Bhutan did not agree to Nepal’s proposal during the present meeting. 

 

In short the Eleventh MJC meet also failed to speedup the process of verification. After almost four months of work, the JVT has managed to verify only 940 families and 5,913 individuals as of 10th August 2001. The average rate of interview as of August 2001 comes to 10 families per day. At this pace, it will take six years of 260 working days per year to complete just the interviews of all the refugee families. No refugee believe that the JVT will ever facilitate the repatriation of refugees.

 

Twelfth MJC Meeting:  Under  sustained international pressure, the Nepal-Bhutan Joint Verification Team ( JVT) was formed. The verification of over 12,000 refugees living in Khudunabari undertaken by the Joint Verification Team (JVT) on March 26, 2001 was completed on December 14, 2001. Ninety percent of verified Bhutanese refugees could produce documents to prove their origin to Bhutan. Since, a year passed, neither the result of verification of refugees has been made public nor the  verification of the remaining camps have been started.

 

Meanwhile,  the verified refugees launched an indefinite relay hunger strike in Khudunabari camp on  January 07,  2003, demanding the immediate publication of verification results, repatriation of verified refugees and commencement of verification in the remaining six camps.  A group of  verified refugees visited the diplomatic community based in Nepal and lobbied for internationalization of refugee issue.

 

Then suddenly in the middle of January, 2003, Bhutanese Ambassador Dago Tshering paid a visit to Nepal. He met with the Nepali Foreign Ministry officials and told the media that Bhutan was interested  to hold the Twelfth round of  Nepal Bhutan JMinisterial Joint Committee (MJC) meetingNepalese Foreign Minister Mr. Narendra Bikram Shah left to Bhutan on January 25, 2003. After his return on January 26, 2003, he issued a statement saying that the joint verification teams will soon begin categorization of refugees in Khudunabari. He also said that the  Twelfth round of MJC meet will be held soon.

 

Accordingly, the Twelfth round of  Nepal Bhutan Ministerial Joint Committee ( MJC) meeting  was held in Kathmandu for one day on February 06, 2003. Lyonpo Jigmi Y. Thinley, Foreign Minister of Bhutan led the Bhutanese delegation and Mr. Narendra Bikram Shah, Nepalese Foreign Minister headed the Nepalese delegation

 

Reportedly,  Nepal and Bhutan agreed to undertake the catagorisation process of the already verified Bhutanese refugees in Thimphu from February 24.   The Twelfth MJC meet  also agreed to hold the next MJC meeting   in Thimphu from 24 March, 2003 to  prepare a roadmap to find an early and lasting solution to the decade-long Bhutanese refugee crisis.  However, the meeting failed to agree on a time frame for the verification and repatriation of refugees. Nepalese Foreign Minister also admitted that friendly and donor countries had pressured them to resolve the problem as quickly as possible

 

According to a report of  Kathmandu Post, an English daily of February 07, 2003, Nepal also agreed to "consider" the cases of those who do not want to return. At a press briefing after three sessions of the bilateral talks , both the Foreign Ministers  said that verification of other camps would begin only after repatriation of Khudunabari was completed. Both ministers refused to reveal as to by when the repatriation of the verified Bhutanese would take place. The ‘categorization’ has  remained a stumbling block on the  progress of bilateral talk.. Much  depends on the results of the Khudunabari camp, which is being taken as a test case.

 

As of date, twelfth rounds of Nepal Bhutan  Ministerial Joint Committee (MJC) meeting have been held since 1993. 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 MJC meeting  on February 06, 2003, just ahead of  Bhutan’s  donors’ meeting in Geneva. As expected the MJC meeting  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 MJC meeting  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 MJC meeting. 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.

 

Thirteenth MJC Meeting:  The 13th Nepal Bhutan  Ministerial Joint Committee ( MJC) Meeting on  the repatriation of  more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees living in the refugee  camps in southeast Nepal was held on March 24-26, 2003 in Thimphu. The  Bhutanese Foreign Minister  Lyonpo Jigme Thinley  led Bhutanese delegation while  his Nepalese counterpart  Mr. Narendra Bikram Shah led the Nepalese delegation.

 

Prior to that Nepal-Bhutan joint verification team (JVT) started the categorization of verified 12,095  refugees  in Khudunabari camp  in Thimphu on February 24, 2003. The 12th MJC held in Kathmandu from February 5 -7, 2003, directed the JVT to start work on the categorization of verified refugees from Khudanabari camp.  The 13th meeting of MJC  reviewed the progress made by the Nepal-Bhutan joint verification team (JVT). A joint press release said that the MJC had agreed on the modalities for the implementation of the outcome of the joint verification and categorization exercise of Khudunabari camp.  The 13th  MJC  agreed to  introduce a voluntary repatriation form for the refugees who want to go back to their homeland. Reportedly,  the verified refugees will be asked to fill up the voluntary repatriation form and those wiling to fill such forms will be eligible  to go back to Bhutan.  It was also disclosed that  the voluntary repatriation form based on  international norms,  will be distributed  to the refugees in three of the four categories, viz; Bhutanese forced to leave, Bhutanese who emigrated willingly and Bhutanese with criminal records. Those falling in the fourth category, the non-Bhutanese, won’t get any such repatriation forms. The two countries also agreed to hold the 14th MJC meeting in Kathmandu from May 11, 2003.  The 14th MJC meeting will review and approve the report of the on-going Joint Verification Team (JVT) on the categorization of  verified refugees of the Khudunabari camp. It may also decide on  the repatriation process. The 14th ministerial meeting will also decide on the verification on the remaining six camps. During the 13th MJC meeting  the two sides examined and scrutinized documents of the refugees supporting their claim of Bhutanese citizenship according to Nepalese Foreign Minister.

 

However, the 13th  MJC failed to harmonize the position of two governments on four categories of refugees :  bonafide Bhutanese who have been evicted; Bhutanese who emigrated; non Bhutanese; and Bhutanese who have committed criminal acts. The harmonization of positions of two governments on four categories of refugees, has so far remained the stumbling block on the resolution of Bhutanese refugee issue.

 

Fourteenth  MJC Meeting: Please click on the link to read about the fourteenth ( 14th) MJC meeting held in Kathmandu on May 19-22, 2003

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FSLT: While Nepal was expecting an invitation from Bhutan on the ninth round of MJCT, Bhutan proposed the next talk to be the Foreign Secretary Level Talk (FSLT). Thus, the third FSLT was held in Thimphu on February 14-16, 2000 between the Nepalese Foreign Secretary MP Sharma and his Bhutanese counterpart Ugen Tshering. Earlier on Bhutan's insistence two FSLTs were held in Thimphu on February 27, 1997 and July 11-14, 1997. The Nepalese Joint Secretary and the Foreign Secretary Kumar Gyawali took part in them. Bhutan's insistence on FSLT is seen as its desire to avoid a decision making committee like MJCT to prolong the repatriation of refugees. There is practically no justification in downgrading the level of the talk from the ministerial to the official (bureaucratic) level, except delaying. It also gives wrong signals to the refugees as well as the international communities, who stand by Nepal's sincere desire to solve the refugee crisis.

 

Fourth FSLT: The Nepal-Bhutan Foreign Secretary Level (FSL) meeting was held in Kathmandu on 6-7 November, 2001. The Nepalese delegation was led by Foreign Secretary Narayan Shumsher Thapa and the Bhutanese side by Bhutan's Foreign Secretary Ugyen Tshering. The secretary level meeting was a follow up on the 11th Nepal-Bhutan ministerial level meeting held in Thimpu, which had agreed on matters concerning verification of refugees and better coordination and cooperation in the task ahead. This was the fourth FSL meeting. In the FSL meeting, both sides were supposed to put across their views on refugee categorization and building an environment congenial to the dignified repatriation of about 100,000 Bhutanese refugees sheltering in various camps in Nepal for the past 10 years. The categorization of refugees has been a contentious issue between the two countries right from the first Ministerial level talk in 1993.

The foreign secretary-level Nepal-Bhutan dialogue on Bhutanese refugees came to a deadlock once again with both sides sticking to their respective stance on the categorization of the refugees. While Nepal had pushed for two categories, Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese, Bhutanese delegation insisted on keeping the other two categories, "Bhutanese who emigrated willingly" and "Bhutanese with criminal records." Nepalese Foreign Secretary Thapa said that the differences between the two countries remain on the harmonisation, which he termed as the focus of the two-day talks. "There are certain differences that we could not reconcile. So we have suggested that the matter be taken up at the next ministerial round," said Thapa. Talking about the sharp differences on the two countries positions on the categorisation of the Bhutanese refugees, Thapa quipped, "There are four categories and there will be four positions."

Nepal’s stand: Both Nepal’s and Bhutan’s stands are diametrically opposed to each other. Nepal sincerely wants all Bhutanese refugees to go back to their homes. It wants speedy constitution of verification for repatriation of refugees. It does not want non-Bhutanese refugees, if found any in the camps, during the verification, to impose on Bhutan

 

Bhutan’s stand: On the other hand, Bhutan is not sincere. It does not want to take back its citizen refugees for fear of inviting early democracy. It does not accept more than 3000 refugees as Bhutanese. It has been avoiding to constitute verification mechanism. For once the mechanism is constituted, it would be compelled to take back all its citizens from the camps. It is still transferring population from other parts in the lands of refugees in southern Bhutan. It wants all refugees assimilated outside Bhutan. However, the international community are now fully aware of Bhutanese lies. They know the fact that "all refugees are Bhutanese", and that "Bhutan’s refusal to take them back is just to stall the import of democracy"

 

All past talks were found to begin at ‘harmonising of two sides’ positions on four categories of refugees and establishment of verification mechanism’ -- the core issue on the actual repatriation of refugees. But each of them failed miserably. The whole game plan was craftily masterminded by Bhutan for seeking refugees’ assimilation outside Bhutan.  All Bhutanese refugees want to go back home.

 

If Bhutan gets its way, then more than half of the refugees will be disqualified to go home. Bhutanese children of below five years age, who got evicted along with their parents (those below 20 years of age now) before 1995, will not find their names recorded in the census record of Bhutan, and hence automatically disqualified, if refugees are individually verified. The number of this age group refugee is quite high. Over 17,000 children born in the camps will also be disqualified. Refugees will get justice, if only they are identified through their family heads.

 

Please click on International Concern for continuity

 
 
Human Rights Reports
Amnesty (AI) Reports
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 Others Reports
US Human Rights Report 2002
US Human Rights Report
Human Rights Watch Report 2003
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Habitat FFM
Cultural Cleansing
Crisis of Identity
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