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Bhutan at a Glance


Form of government

Absolute hereditary monarchy

Area (sq. Km)

46,500, land-locked with no access to sea



Administrative districts


Political parties

Political parties banned

Population in 1999

657,548* plus 125,000 refugees*** 782,548

Age Composition






65 +


Urban population (%)


Rural Population (%)


Population density


Median age


Index of aging



Ngultrum at par with Indian Rupees


Dzongkha (national), Sarchopkha and Nepali

GDP real growth (%) in 1998


Population growth


Tourist arrival in 1999


Land boundaries

1075 km: China 470 km, India 605 km

Land Use

2% arable land

Birth rate   

36.22 births/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Life expectancy at birth


Male (years)


Female (years)

51.99 ( 2000 est.)

Total fertility rate  born/woman (2000 est.)

5.13 children 

Literacy rate Total





28.1% (1995 est.)

GDP -Agriculture share to GDP


Industry share to GDP


Services share to GDP

25% (1998)

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

9% (1998)


100.00 %

Drukpa Krgyupa  Buddhism

16.24 % 

Nyngmapa  Buddhism

34,53 %


46.25 %


02.04 %

Tibetan Buddhism                                

00.90 %          

Animist or nature worshippers            

01.02 %

* as per Bhutan at a Glance, 2000,  Central Statistical Organization, Planning Commission Secretariat, Royal Government of Bhutan, 1999. **  as per CIA Fact Book 2000***  as per  CEMARD-Bhutan estimate


Under the British influence a monarchy was set up in 1907; three years later a treaty was signed whereby the country became a British protectorate. Independence was attained in 1949, with India subsequently guiding foreign relations and providing aid.

Bhutan is located in the eastern Himalayas bordered by India in the south, east and west and by the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China in the north. It is a land-locked country having an area of 46,500 Sq. Km. between latitudes 26 45 0 North and 28 10 0 North and between longitudes 88 45 0 east and 92 10 0 east. At its longest east-west dimension, Bhutan stretches around 300 kilometres and it measures 170 kilometre at its maximum north-south dimension.




Bhutan does not have any indigenous group. It is a nation of immigrants and a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic society. There are three main ethnic, religious and linguistic groups and a dozen smaller groups.

The Ngalung – often called Drukpas – are the ruling group who control the monarchy and the government and dominate the economy. King and all the high Government Officials belong to this politically and economically dominant ethnic group. They live in the north-western region, speak Dzonkha language and wear robe like dresses. They migrated from Tibet. They are called Drukpas as they follow the Drukpa Kargyupa school of Mahayana Buddhism.

The second ethnic group is called Sharchop, who inhabit in eastern and central region and practice Nyingmapa sect of Mahayana Buddhism and belong to Tibeto-Burman ancestry. They speak Tsangla, Kurteop, Kheng and Brokpa dialects. They were supposedly migrated from North-east India.

The third ethnic group is called Lhotshampas ( meaning Southern Bhutanese) live in six southern foothill districts, speak Nepali language, practice mostly Hinduism and migrated from Nepal, Darjeeling and Sikkim in India.

All three ethnic groups migrated to Bhutan at different points of time in history, but before the exodus of British from India in 1947. There are other minority ethnic groups having their own distinct characteristics in terms of language, culture, religious practices etc. They are Tibetans, Doyas, Khengs, Adivashis, Brokpas Mangdepas and Kurteopas. In terms of religion and faith, Bhutanese people practise Hinduism, Christianity, Drukpa Kargyupa and Nyingmapa sects of Buddhism and Animism.

Each ethnic group of Bhutan have lived clustered together in separate regions. For example, the Nepali-speaking Lhotshampas lived in southern foothills, the Sharchops lived in eastern region and the Ngalungs lived in north-western regions. In Bhutan the census record is maintained in the district of origin, even though they are living in different parts like capital Thimphu

The government of Bhutan does not disclose the exact number of population. It has been a guarded secret. In the eighties the government put the figure at 1,165,800 and even increased to 1.4 million. The reason and the need for this inflated figure could not be ascertained. However, due to external pressure and after the dissident groups published the population figure at between 600,000 to 700,00, the king of Bhutan admitted in 1991 that the real number was just about 600,000.

In 1999, Bhutan’s population was 657,548 according to the Planning Commission of the Royal Government of Bhutan. There are 125,000 Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal and India. Out of which around 105,000 are living in Nepal and another 20,000 in India.. Thus, the total population of Bhutan was estimated at 782,548 ( 657,548 + 125,000). The world Bank’s population figure for the year 2000 was 782,000. Bhutan is administratively divided into western, central, eastern and southern regions. King’s religion -Drukpa Kargyupa Buddhism is the state religion. King’s language Dzonkha is the national language. The following unofficial demographic statistics have been derived by a complex system based on Government statistics, population figures of 1980 and 2000, UN, World Bank and other international sources. The following figures include the refugee population, about 125,000 living in refugee camps in Nepal, other parts of Nepal and India.




With the support of British Empire, monarchy was established in 1907. Since then, Bhutan is ruled by an absolute hereditary monarch since 1907. There is no Constitution or the Bill of Rights in Bhutan. The system of governance is practically autocratic, primitive, despotic and feudal. The King is the head of the state, government and the highest court of appeal. In the absence of the Constitution or clearly defined powers of the government., the executive, judiciary and the legislature function as a single administrative structure under the command of the King. There is a Council of Minister under the chairmanship of the king.




The High Court in Thimphu known as Royal Court of Justice is the country's supreme court was set up in 1968. It comprises of six judges. The district courts have a lone district judge. The judiciary is not independent of the king and neither is it impartial or neutral. Since, it functions under the command of the king, the King exercises strong, active and direct power over the judiciary. The Government significantly restricts the rights of Bhutanese citizens and the judiciary has never protected these rights. The judiciary is also never known to declare any government action unlawful. Provisions for defence attorneys, lawyers, solicitors and jury trials are non existent. No Judicial official including the Chief Justice is trained in law. The current judges do not possess any university degree. In fact an important institution like the judiciary has been made a dumping ground for inefficient and unwanted civil servants. Arbitrary arrest and detention is the rule rather than exception. Royal Bhutan Police has never seen an arrest warrant. Bhutan has the most outdated, unprofessional and unlawful prosecution and trial system. The government restricts citizens’ right to a fair trial. In contravention to all established jurisprudence and international legal norms, the judges in Bhutan investigate cases, file charges, prosecute and even award judgment. The hearing judge assists the police from the executive branch of the government in the prosecution and decides the cases. The entire basis of the judicial system is extraction of the confession of the crime.



The National Assembly of Bhutan ( a unicameral house ) is called Tshogdu. It consists of 150 members. 100 seats are filled up by the so-called representative of people, selected by the King appointed Dzongda (Chief District Officer). The Chief District Officer is the final authority to decide on the person to be selected. Forty members are appointed by the King from among the bureaucracy and ten members are nominated by the Buddhist clergy. There is no fair representation to the National Assembly. It is a rubber-stamp of the executive and its deliberations are all engineered by the Government. There is only Treasury bench.


The king and his Council of Ministers is the single source of law. Members of national Parliament -- the National Assembly (NA)-- themselves cannot pass any legislation. They do not belong to any political party, since political parties and human rights organisations are banned in Bhutan. The Council of Ministers sends all legislation to the National Assembly for approval and enactment. The NA just approves them and all legislation passed by the NA is sent to the King, who has the power to veto any legislation. NA has been relegated to the institution of eulogizing the magnanimity of the king, paying adulatory and flattering tributes to him and legitimising government action. NA members are indoctrinated to deliberate on pre-decided agenda set by the government. Laws in Bhutan have no respect at all for individual rights and civil liberties. Citizens including members of NA lose their nationality if they criticize the King and his government. The king and his government are above law and supreme in the legal system.




Bhutan’s foreign policy is guide by India under Article 2 of the Indo-Bhutan Treaty, 1949. India has been the largest foreign aid provider and trading partner. Bhutan has diplomatic relations with India, Nepal, Pakistan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, EEC, Norway, Netherlands, Kuwait, Japan, Finland, South Korea, Austria, Thailand, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Singapore and Macaw. It does not have diplomatic relations with the nest door neighbour China and USA.


Bhutanese residential diplomatic missions are located in New Delhi, UN Headquarters, New York, UN Offices Geneva, Kuwait city, Bangkok, Colombo and Dhaka. India and Bangladesh have their embassies in Thimphu. The Austrian Cooperation Bureau, Canadian Co-opeartion Offive, GTZ, SNV Netherlands, DANIDA, HELVETAS, UNDP, UNICEF, FAO, WFP and WHO maintain their resident representatives in Thimphu.


Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations in 1971. Bhutan is a member of. Colombo Plan, UPU, UNCTAD, ESCAP, NAM, IFAD, IMF, IBRD, IDA, FAO, WHO, UNESCO, ADB, UNIDO, ITU, ECOSOC in 1992. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) opened its office in Thimphu in 1979.


Bhutan's literacy level is lowest in South Asia, around 42%. There are less than 3,000 graduates in all streams together (arts, science, commerce, engineering and medicine together). Less than 40 people hold Master degrees.




As a Least developed country Bhutan depends on foreign aids for financing its developmental programmes and establishment costs. India is the largest donor to Bhutan. Other donor countries to Bhutan include Australia, Austria, Finland, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom and the United States.




Bhutan is a closed society, where the Government of Bhutan virtually controls everything. Politics and discussion about country's politics is banned. Even viewing of television was prohibited until 1999. There is no newspaper except one weekly bulletin owned by the government and the transparency on the government action is non-existent. The radio, Bhutan Broadcasting Service and newly established Television station are owned by the government. These agencies are used for propaganda of the government. They publish and broadcast only what the government wants the people to read, hear and know.

There is no official guarantee for the protection of citizens' human rights. The Bhutanese people are not secure and do not enjoy even the basic human rights. Dissidence and opposition to the Government is treated as treason. Bhutanese people have been absolutely denied of their fundamental human rights and they have no Right to Freedom of speech, expression, press and publication; no right to peaceful assembly and union; no right to choose and oppose the government; no right to vote and elections; no right to freedom of religion, worship, observe and practise their religion in community, in public, or even in private; no right to form unions, associations,

organisations, NGOs and political parties; no right to social and cultural rights. Bhutanese refugees have no right to return to their country. Bhutan. Bhutan Government has violated 20 Articles out of the thirty Articles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has not signed major International Instruments on Human Rights, such as the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Christianity is banned in Bhutan




Ever since the movement for human rights against the abuses of human rights, arbitrary de-nationalization of Nepali-speaking southern Bhutanese citizens ( called Lhotshampa),  denial of their children’s admission to schools, denial of cultural and linguistic rights and forced imposition of ruling Ngalung community's culture and language on the rest of population,  was launched in the kingdom of Bhutan in 1990 demanding the replacement of the current party-less and despotic rule by a democratic set-up, with the constitutional guarantee of human rights and rule of law, more than 110,000 Bhutanese people, nearly a sixth of the kingdom's total population of approximately 767,548 have been forced to leave or forcibly evicted from the country by the Government. This has made Bhutan as one of the highest per capita refugee generators in the world. As on March 2001, approximately  98,886 Bhutanese refugees are living in seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal managed by the UNHCR. Rest live scattered in other parts of Nepal. About 10,000 Bhutanese refugees are living in Indian territories with out any help.  


While refugees from such countries as Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan and former Yugoslavia were victims of armed conflicts or civil war, refugees from Bhutan were forced to leave their country not because of civil war or foreign intervention but because of the racist and ethnocentric policies and feelings of the Government against the Nepali-speaking citizens of southern Bhutan, called Lhotshampas. They have become  victims of the government’s racist and  'ethnic cleansing policy" and "internal persecution of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens".  


Bhutanese security forces resorted to such inhuman  tactics as torture, killing in custody torture, indiscriminate arrests, loot, rape, plunder and burning of the houses of southern Bhutanese finally compelling them to leave their home in Bhutan. The government of Bhutan had confiscated citizenship and property documents and also forced many of the Nepali-speaking Lhotshampas to sign papers renouncing Bhutanese citizenship. 


In the last ten years, the Nepalese and Bhutanese sides have held nine rounds of bilateral talks and failed to resolve the issue of repatriation mainly on account of Bhutan's intransigence. The deadlock was over the process of verification. Bhutan wants to take back as less number of refugees as possible. Bhutan had already classified the refugees into various categories who did not qualify to return. Nepal had insisted on verification through the head of family as Bhutan keeps land records in the name of head of family. The citizenship card is awarded to the children  on the basis of the entry of the name of the head of the family in the land records.  However, Bhutan insisted on interviewing on individual refugees, which could disqualify over 40,000 refugees from going home.


If Bhutan got 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.  


Eviction: More than seventy percent of refugees falling under category two were forcefully evicted by the Bhutanese government through barbaric and brutal physical measures, contrary to its claim of them seeking voluntary emigration. A government circular issued by the then Deputy Home Minister Dago Tshering on 17-8-90 is an un-refutable documentary testimony and evidence of Lhotshampas being forcefully evicted from Bhutan. The circular addressed to all District Administrators of Southern districts reads thus, ".. a large number of southern Bhutanese (Nepali-speaking) people have left the country to join forces with the Ngolops… (dissidents - pro human rights activists)…  that any Bhutanese national leaving the country to assist the anti-nationals shall no longer be considered as a Bhutanese citizen… that such peoples' family members living under the same household will also be held fully responsible and forfeit their citizenship”.  The army, militia and the police were mobilised under him to forcefully evict the Lhotshampas.  The citizenship cards of many fleeing Lhotshampas were confiscated by the government officials, though majority of them possess other documentary evidence of their origin to Bhutan. Amnesty International, London in its report  clearly establishes that “ under 1985 Citizenship Act, tens of thousands were declared to be illegal and forcibly evicted from Bhutan. Others fled in the face of officially sanctioned pressures.. arbitrary arrests, beating, rape, robberies and other forms of intimidation by police and army.” The government  ordered demolishing and burning down of Lhotshampas’ houses.  


Joint Verification:  The governments of Bhutan and Nepal after a protracted negotiations held since 1993 have finally agreed to form a Joint Verification Team (JVT) to determine the status of Bhutanese refugees. The JVT has started its work of interviewing Bhutanese refugees since 16 March 2001. The JVT has selected Khudunabari camp to start with. This camp has 12,447 refugees. 


The verification of refugees living in Khudunabari undertaken by the Nepal-Bhutan Joint Verification Team was completed on December 14, 2001 according to the office of the Joint Verification Team (JVT). Khudunabari is the smallest of seven refugee camps. It has 12,447 refugees with 1,963 families. The verification of refugees was started on march 26, 2001. The JVT has completed verification of 12,090 refugees from 1,935 families. The JVT took  264 days (153 working days)  to complete Khudunabari camp.


In view of the current slow pace of JVT, it will take more than 5 years from now to complete the interview of refugees. However, actual repatriation even after completion of interview in next 5 years will be a distant dream for refugees.  It is very hard to believe that such slow process  will be able  solve the refugee problem and their repatriation to Bhutan. It still is a grim situation.  Women and children constitute nearly 49 and 40  percent of  the total Bhutanese refugee population respectively.


The eleventh round of Nepal Bhutan Joint Ministerial Level Committee Talk on the resolution of Bhutanese refugee issue held in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu held  on  August 20-23, 2001 could not make tangible progress on the need of speeding up the verification process.

Almost five months elapsed after  the completion of  verification process in Khudunabari camp on December 14, 2001. The Bhutanese team went back. There is no progress in the verification process. The bilateral talk on refugee has  come to a deadlock again. Without  international  intervention, Bhutan will not willingly come to the negotiating table. Bhutan’s intransigence has made the life of its over 120,000 citizens refugees miserable. A decade old refugee problem cannot be resolved with out direct international intervention. 


For full account of Bhutanese refugees please visit the following website: Bhutanese Refugees

Bhutanese Refugees
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