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NGO Response to Initial State Party Report:
BHUTAN (CRC/C/3/Add.60) under the Convention of the Rights of the Child
Committee on the Rights of the Child 27th Session (21 May –
8 June 2001)
Bhutanese Refugee Support Group,
Ireland and UK
The Lutheran World Federation
Association of Human Rights Activists (AHURA),
Bhutanese Refugees Aiding the Victims of Violence (BRAVVE)
Bhutanese Refugee Representative Repatriation Committee (BRRRC
21 November 2000
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. INTRODUCTION 3
Historical background 4
2. RESPONSES TO ELEMENTS
OF BHUTAN'S REPORT 5
2.1. Non-discrimination (art. 2)---------------------5
2.2. Name and nationality (art. 7) and
preservation of identity(art.8)------8
2.3. Family environment and alternative care-------------9
2.4. Measures taken to harmonise national law
with the provisions of the Convention-------------------10
2.5. General legal framework within which human
rights are protected------10
3. CONCLUDING REMARKS------------------------------12
2.2. Name and Nationality (art. 7) and Preservation of
Bhutanese children have the right to nationality, name and family as
recognized by the citizenship laws of Bhutan.(paragraph 59 of Bhutan's
Bhutan recognises the right of the child to acquire Bhutanese nationality as
provided in its citizenship laws. However, these laws provide inadequate
protection to children for their rights set out in Articles 7 and 8 of the
CRC, which stipulate that children
shall have the right from birth to acquire a nationality (article 7) and the
right to preserve their identity, including their nationality (article 8).
Article 2 of Bhutan’s 1985 Citizenship Act limits Bhutanese citizenship by
birth to persons whose parents are both citizens of Bhutan.
There is continuing uncertainty regarding the nationality status of the
refugees, who claim to be Bhutanese citizens, and whose claims the
governments of Bhutan and Nepal have agreed (but not yet commenced) to
verify. This uncertainty is affecting children and young adults in several
Firstly, it affects those children who were born into the refugee camps and
who have never resided in Bhutan, because the right of their parents to
return to their country of origin, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, is not recognized under existing Bhutanese law and
practice. Article 6 of the 1985 Citizenship Act provides that if Bhutanese
people leave the country of their own accord (as the refugees are generally
considered to have done by the government of Bhutan), their names will no
longer be recorded in the citizenship register as maintained by the Ministry
of Home Affairs, and they will no longer be considered as citizens of
Secondly, the issue of nationality and potential statelessness affects those
young adults who entered the refugee camps as children but who have since
Many spouses of Bhutanese citizens and children of one Bhutanese parent, who
are currently living as refugees, should under normal circumstances have
acquired the right to claim nationality under the 1985 Act. People applying
for citizenship by
naturalization must have resided in Bhutan for 15 years if they or their
parents are government employees, and 20 years in all other cases. This
period of residence must have been registered with and recorded by the
Department of Immigration and Census. It is now impossible for children and young adults in the affected
categories to fulfil the residency and possibly the other requirements for
obtaining citizenship by naturalization.
A stateless person, according to the Convention on Statelessness, is a
person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation
of its law. According to international law, the children living in the
refugee camps in Nepal could, on this basis, be considered as stateless, or at least as being at
grave risk of statelessness. From Bhutan's position in the bilateral
negotiations with Nepal, it appears that the right of refugee children to
return to Bhutan and acquire Bhutanese nationality will, under Bhutan's citizenship laws, hinge primarily on their
parents' ability to prove, during a verification process (if and when such a
process actually commences), that they did not migrate voluntarily from
Bhutan but are Bhutanese citizens who were forcibly evicted.
UNHCR's The State of the World's Refugees, 1997 reports that Bhutan's new
citizenship laws "effectively denationalised large numbers of ethnic Nepalis".
The report concludes: "The right to nationality or citizenship was once
described by a member of the US Supreme Court as 'the right to have rights'.
As this comment suggests, citizenship provides the legal connection between individuals and
the state, and thus serves as the basis for the realization and enjoyment of
all other rights."
Article 7.2 of the CRC requires State Parties to respect the right to
nationality in accordance with their obligations under relevant
international instruments as well as in accordance with their own national
laws. In cases where a child is illegally deprived of some or all elements of
his or her identity, article 8.2 further places
responsibility on State Parties to "provide appropriate assistance and
protection, with a view to speedily re-establishing his or her identity."
Bhutan and Nepal have expressed their commitment to a verification process
to determine the status of those claiming to be Bhutanese refugees. Whatever
the outcome may be, the delay in initiating this process amounts to
withholding the rights of the children concerned to a nationality as set out
in Articles 7 and 8 of the CRC.
2.3. Family environment and alternative care
Paragraphs 77 to 82 of Bhutan's report speak of the strong family ties that
exist in Bhutanese society. A sad outcome of the refugee situation is the
separation of members of extended families in cases where part of a family
has been evicted and separated family members cannot contact each other for fear that those still
in Bhutan will suffer the consequences. Relatives in Bhutan of people in
exile appear to have reason to feel insecure.
Parents know that it is their inherent duty to feed, clothe, shelter and
protect their children as well as ensure development of the child's body and
mind (paragraph 80 of Bhutan's report).
Circumstances have robbed parents of the potential to fulfil these duties of
parenthood. Lhotshampas were dismissed from jobs and left with no means to
support their children. Homes were raided, burned, demolished, or sold at a
pittance to government servants. Southern Bhutanese were forced to leave
their homes and land, and their neighbours forced to destroy all evidence of habitation.
The security of the family environment in which children could flourish was
disturbed. As well as suffering loss of property and loss of the opportunity
to earn a living, parents suffered physical and psychological hardship and
trauma, and have been less well able to look after their children's
emotional needs. Such sufferings have been well documented in publications
by refugee groups and in reports by Amnesty International and others. Continuing mental health problems amongst adults, owing to the stress of
life in exile in the refugee camps, is a major concern documented by Save
the Children Fund UK.
Only through restoration of their fundamental rights can these parents hope
to fulfil the duties to their children outlined in paragraph 80 of Bhutan's
2.4. Measures taken to harmonise national law and
policy with the provisions of the Convention
In order to harmonise national law and policy with the provisions of the
Convention, the existing laws of the country are being constantly reviewed.
(paragraph 13 of Bhutan's report) Measures to harmonise law and policy with
provisions of the CRC can only be welcomed. However, laws and policies designed to protect
children presently in Bhutan, do not protect those who are forced to live as
refugees. These children are functionally stateless until the governments of
Bhutan and Nepal fulfil their commitment to resolving the issue, thereby
allowing them to enjoy their citizenship rights. The right of the Bhutanese
refugee children to a nationality is the most fundamental issue to be
addressed in order for Bhutan to fulfil its obligations under the CRC.
2.5. General legal framework within which human
rights are protected
There are some indications in Bhutan's report as to the general framework
within which human rights are protected in the country. Human rights
instruments are made part of the legal system when legislation is passed by
the National Assembly
(paragraph 183 of Bhutan's report).
The Planning Commission is identified in paragraph 17 of Bhutan's report as
being responsible for developing policies and programmes affecting the child
in close communication with other sectors.
Laws are framed and adopted by the National Assembly which is comprised of
the representatives of the people. (paragraph 183 of Bhutan's report)
Reports of debate after debate, year after year, in the National Assembly,
give little indication that National Assembly members have any awareness of
Bhutan's human rights obligations. Two resolutions of the National Assembly
have been in direct violation of human rights principles: in 1991, the
resolution to evict any citizens whom it termed as "anti-nationals"; in 1997, the resolution that
all relatives of "anti-nationals" would be compulsorily retired from
If the members of the National Assembly are not aware of their obligations
under human rights instruments, whose duty is it to inform them? Paragraph 9
of Bhutan's report would seem to place the onus on the District
Administration under the Dzongda (District Administrator), who is
responsible for disseminating information about the CRC through annual
public meetings. District administration is within the sphere of the Home
The Ministry of Health and Education is recognized (in paragraph 17 of
Bhutan's report) as the focal organization for addressing issues and
supporting the status of children in terms of health and empowerment through
education. Paragraph 39 of Bhutan's report states that school admissions are
governed by rules set by the Education Division, and a committee set up by
the Dzongkhag education office ensures its proper implementation.
Whatever these rules may be, they have not always operated in a
non-discriminatory manner. In 1991, office orders came from the Department
of Education in Thimphu, through district education officers, to expel named
Lhotshampa children from schools in southern Bhutan . Headmasters had no option but to carry out the
orders. In direct violation of Article 2 of the CRC, there was wholesale
'guilt by association': children whose parents or relatives were considered
dissident by government
authorities were not allowed to attend school.
Children of eastern Bhutanese dissidents are also reportedly excluded, as
still are many Lhotshampa children.
It is clear that there has been either a gross deficit in awareness of human
rights commitments made by Bhutan on the part of the officials who are
supposed to ensure their implementation, or a total disregard for those
commitments as they apply to a whole section of Bhutanese society.
This (Bhutan's) report has attempted to provide information on the situation
of children in Bhutan and the legislative, judicial and administrative
measures in force to facilitate the implementation of the aims of the
Government for children with special reference to the Convention on the
Rights of the Child. One can see that there are many areas of the Convention not translated into law.
This is due to the fact that problems in those areas have not emerged in
Bhutan as yet. Laws are framed and adopted by the National Assembly which is
comprised of representatives of the people. Since the existing laws protect
and safeguard the best interests of children, additional laws to cover all the articles of the
Convention have not been proposed. (paragraph 183 of Bhutan's report).
As this response to Bhutan's report illustrates, the refugee crisis, which
sees one-sixth of the population living in exile, represents a 'problem'
which is totally unacknowledged in the government's statement on its
children's rights. To fulfil its obligations as a signatory to the
Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Royal Government of Bhutan needs to revisit its laws, policies and practices to
ensure that the rights of all its children are realised.
In relation to the estimated 45,000 refugee children living in Nepal, Bhutan
is urged to meet its obligations in respect to their rights, with a focus on
three articles in particular: the right to non-discrimination (art. 2); the
right to a nationality (art. 7); and the right to preservation of identity
There can be no doubt that since the ratification of the Convention on the
Rights of the Child, decisions have been made and implemented which are
contrary to the provisions of the Convention, and which have adversely
affected tens of thousands of children. While violations have taken place
for which the victims can never be adequately compensated, the overall
situation is redeemable.
Until a just and durable solution is achieved, in fulfilment of the rights
of the refugee children and their families, it is vital that the levels of
support and protection afforded to the refugee population in the camps are
maintained. There are currently serious concerns over budget cuts by the
United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which threaten to erode the
quality of service provision in the camps in Nepal and to undermine the
confidence of the refugees that their rights will continue to be
Within Bhutan, UNICEF, as the UN agency mandated to promote the Rights of
the Child, is also urged to play a key role in advocating for the Royal
Government of Bhutan to recognise its obligations to all of its children,
both those within Bhutan and those still awaiting verification of their
nationality status and repatriation to their country.
As mentioned in the introduction to this response to Bhutan's report, the
discourse relating to the question of human rights has changed dramatically
in Bhutan over the last two years. Human rights principles are said to be at
one with Buddhist values and with the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’,
the professed unifying concept for Bhutan's long-term development.
For the Bhutanese community in exile in Nepal and elsewhere, the reality has
yet to match the rhetoric. But with the repeated assertions that protection
of human rights is entirely compatible with the Buddhist principles of which
Bhutan is guardian, a
context has been set in which a just, durable and speedy solution to the
refugee problem based on human rights principles should be the only possible
In a special development supplement published with the July 15, 2000 issue
of Kuensel (the official press organ of the Royal Government of Bhutan),
there is a small table entitled Access to Effective Remedy. It gives
statistics from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal of court cases pending
per 1,000 persons: 53, 23, 5, 4 respectively. The table is headed with the
question Justice delayed, justice denied? In the year 1993, an undertaking
was made by the Royal Government of Bhutan to verify the status of those
claiming to be Bhutanese refugees with a view to repatriating those found
eligible to return to Bhutan. The promise has been reiterated many times in
the seven years that have elapsed since then. In this case too it can be
said that justice delayed is justice denied. The figures given in the table
in Kuensel pale into insignificance when compared with the number of Bhutanese
refugee claims waiting to be processed. The numbers seeking verification of
their nationality status amount to one-sixth of the total population of
Bhutan: 166 cases pending per 1,000 people. The matter is indeed urgent.
There is reassurance in Bhutan's assertion that it ratified the Convention
on the Rights of the Child without reservation on any article (paragraph 7
of Bhutan's report): Bhutan makes no reservation on the rights of children
under articles 2, 7 and 8.
This can only mean that the Royal Government of Bhutan holds itself fully
committed to uphold children's rights to acquire a nationality and to
preserve their nationality, and that it will meet its obligations under the
relevant international instruments to ensure that children do not become stateless. To fail to do so, actively and
speedily, will be to continue to betray the commitment it has made, without
reservation, under the Convention.
Once their right to nationality is established and repatriation to Bhutan
takes place for those found eligible to return, the Bhutanese children
currently living in exile will be in a position to benefit from other rights
which in their current situation they are not able to enjoy fully.
Bhutan, writes Kuensel (August 12, 2000) “was one of the first countries to
ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. The Convention
recognises the right of a child to survival, to develop to its full
potential, and to be protected against abuse, exploitation and neglect.” The
Convention recognises these rights; Bhutan has yet to recognise them fully
with regard to all its children.
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