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Updated on January 01,  2005

Please visit www.bhutannewsonline.com  for daily news updates on Bhutan and Bhutanese refugees

 

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BWCO has established a Children’s Educational programme. It has provided  educational scholarship assistance to 94 refugee students

 

Since June, 2004, BWCO has been providing educational support/scholarship to 41 refugee children/students

 

 

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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)

Submitted by:

 

Bhutanese Refugee Support Group, Ireland and UK

Co-sponsored by:

The Lutheran World Federation

DanChurchAid
Association of Human Rights Activists (AHURA),
Bhutan

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)------
2.3. Family environment and alternative care-------------9
2.4. Measures taken to harmonise national law and policy
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 Identity(art. 8)

Bhutanese children have the right to nationality, name and family as recognized by the citizenship laws of Bhutan.(paragraph 59 of Bhutan's report)

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 ways. 

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 Bhutan.

Secondly, the issue of nationality and potential statelessness affects those young adults who entered the refugee camps as children but who have since become adults.

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 report. 
 

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 government service. 

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 Ministry. 

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.
 

3. Concluding remarks

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 (art.8).

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 
protected.

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 outcome. 

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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