APFAnews Archive April 2008

Bhutanese refugees find new home
For 17 years, the Odari family was among more than 107,000 Bhutanese refugees in camps scattered among the southeastern plains of Nepal, hoping to return to their rightful place: Bhutan.

The nine-member family shared a small hut with thatched roof and dirt floor that had no electricity, running water, toilet or kitchen. They lived on sparse rations of rice, lentils, vegetables, salt, sugar and oil distributed twice a month by United Nations agencies, but the food never stretched far enough to fill hungry bellies.

Then on April 9, three members of the Odari family arrived in Pittsburgh to start a new life.

“We were having a tough time in the refugee camp. We’re happy to be here,” said a beaming Man Maya, 25, who is living with her younger sister, Yani Maya, 22, and brother, Dilli Prasad, 20, in an apartment in Prospect Park in Whitehall.

Last night, their elderly parents, two more brothers — one 24 and disabled and another 17, and two more sisters, 21 and 25, were expected to arrive here to join them.

The family’s relocation is being assisted by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Man Maya was only 9 when she was forced to leave Bhutan with her parents and other family members. They were among the 120,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese — mostly Hindu and Buddhist — who were evicted from Bhutan in the late 1980s and early ’90s when the Bhutanese rulers forced them to wear traditional dress, required that they speak the Dzongkha language and deprived many of citizenship. Protests against the stringent rules resulted in the mass exodus of tens of thousands to neighboring India. India, in turn, forced most of them to enter Nepal, which does not share a border with Bhutan.

The Odaris lived in a Beldangi refugee camp — one of seven camps run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In some camps, many children died from the lack of health care and the scorching climate in the plains.

“At times, there were 14 funerals a day,” said Kishor Pradhan, a board member at Association of Bhutanese in America. Mr. Pradhan, who has been living north of Pittsburgh in New Castle for nine months, sought refugee status in the United States three years ago.

The United States has offered to resettle 60,000 of the 107,000 of the refugees. Six other countries — Australia, Canada, Norway, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Denmark — have offered to resettle the rest.

“After 17 years of suffering, the day has come for the Bhutanese to start fresh,” said Mr. Pradhan, a senior quality analyst at Coventry Healthcare in Cranberry. “There is now a ray of hope for the refugees because numerous attempts to repatriate to Bhutan have failed.”

The International Organization for Migration is screening and transporting the refugees. The United States plans to resettle 10,000 by the end of 2008, many going to New York, Maryland, Arizona, Missouri, Illinois and other places.

Dilli Prasad Odari said all of his family decided to resettle in the United States. “In camps we had to rely on UNHCR for our daily needs. But here we can live on our own, and it’s also good for future generation,” he said. Some of his other relatives have been resettled in Texas.

The family is gradually becoming accustomed to their new surroundings in the Whitehall area in the South Hills.

They are taking English classes in the mornings. They received health screenings shortly after their arrival. They also received food assistance to shop at Wal-Mart.

Even though he’s 20, Mr. Odari last attended 10th grade in the refugee camp and hopes to further his education here. He likes to compare Pittsburgh with Ilam, a city in the eastern highland of Nepal that has similar topography. A lover of Nepali music, he has brought a collection of the Nepali lyrics. “But I’m dying to listen to Nepali songs,” he said.

Man Maya, a high school graduate, said it’s hard to keep connected with her loved ones across the ocean. “It’s hard to make phone calls to Nepal,” she said.

Yani Maya is a little worried about finding work. “I hope we’ll be able to work after four months,” she said.

“They seem happy and are feeling good about being here,” said John Miller, director of refugee services for Catholic Charities. His organization is resettling a total of 170 refugees in 2008.

Catholic Charities also provides core services such as applying for Social Security cards, medical screening, enrollment in English language training, employment counseling and orientation to the refugees. According to Mr. Miller, Catholic Charities provides its services for five years after they arrive. Catholic Charities in Pittsburgh also has helped resettle Vietnamese, Burmese, Sudanese, Somalian, Burundian, Iraqi, Meskhetian Turks (from the former Soviet Union) and Haitian refugees.

“Each refugee group has a different set of challenges,” Mr. Miller said. “They have struggles but they also have emotional and psychological issues.”

Mr. Odari hopes more Bhutanese will be resettled in Pittsburgh. “It feels good to be here but I’m also missing my friends in Nepal,” he said, adding that he is developing friendships with young Burmese refugees in the neighborhood.

He’s learning the bus routes of the city and has learned how to follow maps to visit places. On a recent afternoon, when he saw a deer in the nearby woods, he was thrilled.

Eventually he hopes to return for a visit to Nepal to see the place where he said he has spent “some of the hardest times of my life.”
(Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 30, 2008)

This entry was posted in Opinion on April 30, 2008 by Editor.

Speaker given Dakyen (Politics)
Thimphu, May 01: King Jigme Khesar conferred Dakyen to the Speaker of National Assembly Jigme Tshultim on Wednesday.

A special function was organized at Tashichodzong to confer the speaker with the orange scarf.

The National Assembly had elected Tshultim as Speaker of the Lower House lat week. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 30, 2008 by Editor.

Pay commission established
Thimphu, May 01: King Jigme Khesar has announced the formation of Pay Commission on the recommendation of the council of ministers.

The seven-member commission, according to Article 30 of the draft constitution, will recommend the government for change in pay and perks changes for civil servants, army and police forces and special committee members.

The seven-member commission is being led by Sonam Tshering. Members include yanki Wangchuk, Chencho Thenly, representatives from Royal Civil Service Commission, Bank of Bhutan and ministries. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 30, 2008 by Editor.

Government to allow more tourists
Thimphu, April 30: The new government is mulling over increasing the tourist permit by five fold while keeping intact is effort for preservation of culture.

Since the door opened for tourists in 1974, very limited permits were issued with motive to preserve its culture and ecology.

Government aims that tourist arrival would increase five fold in the next five years from current figure of around 20,000 though which government generated 30 million dollars revenue. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 30, 2008 by Editor.

Open letter to MPs
Hon’ble Member of Parliament

First of all, please accept my sincere congratulations on your electoral success.

The relentless campaign by pro-democracy forces, demanding the establishment of democracy and human rights in Bhutan, has finally yielded results. But non-the-less, the steps taken are still exclusive and essentially anti-people in nature.

Your electorate has bestowed upon you their trust, and the responsibility of acting on their behalf in protecting their interests and working for their betterment. Democratic elections is not a race to decide the victors and the vanquished, it is a competition to serve the people.

It has also fallen upon your shoulders to adopt a new Constitution for Bhutan next month. Fate has presented you with the opportunity to remedy any remaining undemocratic and anti-people provisions in the draft Constitution. Because of this important task on your hands, which has significant ramifications for the future of our country, I want your undivided attention, and urge you to give utmost consideration while deciding on the constitutional provisions while adopting the Constitution.

Kindly give thought to the following points :

1. As is the norm in all democratic countries, the Constitution must provide for the instituting of a National Human Rights Commission to regularly monitor the human rights situation, and to scrutinize and document human rights abuses, and to also provide redressal to victims of human rights abuses, irrespective of whether the State or any non-State machinery is responsible.

2. For proper representation and to allow for the freedom of political choice, the strength of Parliament must be increased from existing 47 to 75. More constituencies, in proportion to population, must be delimited, so that representation is proportional and adequate, and so that the needs of the electorate can be effectively addressed. In this context, it will be also pertinent to reserve three seats for representatives from the Central Monastic Body/Drukpa Kargyu bodies, two seats for representatives from Nyingmapa associations and one seat for a representative from Hindu associations. This is important, because each respective culture, and its heritage, including the interests and rights of their members, must be accorded equal opportunity in raising their concerns in the highest peoples’ decision making body, so that their interests are also safeguarded and preserved.

3. Voting rights of monks and gomchens must be restored. They too are citizens of Bhutan and have a right to decide on the fate and administration of the country. Depriving them of their voting rights has categorically rendered them third–class citizens in their own country. In a democracy, even criminals have a right to vote, so excluding any Bhutanese of suitable age from exercising his or her right to vote, is unfair, biased and undemocratic.

4. The stipulation of eligibility to stand for election is outrageous and anti-people. Vide the Election Act Section 173 (d) and 174 (d), i.e. a candidate must “possess a formal university degree” to be eligible, means that only the elite and exclusive are eligible to participate in the democratic process. In a nation where we have given the highest respect and accordance to our national language and culture, and have also take pride in this being the supreme sign of our identity, we contradictorily undermine and insult these very values that we have accepted, by excluding graduates from traditional educational institutions, who essentially go through the same qualificationary processes as other western-type institutions. This is nothing less then equivalent to burning our national dress in favour of the western suit. Even normally, in widely-accepted democratic norms around the world, every citizen of the electorate’s choice, has an inalienable right to vie through elections for an elected post, irrespective of race, sex, language, religion or educational qualifications or background. The will of the people should be the only stipulation. It is the electorate who is vested with the power to accept or reject his candidature. Articles such as Article 23(4)(b)], “terminated from Public service”, Article 23(4)(c)], “is convicted for any criminal offence and sentenced to imprisonment”, Article 23(4)(d)], “is in arrears of taxes to the Government…” are those which are of concern. Because it is every citizen’s inalienable and inviolable right to nominate competent candidates to stand for elected posts, amongst those whom they feel can work in their interests, the right to nominate candidates to stand for elected positions must be recognized. These preposterous stipulations must be removed and right of every individual citizen must be restored.

5. Bhutanese citizens who were engaged in the democratic struggle are termed as ‘Ngolops’ and have been barred from participating in the democratic process. Even their kith and kin have been denied the right to participate in the democratic process. Their only “crime” being their steadfast campaign demanding for democratic and human rights – the fruits of which will now be reaped by the Bhutanese population. Their sacrifices in getting Bhutan to this point gives them the right to be allowed to participate in the democratic process.

6. The role of the Opposition is over-circumscribed (Article 18), and leaves political parties vulnerable to questionable dissolution (Article 15(11)). Article 10(22), which entails that the concurrence of not less than two-thirds of the total numbers of members of each House respectively, can remove the right of immunity of a member, affords enormous powers to a ruling party to oppress or persecute a weak opposition. Such a scenario is best demonstrated in the make up of the present National Assembly, in which the Ruling Party has 45 seats out of the total of 47, with the Opposition Party holding on to only two seats. Such provisions must be removed.

7. A multiparty system is a common characteristic of a democratic setup, and provides the required variety of choices and competency to the general public in regard to policies and issues, and therefore must also be instituted in Bhutan. The recently concluded elections under a two-party system does not qualify as truly democratic, because the fundamental criteria of democracy has not been met. Observe the two-party electoral process in the US and the run-up procedures to the final elections – a lot of effort and money goes in to selecting the people’s choices of the final nominees. In Bhutan’s case, a two-party arrangement, unless executed in completeness, has and will end up being just a perceived “democracy”, and will actually be unable to offer a truly democratic choice to the people. A multi-party democracy is what can address the needs of the Bhutanese people.

8. The draft Constitution has misguidedly granted enormous powers to the Monarchy. Under such a Constitution, a vibrant and functioning parliamentary democracy will be impossible to achieve. Residuary legislative powers is vested in the Monarch (Article 2(16)(e)). Article 20(7) provides undue powers to the Monarch to sack a Prime Minister or his Cabinet. The Monarch’s legislative powers are extensive, including independent powers to send messages (Article 10(8)), convene extraordinary sessions (Article 10(12)), to nominate eminent persons constituting 20% of the Upper House (Article 11(1)(b)), to block Bills even if passed by both Legislatures (Article 13(10)&(11)).

Moreover, Article 2 prohibits the Parliament from amending the Monarch’s Constitutional powers, and essentially means that a Monarch’s powers are beyond the purview of the Parliament and the people.

It is a gross misconception that keeping the Monarchy above the Constitution and the Law protects the Monarchy. On the contrary, such provisions actually prevent the Parliament and the people from protecting the Monarch, when necessary. God forbid, if an untoward incident were to occur, where a member of the Royal Family thus “protected” under the Constitution, commits a murderous act against another such Royal Family member or even the Monarch, the Parliament or the Judiciary would be powerless to take any action on its own. There is no guarantee that in future all “protected” Royal Family members will be appropriately well-behaved, and could possibly turn out to be a potential threat to a ruling Monarch or his heir(consider the Royal massacre in Nepal, where the Government had no choice but to declare Crown Prince Dipendra the King even after having murdered his father, the King. The Monarch and his family were above the law and when the onslaught came from within, there was nothing the Parliament or the people could do. Even if the massacre had been perpetrated by another ‘protected’ Royalty, there would have been little the Parliament or the people could have done). Thus, vesting ultimate powers with accountability to the Parliament will be a deterrent to any future errant member of the Royal Family from even contemplating such ideas, for fear of appropriate action by the Parliament and the Law. Consider this very carefully for the future well-being and safety of the Monarch and the Monarchy. It is the people who decide on the system of governance of their choice, whether it be a Constitutional Monarchy or otherwise, and having opted for a Constitutional Monarchy, it is the same people who will ultimately protect the system and the Monarchy.

Your conscience is but your own. Follow your conscience while adopting the Constitution. The hopes of the Nation, the Bhutanese people, and the excluded sections of society rests on you.


Rongthong Kunley Dorji
30th April, 2008

This entry was posted in Main News on April 30, 2008 by Editor.

From Bhutan to the Bronx (Reproduction)
A first group of Bhutanese refugees camped in Nepal is settling in the US as part of the what the UN has described as one of the largest resettlement programmes in the world. America has agreed to take in 60,000 of the Bhutanese. The BBC’s Dumeetha Luthra has been meeting some of them in New York.

Kina Maya is 50.

She has lived in a refugee camp since she fled Bhutan with her husband and son in the early 1990s.

Now she is in New York.

Imagine, from a camp in Nepal to New York. Culture shock doesn’t even begin to describe it.

“We can’t understand anyone, and they can’t understand us. We walk on the street, and everybody is a giant. It’s scary. We go into the subway it’s strange, getting into a lift is odd,” she says.

“Everything is strange.”

She giggles as she describes her new life. It’s all alien, but so full of hope. For the first time in 17 years the family have a proper home.

The tiny Buddhist kingdom, Bhutan, sits between China and India. More than 100,000 ethnic Nepali Bhutanese fled or were expelled from the country in the early 1990s.

The majority have been living in camps in Nepal ever since.

As well as America, some are now going to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway.

Kina Maya’s son Banu shows me around the spacious one-room apartment in the Bronx, just north of Manhattan.

They are proud of their little domain: it’s squeaky clean, carefully protected. The plastic is still on the dining room chairs.

Coming to grips
It is a far cry from the world they left behind at the camp.

“The situation was very horrible, the home we lived in was not good at all,” she says.

Now the family is coming to grips with living in an entirely different environment.

It’s the basics that are challenging: what do you do if there’s a fire? You call 911. Of course, it’s obvious, but only if you know.

The organisation involved with bringing them over, International Rescue Committee (IRC) ensures that details such as this are covered, along with how to use a fire extinguisher, how to use the cooker, how to use the subway and where to buy groceries.

For now the family have some new arrivals staying with them.

Tika Maya is 28 years old, her son Suraj is seven. He was born in the refugee camp, it’s all he has ever known.

For her America is centred around her son; she is hopeful but scared.

“The most exciting thing is now we’re in New York, now we’ll get a lot more opportunities. My son will get a better education and he will work more, and he will earn for me. The most frightening thing is how to get a job, how to enrol my child to school.”

At the IRC, as well as helping with basic information, they run a series of orientation programmes.

The aim is to ease the refugees into the patterns of a new life. School enrolment is one of them.

“There’s naturally a period of transition and adjustment once they arrive to the US, especially for children. Some of these kids have known nothing but refugee camp life, so when they come to the US they’re expected to sit in a classroom, follow a routine they may not be used to,” says Christine Petrie of the IRC.

“Whilst many refugees work in a camp setting, working in a structured work environment can be challenging.”

The first step is the language.

Almost every day, the two families travel into central Manhattan to learn English.

Banu helps his parents with the alphabet. He is the only one of the two families who can speak English.

Getting a job, being independent is a priority. Banu is confident that with his language abilities he’ll get something fairly quickly.

The IRC says most refugees become self-reliant within four months.

Mingled with this urge for forging ahead, is sadness for the death of a dream – of one day returning to Bhutan, but it’s one they accept has to be given up.

They have had almost two decades without an identity – as Banu explains, the concept of citizenship, is precious.

“For the first couple of days we are feeling very lonely, very upset. Now here for 15 days, everything going smoothly. The goal is to earn money, to be a citizen of a country, to earn a house, and to get freedom and rights and everything that is the goal.”

Banu’s family, Tika Maya and her son belong to the first wave of the 60,000 refugees the US has agreed to take in.

There is no doubt its going to take a while to adjust.

But although this is a foreign land, for the first time in 17 years they have a place to call their own, they have a country that is home.
(Source:BBC Tuesday, 29 April 2008)

This entry was posted in Main News on April 29, 2008 by Editor.

Samtse DYT’s demand (Development)
Samtse, April 30: Samtse district DYT has demanded for formation of a committee at district level to look after the sites where mining has taken place.

In a meeting of the DYT, the members stressed on the need that a committee must be formed to oversee the management of sites after the minerals are extracted.

The DYT drew attention of the district administration of the trouble people have been facing during the summer season due to improper management of the mining sites. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 29, 2008 by Editor.
Three died in road accident
Phuentsholing, April 30: Three people are reported dead on Monday evening when a truck slipped off the road on Monday near Chhukha.

The truck fell off some 150 ft below the road killing three people including its driver. The cause of the accident is not known. Police said the incident occurred due to negligence of the driver.

The truck belonged to Chhukha Hydropower Corporation and was heading towards its office from Phuenstholing. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 29, 2008 by Editor.
32 exiles leave for Australia on May 11
Damak, April 29: Around three dozens of exiled Bhutanese finalized for Third Country Resettlement (TCR) will leave for Australia on May 11.

“32 individuals are already scheduled for Australia on May 11 and accordingly all arrangements are ready”, said a senior official at International Organization for Migration.

The official, who requested anonymity, also claimed that the TCR program is little speedy now-a-days.

According to the disclosure, around 100 individuals are approved by the team deployed by the US government.

The official said, “Exit Permit and Travel Document Unit under government of Nepal is issuing official documents massively to those individuals whose all procedures are finalized”.

The source also disclosed that Australia has made 800 cases ready and would leave Nepal soon. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 29, 2008 by Editor.

The Bhutan Reporter to continue (Media)
California (USA), April 29: Rajen Giri, who resides in California (USA), has once again committed his personal support, at least for one year, to make The Bhutan Reporter (TBR) published.

“I know the TBR has important role to play in the present context of our movement for the greater cause of Bhutanese community”, said he to Bhutan News Service (BNS).

Giri said the commitment and hard work, initiated by BNS in information dissemination to Bhutanese, are great and praiseworthy.

BNS has been rendering to bring out the sufferings of our people through media with many ups and downs, added he telling, “BNS is doing wonderful job despite various difficulties; but it has been able to produce the result – which is very impressive and it takes my support as granted”.

Giri also appealed all exiled Bhutanese living abroad to render possible support to make TBR and The Bhutan Jagaran survived.

“It is our moral obligation to be a part of the loss if these potential papers vanish”, said Giri.

“This is a package of motivation” said the release issued by Editor-in-Chief I. P. Adhikari.

Giri supported TBR with NRs 2000 monthly, equivalent to US dollars 30 from February 2007 to February 2008. The actual cost of publication of TBR comes to be US dollars 50 per month.

Earlier this week, www.mediahelpingmedia.org published an exclusive report on closure of two exiled newspapers. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 29, 2008 by Editor.


Penjore is NC chairman (Politics)
Thimphu, April 29: National Council has elected Namgay Penjore as its chairman during a meeting held in capital on Tuesday.

Namgay Penjor secured 13 out of the 25 votes cast. Karma Ura has been elected vice chairman securing 10 votes.

Before taking on the ballots to choose their chairman, the Upper House members also took Oath of Allegiance in a special function.

Chief Justice Sonam Tobgye administer oath to the NC members. The National Assembly members were already administered oath.

The first sitting of the parliament elected through ballots will begin in capital on May 8 in a new design of the national assembly hall recently completed. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 29, 2008 by Editor.

New species of birds (Bio-diversity)
Thimphu, April 29: At least 21 new species of birds have been recorded in Bhutan, reaching the total figure of birds found in Bhutan to 677 types.

The recent species, brahminy starling (Sturnus pagodarum), was spotted along the Pho Chhu in Punakha on March 25 this year. Others are spectacled finch (Allacanthis burtoni), pacific golden plover (Pluvialis fulva), blue pitta (Pitta cynea) and ashy prinia (Prinia cocialis).

Bhutan also has globally endangered species of birds such as rufous-necked hornbill (Aceros nipalensis), beautiful nuthatch (Sitta formosa), chestnut-breasted partridge (Aborophila mandellii), white-bellied heron (Ardea insignis) and black-necked cranes (Grus nigricollis) among others. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 29, 2008 by Editor.

Sherubtse says students’ performance improved (Education)
Gelephu, April 29: Sherubtse College said all its students under economics department have been declared passed in the graduate examinations taken by Delhi University.

The college has made several efforts to improve the performances of the students in the last few years. The lecturers go patrolling in the evening to check students do not involved in unwanted activities but spent their time with books.

In 2005, less than 50 percent of the students had passed the examinations. Mathematics was the worse subject for students. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 29, 2008 by Editor.

Feeder road construction resumed in Trongsa (Developmen)
Thimphu, April 29: Construction of 7.5 km Kakaling-Bemji feeder road in Trongsa district has resumed after being halted for two years.

The government expects to complete its construction by the early next year.

Construction began in 2005 but halted due to tussle over the government authorities and the local people.

Nu 8.75 million has been allocated for the construction of the road. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 29, 2008 by Editor.

Job offers in the offing (Economy)
Thimphu, April 29: Some 17 agencies have announced that they might absorb over 225 young people from the upcoming summer job fair, scheduled for next week.

The organizers hope that at least 350 youths could find job from the fair. The government has been informed of this.

Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC), Penden Cement Authority and Bhutan Power Corporation are some of the bigger companies to absorb youths who passed at least secondary. Druk Holding and Investment is also expected to give job to few youhgsters. The companies but failed to get professionals and matured workers from the fair. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 29, 2008 by Editor.

Seal for quality products (Economy)
Thimphu, April 29: Bhutan has developed two seals meant to control the quality of the Bhutanese product making another effort to improve their quality to be able to compete at the international market.

The two seals are named ‘seal of excellence’ and ‘seal of quality’ which the Bhutanese producers will get permission to use based on the quality of their products.

The logos were designed by Volunteer Artists’ Studio in Thimphu, to whom the government paid US$ 1,500. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 28, 2008 by Editor.

Milk sell centre in Sarpang
Gelephu, April 28: Chief District Officer of Sarpang Sangay Thinley inaugurated a new milk distribution centre in Sarpang bazaar on Sunday.

The commercial centre is being started with the initiative of 40 local farmers. The farmers hope that after the inauguration of the commercial centre, farmers may not have to go door to door for selling their milk.

Speaking on the occasion, Thinely said the new initiative would help decrease the import of milk for use in market places and hotels. He also expressed hope it would provide some employment opportunity to youths.

Farmers even project to sell the collected milk to other towns in the country where demands are high.

This is the first milk commercial centre in the district. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 28, 2008 by Editor.

Wind, rain disrupt power supply in SJ
Samdupt Jongkhar, April 28: Electricity supply has been cut off in Samdrup Choling Dungkhag in Samdrup Jongkhar district since Sunday.

The winds and torrent rains at around 4:30 local time destroyed infrastructures for supply of the electricity to most parts of the Dungkhag.

Phuentsholing geog has been mostly affected by the rain and wind. However, there are no reports of casualties.

Due to winds and rains, electricity supply is frequently disrupted in the district. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 28, 2008 by Editor.

Refugee media hit by cash crisis (Reproduction)
Nepali Sahitya Parisad Bhutan, the publication house for The Bhutan Jagaran Fortnightly, a Nepali-Language newspaper written by and for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, stated the paper can no longer be printed due to lack of adequate funds.

The newspaper was continuously getting published since the mid of November 2001 with financial support from Austcare , an Australian organization, through Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

General Secretary of Sahitya Parisad and Chief Editor for Jagaran Khem Shandilya informed that the possibility of paper’s closure has increased following the donor’s unwillingness to grant further financial support.

The four-page black-and-white Bhutan Jagaran contains issues related to Bhutanese refugees. Closure of this newspaper’s hardcopy print would indirectly bar Bhutanese refugees from their right to information, as it is the only Nepali newspaper meant for private circulation and is the most widely-read within this small community in eastern districts of Nepal.

The support received from the Austcare used to meet the basic expenses for the printing of the newspaper.

“I worry that the closure of this newspaper would create troublesome particularly to minors inside refugee camps who do not have access to internet and other national dailies of the host country”, says Shandilya.

According to Shandilya, the cost for the publication of the newspaper comes as just 3,000 Nepalese rupees per issue, which is equivalent to 48 US dollar.

Editor Shandilya further said that he even wishes to publish Jagaran on a monthly basis if any individuals, well wishers or media organisations are able to extend financial support. Shandilya strongly urges donors to help with the continued printing of Jagaran’s hardcopy.

The possibility of the Jagaran’s closure comes at a time when The Bhutan Reporter (TBR) monthly, an English-language newspaper, which started its publication in October 2004, has already stopped its print run because of a lack of funding.

TBR, which was funded for three months by World Association of Newspaper and later for a year by Rajen Giri, a US-based Bhutanese refugee, is no longer printed following the completion of the contract period with the sponsors.

The publisher of TBR, I.P Adhikari, says attempts are underway to find sponsors so that they can give continuity to the hardcopy publication of this, the only English newspaper in the Bhutanese refugee community.

“We are committed towards its hardcopy print should it become possible to find a long-term sponsor”, says Adhikari.

All staff, including the editorial team associated with the Bhutan Jagaran and TBR work on a volunteer basis. These newspapers lack advertising and other means of income generation in accordance with the legal laws of the host country.

Meanwhile, the Bhutan Chapter of Third World Media Network (TWMN) has appealed the international organisations, working for the promotion of the media, to extend possible financial support to ensure the continued existence of the newspaper.

“It would be one of the saddest parts if newspapers such as the Jagaran and TBR are shut down as these are the only existed newspaper in the Bhutanese refugee community with good circulations.”

“It would be one of the saddest parts if newspapers such as the Jagaran and TBR are shut down as these are the only existed newspaper in the Bhutanese refugee community with good circulations”, reads a statement issued by the TWMN, adding there is urgent need to make the printing of the papers alive so as to continue disseminating information to Bhutanese refugee community in Nepal.

TWMN also expressed gratitude to the donors that extended support in the earlier days.

Currently, there are only three newspapers including Nawlo Awaj, a Nepali-language newspaper that carries activities of Birat-led Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxists-Leninists-Maoists) running for and by Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.

Jagaran Fortnightly and TBR are only newspaper carrying impartial and balanced news stories.

Besides running a news portal www.bhutannewsservice.com , Bhutanese journalists in exile also produce and broadcast Saranarthi Sarokar, a 30-minute long weekly radio programme from two of the FM stations in Nepal.

Editor’s Note: A short-cut glimpse over media situation both in Bhutan and inside refugee camps in nepal can be assessed at: www.bhutanimedia.blogspot.com, a blog run by the author of this story, T.P. Mishra, who is president of Third World Media Network – Bhutan Chapter and the editor of the Bhutan News Service (BNS) and chief coordinator for Helping Hand – Bhutan (a social organisation). He is also the winner of Bhutan’s journalist of the year award, 2006

The following are notes for editors into the situation regarding media for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.

The circulation of both newspapers
Bhutan Jagaran: Within camps (schools, camp committee members, health staffs, offices of donor agencies), some parts of India such as Siliguri.

The Bhutan Reporter: Within the refugee camps, (Biratnaga, Dharan, Birthamod) and the cities of Nepal where refugee students study, diplomatic missions and refugee aid agencies in Kathmandu, aid-agencies at Damak and Birtamod, towns near the camps.

Estimated readership of each paper
Bhutan Jagaran: 30,000 (this doesn’t corresponds to no of copies. A copy is circulated among many, a number of times for example, if a copy is dropped in teachers’ room in a school, 80 percent of teachers read that copy). The number is high for this as it is in Nepali vernacular Language.

The Bhutan Reporter: 15,000

Number of refugees
There are seven camps (one in Morang District and six in Jhapa District of eastern Nepal), There are 107,000 registered Bhutanese refugees in UNHCR camps and 30,000 in various states of India and cities in Nepal.

Democraphy of the refugees
Students upto grade 12: Around 38,000 (where around 33,000 study within camp schools Managed by Caritas Nepal an NGO, sponsored by UNHCR.
0- 5 yrs – 7,856
5-17 yrs – 29,975
18-59 yrs – 62,973
Elderly – 6,999

Alternative news sources for refugees
A few read Nepali dailies such as The Kathmandu Post and local Nepali dailes such as Purbanchan Dainik
Private FM radios Kantipur FM, Pathibhara FM, Saptarangi FM
Occassional information leaflets published by UNHCR/IOM/LWF
TV, but extremely rarely

(Reproduced from Media Helping Media byBy T. P. Mishra
Monday, April 21, 2008)

This entry was posted in Main News on April 28, 2008 by Editor.

Bhutanese family reaches California for resettlement
California, April 26: American airlines Flight #707, touched Oakland airport on April 25 at 1430 hours, carrying the first group of exiled Bhutanese under resettlement program to their final destination.

The arrival of Tek Nath Nepal, his spouse and three sons, ends the long anticipated arrivals of the first exiled Bhutanese family in California.

Nepal family, flew form Nepal to Oakland Airport en-route Abu Dhabi and JFK, was accompanied by other seven Bhutanese families up to the JFK International Airport.

From JFK, the group was eventually separated, and headed to different states for their final destinations. Kumar Dahal’s family along with that of Govinda Regmi was resettled to Baltimore; of Thag Lal Darjee to Colorado; of Tara Nidhi Sandyal to Texas; of Yadu Nath Nepal to Portland and of Ranga Khatiwada to New York.

“Our separation from New York was a bitter one,” Nepal said. The entire family was excited to be in the United States.

Except Kumar Dahal, all other families lost their luggage. Officials at the Oakland International Airport said their luggage was unloaded in Iraq and could be flown back and handed over to them in a couple of days.

The members of the Bhutanese American Community Center in Alameda along with Budd Josline and Damber Basnet received the new comers at the airport. B. B. Thapa the Chair person of BACC garlanded Nepal and his family with khadas and wished them good luck for their new life in their adopted country. The family was then whisked away to their apartment 1501 #C, at Union Street where they refreshed themselves and later served them with traditional foods. Bhutan News Service/Ananta Gurung

This entry was posted in Main News on April 26, 2008 by Editor.


Interaction on post-election scenario
Gelephu, April 26: Political party representatives, electoral officials, community leaders and government officials came together to discuss the post election scenario in southern districts.

Organized in the border town Gelphu, participants from Dagana, Tsirang and Sarpang were called for the discussion.

Participants of the interaction program stressed on the need of advertisement during the polls campaign, which was strictly banned in the first elections. They demanded political parties must be allowed to keep big hoarding boards ahead of the polls.

Community leaders also said that school curriculum should include chapters on politics, political system and democracy.

Further, the participants said Sarpang district need one more constituency as per the demarcation set by law based on population figures. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 26, 2008 by Editor.
Training journalists
Thimphu, April 26: Government begins training the journalists for better coverage of the women and children issue in media in the days to come.

Speaking at the training session, the organisers say they hope that the journalists would give priority to women and children issue but also take consideration of the sensitivity while covering the issues. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 26, 2008 by Editor.

PM meets former Swiss president
Thimphu, April 26: Former president of the Swiss Federal Council Ruth Dreifuss called on Prime Minister Jigmi Thnley at latter’s office on Friday.

On the occasion, bilateral relations and democratization in Bhutan was discussed among others.

The first women president of the Swiss Confederation, Ruth is currently in three-week long visit to Bhutan. She leads a Swiss delegation.

Earlier, she met with education minister Thakur Singh Powdyal, agriculture minister Pema Gyamtsho, other ministers and government officials to discuss the future relation between Bhutan and Switzerland and the assistance that her country could offer to Bhutan. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 26, 2008 by Editor.

Consecration ceremony of Lungchu-tse Lhakhang
Thimphu, April 26: Lungchu-tse Lhakhang, a sixteen century monastery in Thimphu, has been unveiled on Friday after completion of its renovation.

The fourth king Jigme Singye, queens, princes, princesses, former prime ministers and senior government officials attended the consecration ceremony.

The Lhakhang was renovated by Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk to mark the ‘inspirational leadership’ of fourth king.

The renovation had started in 2003. The new lhakhang can now accommodate more people for worship and is supplied with water and electricity. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 26, 2008 by Editor.

Negative credit to B-mobile users
Thimphu, April 26: Bhutan Telecom has announced to provide negative balance to its mobile users in its attempt to help the customers stay connected even when the balance exhausts.

The service will come into effect from May 1. The customers can now have Nu 15 negative balance.

“This shall enable you to make the uninterrupted conversation or make emergency calls even when you account balance is nil,” the company said.

The used amount up to Nu 15 will be deducted on next recharge of the users. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 25, 2008 by Editor.

UNHCR begins construction of Goldhap camp
Kathmandu, April 24: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has started rebuilding Goldhap camp devastated by fires left more than 8,000 exiled homeless.

No one was killed in the fire that gutted the camp last month, which destroyed nearly 95 per cent of the settlement.

The newly-reconstructed camp – rebuilding is expected to be completed in July, ahead of the July monsoon rains – will have fire-retardant thatched roofs and wider spacing between huts to minimize fire hazards, UNHCR said.

While UNHCR and its partners have so far received $177,000 to reconstruct the settlement, it still requires more than $400,000 to complete the task.

For the past two months, exiled Bhutanese have been living in temporary shelters and with host families, with the most vulnerable of them sheltering in the camp school which survived the blaze.

The Nepalese Government, UNHCR and other organizations have provided food, tarpaulins, plastic mats, jerry cans, mosquito nets and emergency cash grants to those made homeless by the fire.

To avert the spread of diseases, UNHCR has provided health workers, installed water tanks and latrines and dug waste disposal pits, among other efforts.

Caritas Nepal, a local NGO supporting education of the exiled Bhutanese, with the help of Bhutan News Service had distributed copies of school notes for students who had lost them in the fire, while those sitting annual exams were hosted in other camps. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 23, 2008 by Editor.

Bhutanese refugees make St. Louis home
ST. LOUIS — Ganga Ram Upreti fusses with his hair, combing it back with his fingers. He can’t find an oil here that he is accustomed to using, so strands fall into his eyes as he shows off his new home.

Of all the things he has had to deal with in his first month in America — food, housing, caring for his wife and young daughter — keeping his thick, dark hair out of his face has been the most annoying, though he readily admits, not a big deal.

Otherwise, he says in limited English, acclimating to the United States after 17 years in a refugee camp of thatched-roof huts in Nepal has gone quite well.

Upreti, his wife and daughter are the first Bhutanese refugees to be resettled in the metro area. Already, Upreti, 23, is finding his way around his new neighborhood, a cluster of well-kept, four-family buildings southwest of South Grand Boulevard and Chippewa Street. Advertisement

The second-floor apartment Upreti shares with his wife, Nar Maya, 24, and their toddler Hretika, is a spacious but sparse four rooms. The furniture, including the compact plaid couch and round dining table with two chairs, came with the apartment. So did the small TV with a built-in VCR. Hretika jams a tape the wrong way into the slot, pulls it out, then looks at her father. He smiles. She laughs and does it again.

“She doesn’t like dolls,” Upreti said.

The Upretis will be joined this summer by more than 100 Bhutanese, including some members of his family, who also have been living in refugee camps in Nepal.

Threatened by cultural and religious differences, the Bhutanese government expelled the ethnic Nepali population that had been living for more than 100 years in the southern part of the country. After 17 years, with little hope of returning to Bhutan, the refugees are seeking a fresh start.

By the end of the year, as many as 60,000 exiled Bhutanese will be in the United States.

They face a challenge that other refugees often do not — a lack of family or immigrant community ties. Only about 150 Bhutanese are thought to be living in the United States, scattered among Atlanta, New York, San Francisco and Washington.

The Upreti family and other arrivals are a new ethnic group taking root in a country where they hope to shed the tag of foreigner for citizen. Over time, they will be able to connect with other refugees with whom they share commonalities. Exiled Bhutanese, for example, share parts of their culture with the Nepalis, a population more prevalent in the U.S. And, like the Nepalis, the Bhutanese refugees are Hindu.

Still, Upreti’s happiness is subdued. He sees the promise of a good life, but is eager to get settled so he can help relatives expected to join him.

“I’ll be happy when all my family is here, here with me,” he said.

When that might be, he does not know. Neither do those who helped him resettle here.

The apartment is a five-minute walk from the International Institute, an agency that has been resettling refugees in the area since the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

Upreti is taking English and job readiness training classes at the institute. He and his family received their health screenings there shortly after arriving.

From the moment the plane hit the ground, the South Asian refugees have been immersed in modern American life.

The Upretis were introduced to money — something they did not have in the camps. Electricity, plumbing and television were new, too. They applied for Social Security cards. Upreti must register for Selective Service, or he will be denied citizenship.

“Resettlement is very difficult for the client because they are asked to do many things in a short amount of time,” said Ariel Burgess, director of social services at International Institute. “Get a job, learn English, get kids in school and acclimate to American ways.”

The federal government gives each refugee a one-time $425 stipend. It has to go to rent, food, utilities and transportation.

Once a three-day job readiness class is completed and a refugee is employed, federal matching grants supplement income for four to six months.

In Upreti’s first job class, he and 10 other students were taught how to introduce themselves to a prospective employer.

When instructor Rene Kreisel greeted Upreti during a mock interview, Upreti stuck out his hand and gave a confident handshake. He smiled and looked Kreisel in the eye.

“I’m happy to meet you. My name is Ganga.”

In the camp where Upreti lived since age 6, he learned some English in school.

“Learning English will provide you better job opportunities,” Kreisel told the class.

Upreti, like many of those living in the camps, refers to himself as Nepalis. Those working in human rights refer to the latest resettlement group as Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese origin.

The camps set up in the lowlands of Nepal in the early 1990s are basically communities of thatched huts. There is no fencing, but those living there are not allowed to work or live outside of the camps. Still, relationships between refugees and Nepalis occur, sometimes producing children. This makes resettlement more challenging.

Charcoal is used for cooking and heat. There is a constant black, smoky haze over the camps. Such conditions would explain Upreti’s first impression of St. Louis.

“It’s clean. Too much pollution in Nepal,” he said.

The differences between the camps and a city such as St. Louis are astounding, said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group.

Here, they adjust to the sounds of sirens, buses and bass-thumping cars. In Nepal, days can go by without seeing a vehicle. Views from the camp are of water buffalo and rice paddies.

“They will be in a state of culture shock,” Frelick said. “Even Kathmandu, the biggest city they have probably ever been in, is still a much poorer place.”

The Upretis have been able to walk to get everything they need so far. Last week, with their Electronic Benefits Transfer (food stamps) card activated, it was time to stock the kitchen.

Inside the Aldi market, the Upretis picked up a gallon of milk, a large bunch of grapes and bags of apples and oranges. Eggs and a 12-pack of soda also filled the cart.

Upreti swiped the debit card at the checkout. Wrong way. Again. Declined. The third time, the bill for $36 was approved. At the bag-your-own grocery, the Upretis came empty-handed. He walked back to the cashier, who told him the bags were 11 cents each. He tried to pay her. To the back of the line, she said.

Once outside, they seemed satisfied with their first shopping experience. They found almost everything (Still no hair oil for Upreti.) Food stamps don’t cover hair products. Once Upreti or his wife gets a job, he’ll shop in earnest for hair care.

“When I have money, I’ll buy,” he said.

Upreti shrugged and smiled. Then his hair fell into his eyes.

(Source: ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, dmoore@post-dispatch.com)

This entry was posted in Opinion on April 22, 2008 by Editor.

‘His Majesty wanted the word democratic’ (Reproduction)
Sonam Tobgye was appointed Chief Justice of Bhutan by Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the Fourth King of Bhutan, in 1991. Born in 1949, Tobgye completed his primary education in Bhutan and joined Dr. Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong, West Bengal, India, in 1964, and later the National Legal Course in the High Court, Bhutan. He was appointed the Solpon (Chamberlain) in 1974 and honoured with the Red Scarf, an honour similar to knighthood. In 1980 he was appointed Justice of the High Court. From 1986 to 1991, he served as both the Auditor General of Bhutan and the Secretary of the Royal Civil Service Commission. During the period, he drafted and adopted the Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations of 1990 and Royal Audit Rules and Regulations. In 1998, the King awarded him the Orange Scarf, with the rank of the Minister. He was also presented a Medaille d’Honneur “in recognition of outstanding contribution for the cause of justice and as a gesture of goodwill to the judiciary of Bhutan” by Louis Joinet, on behalf of the President of the Court de Cassation of France in 2001.

On November 2001, he became the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee of Bhutan, and is widely considered as the architect of the modern Bhutanese Draft Constitution. In an extensive interview to Frontline, Sonam Tobgye discussed at length the various provisions of the Draft Constitution, the role of the soon-to-be operational Supreme Court of Bhutan, and the judiciary, as well as the functions of the monarch in the brand new parliamentary democracy of the country. Excerpts:

Bhutan is now in the midst of historical changes. From monarchy it is moving towards democracy. A Draft Constitution has been framed and a Supreme Court formed. What will be the changes in the judicial system in the new order of things?
Sonam Tobgye: First, Bhutan has always been proactive in its attitude and we were always ready to embrace change so that change does not overtake us. For the last 100 years under the five monarchs there have been many progressive steps in the country; so changes are not new to the Bhutanese people. However, the recent changes seemingly appear to be drastic. But over the last four to five years, His Majesty the Fourth King has nurtured this idea and created awareness among the people.

We already had judicial institutions ready in Bhutan. The separation of powers was in principle enshrined in the charter of 1652 by the first theocratic ruler. Based on that, successive rulers, particularly the monarchs, have been working very effectively and within the defined separation of powers. So that concept is not new; it is now only being re-strengthened.

Under the doctrine of separation of powers, the judiciary had a clearly defined role. We have been functioning strictly within that. In short, the judiciary was there to interpret the laws and not to make them. One of the most important principles of the judiciary is judicial review. It was not clearly mentioned in words, but the principle of judicial review was always with the judiciary. But since we did not have a Constitution, we did not have the writs, but we could always grant stay orders and intervene; the judicial review was there in our system for a very long time.

From a three-tier system, we now have a four-tier system, for the purpose of taking justice nearer to the people to cut down on delay and harassment. Wherever there was a large concentration of population, subdivisional courts were set up. This is the lowest in the strata of the judicial hierarchy. Secondly, we had courts in every district. In fact, with the creation of any new district, there would automatically be a district court. Appeals from the district court go to the High court. The district courts were there from 1961, and in 1968 the High Court was established. But decisions like reprieve and pardon lay with the king. On adoption of the Constitution, much of the power will go to the Supreme Court. If there is a change, it is a change in the mindset of the people that the king was always accessible for redress from the judgment of the court. Now the final appeal will lie only in the Supreme Court.

This imposes greater responsibility on the judges of the Supreme Court to step into the big shoes of His Majesty, on whom the people of Bhutan had lavished their trust for so long. They will have to discharge their responsibilities in an honourable and just way. That will be the change. Otherwise, there will not be too much of change through this Constitution.

We have also fixed the number of judges to nine in the High Court – excluding the Chief Justice. In the Draft Constitution, we have specified that, so that the government and politicians cannot manipulate the judiciary. In the Supreme Court, there will be five judges.

How will the appointment of judges take place?
Sonam Tobgye: Three years ago, His Majesty the Fourth King, in his wisdom, issued a decree stating that the appointment of the judges, particularly to the High Court and the Supreme Court, will be done through the National Judicial Commission. This topic has been discussed at length in your [Indian] Parliament and media.

The Chief Justice will be the ex-officio chairman. He along with the seniormost judge of the Supreme Court will screen the appointees, their proven track record and their eligibility. There will also be representation of the other organs of the government. In the new scenario, one of the four members will be the Chairman of the Legislative Committee of the National Assembly, representing the legislature. Our draft proposes to appoint the Attorney General to represent the Prime Minister (that is, the Chief executive) in the Commission.

There are two methods of appointing judges to the Supreme Court; first, through promotion. Currently most of our lawyers are in government service. A candidate will be promoted from the post of a registrar to that of a district judge, to the High Court and Supreme Court. The reason: they will have enough exposure through experience in the judicial workings, and also they will have been trained in that line. This is when his track record will be looked into. We will be going through their judgments – whether he has a liberal view, legal realism, and legal philosophy manifested in his judgment.

The other system is appointment of an eminent jurist. Even in India in the last few years no eminent jurist has been appointed to the Supreme Court, but there is a provision for that. We also want to keep that option. There is a provision of appointing a very renowned and senior advocate to the High Court; but to the Supreme Court, only an eminent jurist.

Do you see any changes in your role as Chief Justice of Bhutan?
Sonam Tobgye: A Chief Justice of any country must have the confidence of not only the people of the country, but also the legal professionals – other judges, lawyers, and so on – for his impartiality and professionalism. The Chief Justice of Bhutan must respond to the changing situations of time, not to aggravate the situation, but to address it, so that justice, truth and, to a great extent, good governance will prevail. This is the dream and vision of the Fourth King, this is the aspiration of our people, and this is our collective desire.

What will be the tenure of a Supreme Court Judge?
Sonam Tobgye: We had marathon debates on this, and looked into various systems in other countries and their experiences, so we could profit from their wisdom and also learn from their mistakes. We finally decided that for judges of the High Court, either 10 years of service or the age of 65, whichever comes earlier; and the same is the case with the Supreme Court. The reason for keeping the 10 years’ clause is very important. Sometimes, the appointment of a wrong judge must not continue for too long. There should be stability in the judiciary, but not one that continues endlessly.

How can a judge be removed?
Sonam Tobgye: There are two processes. For minor administrative lapses, the National Judicial Commission will look into it – censuring and other things. But for an impeachable offence, by either a High Court judge or a Supreme Court judge, there will have to be impeachment proceedings in Parliament. For misconducts that don’t warrant impeachment, a judge should not be exonerated completely, and administrative powers have been given to the National Judicial Commission

You are the chairman of the panel that drafted the new Constitution of Bhutan. Can you tell us some of the salient features of the Constitution?

First of all, I want to make one thing clear that though I was the chairman of the Drafting Committee, I did not single-handedly draft it. The 39 members of the Committee worked extremely hard to produce the first draft in 10 months. Mr. K.K. Venugopal [senior lawyer of the Supreme Court of India] helped us immensely. He worked almost a whole year with us.

As for the salient features of the Constitution, the first Article, the Doctrine of Sovereignty, in our case, specifies that it belongs to the people. Secondly, taking cognisance of the experiences of your country and other countries, judicial review is explicitly mentioned in our Constitution; the Supreme Courts of other countries did it through interpretation and through implied rights. The Doctrine of Separation of powers is mentioned in the First Article.

The second part of the Constitution specifies that the form of government is Democratic Constitutional Monarchy. There is no other country that says Democratic Constitutional Monarchy. Constitutional Monarchy is democratic per se. But we had used the word Democracy, because the principle of democracy could be later interpreted in various phases in the future history of our country. His Majesty wanted that word Democratic specifically and so we kept it there.

The most important feature under Article 2 is that conventionally, “the King never dies”, but in Bhutan the King will now have to abdicate at the age of 65. This was an unpopular provision that His Majesty himself inserted as he felt it was necessary.

The second unique feature of this Democratic Constitutional Monarchy is, that there can be a vote of confidence against the king for violation of the Constitution forcing him to abdicate. This goes against our popular concept that the “King can do no wrong”, but now it will change.

The political system
Sonam Tobgye: As Khruschev said, “as a witness of the past, we must address the future”. We felt this was the time to do the political engineering. So what we did is, and again, this is His Majesty’s vision, he felt, there should be a multi-party system at the primary level, and thereafter, the two parties getting the maximum votes will contest the general elections to the National Assembly. So we will have a stable government in Parliament, and also have a multi-party system at the primary level. The tyranny of two-party system will be avoided, and the perpetuation of certain rules will not continue. This is perhaps unique in our Constitution. Political party structure is probably not mentioned in any other Constitution.

The selection of the constitutional heads will be done by the Prime Minister, Speaker, the Opposition leader and the Chief Justice.

We have provision for an interim government, before every election; they will have no power to decide on policies, but will be there for day-to-day running.

In Articles 13 and 14, under the commerce policy, a salient feature is that the government will have a certain percentage for debt management. Another provision is that under local government, like your panchayat, they will get a certain percentage of the national revenue, besides other budgetary support. So political parties cannot twist and turn local governments.

Another unique feature of our Constitution is the Environment, it is in your Constitution also under Article 52, but that is under Directive Principles. But here in our Constitution, we have said 60 per cent of the country must have forest cover, and it is a Fundamental Duty to protect the forest cover, so we can appreciate the past, enjoy the present and bequeath what we have inherited to the future.

What about Fundamental Rights, and can they be enforceable in a Court of Law?
Sonam Tobgye: Without Fundamental Rights, there cannot be a Constitution, and we have very comprehensive provisions for Fundamental Rights; and we also have Fundamental Duties. But unlike the Indian Constitution, we do not have Directive Principles; we have State Policies instead.

The rights without being enforceable in a court of law are no rights at all. We don’t want a paper tiger. For basic violation of a fundamental right one can move the High Court and the Supreme Court for redress, but not the lower Courts.

We have 21 fundamental rights, which also include freedom of religion and right to information. As one of the Justices said, religion is a personal matter and the state shall not get into it and there cannot be any coercion or inducement to conversion.

So what will be the role of the monarch?
His role will be as the Head of State, he will be the fountain of justice, the symbol of unity for the country, the protector of all the regions, like any constitutional powers. As in the case of the Indian Parliament, there are the two Houses and the President, similarly, here also we have the National Council, the National Assembly and His Majesty.

Can he stop the passage of a Bill in Parliament?
Sonam Tobgye: If a normal Bill is passed in the two houses of the Parliament, despite His Majesty’s reservation, that Bill is automatically passed. But if, particularly in the case of a Constitutional Bill, His Majesty considers it to be of national interest and of paramount importance, he cannot stop it; but he has the power to refer that to a referendum. In short, our Constitution has two principles of democracy – the indirect democracy, that is through a representative government, in which any act which is not of great importance, even if his Majesty does not give his assent, will be passed like it had recently happened in India; but if it is of national importance, His Majesty can refer it to a referendum. If a government has an overriding majority in a Parliament, like there is in Bhutan now, we may need another safeguard.

How do the people of Bhutan view the King’s divestment of power?
Sonam Tobgye: The Kings of Bhutan were always proactive. His Majesty, the fourth King in particular felt that democracy was very important, so he introduced it stage by stage. He believed in action and reality. At the beginning, we never knew of his intentions because he never spoke in a loud voice, nor did he ever say anything in public proclamation. As soon as he ascended the throne in 1972, a young man of 16 years, he said, people’s participation is a very important thing, and will be a component in his administration. Without our even knowing it at that time, he was laying the first principles of democracy.

The second thing he did was decentralisation, this very important and very progressive; it makes people accountable and responsible. This was introduced in the late seventies and early eighties. He encouraged privatisation, and in 1981, he introduced the district development committee, giving districts power in the planning and decision-making processes. He then, pushed it to the country level, or the Block level as in India.

Then he decided that the time had come for devolution of his powers. He made the people select Ministers, which he would nominate; some were rejected too. He introduced adult franchise. On September 4, 2001, he came up with the idea that Bhutan would have a Constitution. Over the years he has built the infrastructure and the apparatus necessary for the establishment of democracy. At that time people didn’t like it. Often new ideas are not accepted and people are always apprehensive about change, being more comfortable with a known situation than unknown promises; so we, including myself, did not want the monarch to be just a constitutional head. It was emotionally against us.

A hundred years ago, the people of Bhutan, through social contract, told His Majesty to please govern us. Today, after 100 years he says, I have done my duty, now I give back to you a much more prosperous stable, sovereign nation. It is true at first people did not accept it, but His Majesty thought it to be necessary. ‘Don’t trust one man, but trust the people; don’t trust the person who is born, trust the person who is selected and elected through merit’. He has been drilling this idea into us consistently with repetition. In the end, people were resigned to the inevitability of the situation. Finally he is the man we trusted, a man we love, and he can never betray us. We trust his judgement.

In the end, and this is something the Western press will not understand, the red button which the people pressed in the machine to vote, became associated with a precious jewel. Voting was associated with a precious jewel given by his majesty not to be misused and abused, but to justify his confidence in us.

I think we still find it difficult to come to terms with the whole situation, but as Lord Buddha said: “O Ananda, do not weep, do not cry, from all that he loves man must part. How can it be that things have beginning and no end. Don’t say that the teacher is not there. My teaching is your master.”

We have His Majesty’s gift of the Constitution as a guide and his wisdom.

(SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH in Frontline – New Delhi, India)

This entry was posted in Main News on April 22, 2008 by Editor.

Shaky start to Bhutan democracy
By Nava Thakuria
Almost a year ago, a middle-aged Bhutanese woman trader in the Indian border town of Phuentsholing sounded an ominous note for Bhutanese democracy. “We have heard about the polls on the Indian side,” she told this correspondent. “Sometimes, unexpected incidents also come out with the elections. We do not want those here in Bhutan. After all, we are a peace-loving nation.”

She added, “Today [in Bhutan] we have no strikes. Everything is on schedule. But there is lots of news about bandhs [strikes] in India that even take innocent lives. I am even scared of thinking such incidents will follow democracy in our kingdom.”

No incidents have been reported so far but multiparty democracy survived when two members of the opposition, drubbed so thoroughly in elections in late March that they won only two seats, last week decided not to resign in shame and will instead form a loyal opposition—against 45 members of the royalist party.

Indeed, on the same day as the two fledgling lawmakers agreed to join the parliament, a knot of protesters gathered in the capitol of Thimpu to demand that the king bring back the absolute monarchy.

It has to be frustrating for the abdicating king, Jigme Khesar Namgye Wangchuk, who has been trying for more than two years to make his isolated kingdom into a democracy. Weaning his subjects away from the kingship, however, is not easy in a country whose relationship to its royalty stretches back through at least four generations of absolute monarchy, and to generations beyond count of previous dynasties as well.

Certainly, if this were a laboratory for democracy, Jigme supplied some of the very best equipment. He told a stunned nation in December 2005 that he would leave the throne in favor of his eldest son, the crown prince. Parties were carefully prepared, with the royalist Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party accepting a design of three flying birds as its poll symbol, while the People’s Democratic Party used a white horse.

Using some of the world’s best technology, including electronic voting machines imported from India, and running through two mock polls beforehand to educate Bhutan’s isolated citizens on how to vote, the country held a first round of elections for the upper house of parliament in December and January.

Then on March 24, Shangri-la stepped into the abyss. The date was declared a national holiday. With nearly 40 international observers looking on, Bhutan took the final step to convert to multiparty democracy.

It might well have been the most scrupulously non-partisan election ever held in Asia. Members of the royal family and Buddhist clerics were barred from voting. The counting began immediately after the polls closed, and the result was broadcast live through the Bhutan Broadcasting Service and Bhutan Radio. Nearly 80 percent of 318,465 registered voters exercised their franchise.

But as for multiparty democracy, the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party (Druk Phuensum Tshogpa), headed by former Prime Minister Jigme Y Thinley and closely allied with the king, won 45 of 47 constituencies. Palden Tsering, the winning party spokesman, told reporters that nobody expected such a landslide. “What I can say is the people have decided,” he said. The defeat for the opposition was so overwhelming that opposition leaders decided to resign from the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. However, later they withdrawn their resignation and vowed to work as ‘vocal opposition’.

“Two members in the opposition bench will hardly form an influential opposition,” Tashi Tsering, the People’s Democratic Party spokesman, told reporters in the capital of Thimphu.

The luckless opposition argued that while their candidates had been received by rural people with great enthusiasm, the dominant party abused its position and violated campaign guidelines. Later, the opposition decided to just resign their two seats, a move that was reversed later.

Parliament is expected to open next month, when the king invites the leader of the majority party to form a government for a five-year term. Before the government starts functioning, a speaker to the lower house will be elected. Meanwhile, Jigme Y Thinley has taken over as Bhutan’s first elected Prime Minister. It was understood with the offering of Dakyen (ceremonial scarf) by the king to Mr. Thinley.

The isolated Buddhist kingdom sandwiched between India and Tibet (China) is known for its unique measure of the standard of living, the Gross National Happiness index rather than the internationally recognized Gross Domestic Product. Smoking is banned throughout the country, with education and health care facilities provided free for every Bhutanese citizen. Television didn’t appear until 1999. The Internet followed later.

Tashme, the PDP leader, who spoke to this writer from party offices in the capital, acknowledged that Bhutanese voters felt the king had asked Jigme Thinley to form the DTP, and that the party capitalized on its perceived alliance with the royalists.

Certainly, the royalist election manifesto tried to exploit the happiness effect, saying, “In pursuit of gross national happiness, growth with equity and justice, we offer our unwavering allegiance to the sacred institution of monarchy, the life-force of our nation and dedicate ourselves to realizing the vision of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo [king], His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, for a united, progressive and happy country,” adding, “We shall be guided by His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, in our pursuit of Gross National Happiness through a true and vibrant democracy.”

Some PDP candidates alleged that electronic voting machines had produced skewed results, a charge rejected by an Indian election official. “The largest democracy on the globe [India] has been using electronic machines for many years with perfect results. Moreover, the Indian chief election commissioner categorically declared that the machines were foolproof,” stated the election officer, based in Guwahati.

“I agree there should have been a stronger opposition for a successful democracy in our country,” said a Thimphu-based political commentator, adding, “But now we cannot help but accept the verdict of the polls.”

Nava Thakuria is a freelance journalist based in Guwahati, northeast India, whose main interest is in socio-political developments of northeast India and neighboring Bhutan, Burma, and Bangladesh.

This entry was posted in Main News on April 22, 2008 by Editor.

King meets NA members
Thimphu, April 22: His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar met with the members of the National Assembly at the Tashichhodzong on Monday.

The NA members reached the palace for audience with King after electing Speakers and Deputy Speaker and taking their Oath or Affirmation of Office as provided in the Third Schedule of the Constitution.

After the end of electoral process, Prime Minister, the Cabinet Ministers, the Speaker, and the Deputy Speaker also took the Oath or Affirmation of Secrecy as provided in the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 22, 2008 by Editor.


NA elects Speaker, Dy Speaker
Thimphu, April 22: Jigme Tshultim has been elected as the Speaker of the recently elected National Assembly. Yangkhu Tshering Sherpa is his deputy.

A electoral process through secret ballot held among the NA members on Monday elected two of their colleagues. They were the only candidates for the two positions, both from ruling Druk Phuensum Tshokpa.

Tshultim secured 46 ‘yes’ votes and one ‘no’ vote while Sherpa got all yes votes from the 47-member assembly. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 22, 2008 by Editor.

Namgyal is new RBP chief
Thimphu, April 22: King has appointed Col Kipchu Namgyel is the new head of the Royal Bhutan Police, who assumed his office on Saturday.

He succeeded Col Sonam Thondup. Thondup served for 35 years in police.

Namgyel, 53, hails from Shari under Paro district. Completing BA from Punjab University, India, he joined the RBP in 1980.

During his period he served under different capacities in RBP and was promoted to the rank of colonel in 2006. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 21, 2008 by Editor.

India identifies railway connection points with Bhutan
Phuentsholing, April 21: Indian government hopes that the railway service could be extended up to Bhutan, possibly in southern plains.

The Indian railway authorites are planning to lay about 200 km of tracks between India and Bhutan and has already identified the connecting points between India and Bhutan.

According to the plans Indian town of Hasimara will be connected with Phuentsholing in Bhutan (18 kms), Banarhat to Samtse (16 kms), Rangia to Samdrup Jongkhar (60 kms), Kokrajhar to Gelephu (70kms) and Pathsala to Nanglam (40 kms). Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 21, 2008 by Editor.

Unidentified group kills one in Beldangi
Beldangi, April 20: A group of unidentified persons snabbed Dhan Singh Mongar, 25, of Beldangi-II, Sector I-1/97 to death on Saturday evening.

The attackers had used sharp weapons.

Reasons behind the attack was unknown. However, relatives of Mongar informed Bhutan News Service that the case was connected with his marriage.

Magar had married a local woman a few weeks ago. Armed Police Inspector deployed in camps, Raj Kumar Lamichane said the investigation is underway. Bhutan News Service/Arjun Pradhan and Jiten Subba

This entry was posted in Main News on April 21, 2008 by Editor.

UNHCR curtails Article 19 says HRWF Nepal
Kathmandu, April 19: Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) Nepal has accused United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of curtailing freedom of expression.

Issuing a press statement, HRWF said UNHCR’s country representative Daisy Dell sent a letter of clarification referrering an article written by Thomas Hardaker, an intern at HRWF.

The UNHCR said the article ‘Reform to Inform Refugees’ published in The Kathmandu Post daily of April 2, contained inaccurate information.

“This article contains inaccurate information and statements regarding the work of UNHCR and International Organization of Migration (IOM)” stated the letter sent by UNHCR. “Kindly note that neither UNHCR nor IOM were contacted by the author to verify the information contained in the article”, the UNHCR’s letter mentioned.

HRWF said the UNHCR requested that before any articles are published on exiled Bhutanese issues in the future, the writer must contact IOM and UNHCR to verify the facts.

“We consider this a curtailment of our freedom of expression, protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -1948 as under their request we must seek permission to publish based on their version of the facts”, read the HRWF’s statement.

HRWF claimed that the experience and knowledge amounted over time it worked on issue of exiled Bhutanese enables it to assist in the accurate attainment of facts and consequently it can prove the particulars founding the aforementioned article.

HRWF has been actively engaged in exiled issue for more than half a decade. Bhutan News Service

Letter addressed to Human Rights Without Frontiers by Daisy Dell, Country Representative, UNHCR

This refers to the article of titled “Reform to inform refugees” by Thomas Hardaker, an intern at your organization, published in Kathmandu Post of 2nd April, 2008. This article contains inaccurate information and statements regarding the work of UNHCR and International Organization of Migration (IOM).

Kindly note that neither UNHCR nor IOM were contacted by the author to verify the information contained in the article.

There are three durable solutions to the problems of refugees: voluntary repatriation to their homeland, local integration in their host country and resettlement to a third country. In Nepal, voluntary repatriation is presently not an option for refugees from Bhutan, despite long lasting and continuing efforts by the Government of Nepal, the International Community and UNHCR. After seventeen years in the camp, third countries have generously offered to receive those refugees who wish to resettle and, to provide them with the opportunity of a new life.

In November 2007, the Government of Nepal agreed to this option. Since then UNHCR has been providing information to the refugee on all aspects of resettlement so that they can decide about their future on the basis of a free and informed choice. UNHCR disseminates information about resettlement in the camp through mass meeting, posters, leaflets, radio messages and focus-group meetings with women, youth and refugees with disabilities.

Contrary to the affirmation contained in Mr. Hardaker’s article, UNHCR has never conducted hut to hut resettlement campaigns with the help of armed guards. The armed police are deployed by the Government of Nepal at the request of UNHCR to ensure law and order in the camps and do not play any role in the resettlement process.

IOM also undertakes information sharing on the resettlement process. IOM participates in the information sessions in the refugee camps providing factual information about resettlement to the United States.

For refugees who have made the decision to be resettled, and after they have been accepted by the resettlement country, IOM provides Cultural Orientation courses. These three-five day courses provide specific information not only on the Travel Loan and Refugees Legal Status but also on the Pre-Departure Process, Resettlement Agencies, Community Services, Housing, Transportation, Employment, Education, and much more. Most importantly, these courses provide refugees an opportunity to raise issues and ask questions of personal significance.

We would highly appreciate if, in the future, UNHCR or IOM are contacted to verify the facts, before publishing article on refugee related issues.

Response from Raju Thapa (Human Rights Without Frontiers)
This refers to the letter of objection sent to Human Rights Without Frontiers regarding an article ‘Reform to Inform Refugees’ written by one of our inters Thomas Hardaker.

The author feels he must sincerely apologize for the misspelling of Mrs. Daisy Dell’s name; it is an unfortunate mistake and by no means was any offence intended. However we contend that this was the only inaccurate aspect of the article to which your letter refers.

Firstly, it is regrettable that the UNHCR has opted for such a direct, private route of rebuttal. We hope the UNHCR has the confidence in its argument to publicly challenge our view point in the media. According to the writer, he welcomes any challenge to the article, as it is founded upon reliable, professional sources that are equally offended by your attempts to suppress the truth about the situation in the refugee camps under the UNCHRs direct control.

Secondly, the manner in which the UNHCR requires information of our intention to publish articles is a gross encroachment upon our fundamental rights to freedom of speech and expression under article 19 of the UDHR to which everyone must abide. The UNHCR is in no position to attempt the curtailment of our fundamental rights and similarly I, as President of Human Rights Without Frontiers, Nepal can only advise my staff, members, interns, volunteers and the people associated with my organization to be diligent and accurate in the voicing of their opinions. I believe that in this case my advice has been adhered to and that despite the UNHCR allegation of inaccuracy, the article was indeed based upon accurate fact.

I and my organization have been actively engaged in Bhutanese refugee issues for more than half a decade, the experience and knowledge amounted over this time enables me to assist in the accurate attainment of facts, consequently I can prove the particulars founding the writers opinion.

To respond to the third paragraph of your letter, the nature and extent of the ‘long lasting and continuous efforts by the UNHCR, the international community and the Government of Nepal’ is strictly a matter of opinion. It would be greatly appreciated if the author’s opinion was respected in line with his fundamental rights. The UNHCR has absolutely no jurisdiction to attempt to suppress this viewpoint.

It is clear that you have given little consideration to the actual contents of the article. Why does the UNHCR feel it is necessary to inform us that resettlement has been ‘generously offered’ when the same sentiments are conveyed in the first paragraph of the writers article which you unjustly refute?

My organization receives testimony from refugees who live in the camps, and they are concerned about the lack of information being imparted to them about the resettlement process. The UNCHR may also wish to utilize its time more productively and instead of petitioning the writer, I suggest it turns its attention to the press conference in the Goldhap camp during the visit of Ellen R Sauerbrey. During this conference refugees were invited to ask questions on resettlement, according to Mr Vidhyapati Mishra’s article ‘Voluntary Options For Refugees’ who was in attendance, the responses given ‘made refugees laugh’ at the delegates inetness.
May I also call your attention to the report of Human Rights Watch, Last Hope: The Need for Durable Solutions for Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal and India found at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2007/bhutan0507/index.htm, which expresses the refugees concerns at the lack of information imparted to them.

Again my suspicions lead me to believe that your consideration of the article was at best remedial, as you fail to counter the authors point about the elderly refugees, it would be far more efficient for both the writer and the UNHCR if you could form your objections upon that which was actually written.

Furthermore it would be extremely beneficial if the UNHCR was to investigate the claims made in the article before attempting to disprove them. Regarding the hut to hut campaigning, allow me to draw your attention to the appeal of the seven democratically elected camp secretaries to the Prime Minister of Nepal on the 11th December 2007, titled, ‘An appeal for appropriate action and justice’ (please find attached). The appeal is signed by all seven of the refugee camp secretaries; please focus your attention to point 3 of the appeal.

‘Kindly urge UNHCR to stop motivation by hut to hut campaigning accompanied by armed security forces…’ I would respectfully request an explanation as to why the camp secretaries feel concerned enough to publish an appeal if the UNHCR has ‘never conducted hut to hut resettlement campaigns’. I would further request an apology from the UNHCR for its uninformed accusation of inaccuracy on the part of Thomas Hardaker.

(Seventh paragraph) “For refugees who have made the decision to be resettled, and after they have been accepted by the resettlement country, IOM provides Cultural Orientation courses. These three-five day courses provide specific information not only on the Travel Loan and Refugees Legal Status but also on the Pre-Departure Process, Resettlement Agencies, Community Services, Housing, Transportation, Employment, Education, and much more. Most importantly, these courses provide refugees an opportunity to raise issues and ask questions of personal significance.”

In the above paragraph of your letter you state that IOM provides cultural orientation and specific information on the above issues ‘after they (the refugee) have been accepted by the resettlement country’. This is in contradiction to your earlier statement in the third paragraph which states that the ‘UNHCR has been providing information to the refugees on all aspects of resettlement so that they can decide about their future on the basis of a free informed choice.’

As you admit to only giving the information once the refugee has been accepted by the third country. How were they to make a fair and informed decision prior to their application, in lieu of this information? Once the application is accepted, any refusal on the part of the refugee to resettle results in their elimination from the process in the future.

Furthermore in legal terms the ‘acceptance’ of an offer binds the parties and creates a contract, given the professional nature of the UNHCR I can rest assured that it was the intention of your organization to use ‘acceptance’ in its legal capacity and I can take confidence in the intention on the part of the resettlement countries to enter into legally binding relations with the refugees. This binding nature is of concern due to the fact that a refugee must take the travel loan to enable them to reach the third country, so it is a constitutive part of the acceptance.

However the information given about the loan is imparted after the acceptance, they are legally responsible to the charge before they are informed about it. Of course your defense of this unusual legal situation will be based on the fact that the refugee has the right to decline resettlement. Again the problem with this is that once a refugee withdraws from the TCR process they are permanently excluded from it.

We would highly appreciate that in future the UNHCR reacts publicly upon its objections to the writer’s opinions, to create an open environment of fact sharing and co-operation in light of the problems associated to the refugee issues. We would appreciate that before any rebuttal and accusations are made from your side, that they are founded on fact. In the same vain, I would request that our freedom of expression is respected and that a decision to inform you of our intentions solely rests upon our choice.

This entry was posted in Main News on April 21, 2008 by Editor.


RBU starts interview for new intake
Thimphu, April 19: Royal University of Bhutan has begun interviewing students for enrollment in various faculties for new academic session.

Those selected in the interview will pursue higher education in various 11 colleges under the RBU.

For the first time, RBU accepted the online application from students willing to pursue university education. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 18, 2008 by Editor.

Government orders relief support to wind victims
Thimphu, April 19: The government has ordered the immediate dispatch of relief materials for those people displaced by the winds in Phuentsholing.

Home Minister Minjure Dorji said relief materials have been sent to the districts to support the victims.

He further said government has been planning to extend support to the people to build stronger houses that can resist the natural disasters like winds.

Hundreds of villagers have been displaced in Phuentsholing and neighboring areas last week when their houses were blown off by the wind. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 18, 2008 by Editor.

One abducted in Sanischare
Sanischare, April 19: An unidentified group has kidnapped one exiled Bhutanese from Sanischare camp on Friday night.

The group who came in combat dress, according to the eye-witnesses, along with home-made arms kidnapped Tika Ram Adhikari, 20, of sector F/3.

The kidnappers had taken control of the family and few other huts around before taking him away.

Adhikari and his family had finalized their interviews for resettlement in the US.

No one has claimed responsibility of the kidnap. His whereabouts is still unknown. Family members have appealed for his safe release. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 18, 2008 by Editor.

Inflation hits consumers
Thimphu, April 18: The inflation, that pinched world market these years, did not spare Bhutan where inflation crossed 6 percent in the first quarter of the current year.

The food prices are expected to grow further. It was largely because of the inflation-hit Indian market from where Bhutan imports 90 percent of its consumables items.

Rise in the price of rice, edible oils and dairy products have set records in the country. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 18, 2008 by Editor.

10-FYP handed over to cabinet
Thimphu, April 18: The newly renamed GNH Commission handed over the draft 10th Five Year Plan to the office of the council of ministers on Thursday.

The report was handed over to Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley in presence of other ministers, Deputy Minister of National Environment Commission Nado Rinchhen and government secretaries.

Prime Minister Thinley said the government will effectively implement the plan.

GNH Secretary Karma Tshiteem said the document describes plans that provide solid economic foundation for the political changes that have taken place in the country.

The plan has given priority for poverty, industrial development, curbing unemployment, improving private sector and social industry. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 18, 2008 by Editor.

India lifts ban on rice export to Bhutan
New Delhi, April 18: Indian government, with immediate effect, has lifted ban on export of rice brands such as BN20, Basmati and boiled rice to Bhutan.

A statement from agriculture ministry said the special gesture is being considered only to Bhutan in view of the cordial and friendly relations shared by the two countries.

The government of India has banned the export of these rice brands due to shortage of food grains across the globe. After the ban, the rice price in Bhutan had risen sharply prompting the government to respond the public assuring enough supply of food grains.

“We would like to remind that hoarding of essential commodities, like rice, is strictly prohibited and we request all hoarders to immediately release their stocks in the market,” the statement reads. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 18, 2008 by Editor.

Two Christian families attacked
Kathmandu, April 18: Two Christian families were physically attacked and kicked out of their homes after they chose to follow Christianity in Bhutan.

The two families were recently Christianized by Gospel for Asia missionaries Lali Bharose and Ekta Surgari, a Christian news portal said.

On Saturday, April 12, their fellow villagers attacked the new Christians and forced them out of the village. The attackers also warned Lali and Ekta to leave the village.

The Christian community in the country is very small. The government bans the religion. The new draft of the constitution also restricts Christian religion in the country.

GFA leaders ask for prayer for these two families who were attacked, that they would be able to feel the real power of Jesus in their lives. “Pray also for their complete healing and for strength to stand firm in their situation,” the portal said. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 18, 2008 by Editor.

King meets NC members
Thimphu, April 17: King met with the National Council members on Wednesday in Tashichhodzong to instruct the new parliamentarians on the roles and responsibilities of the upper house.

He asked the 25 parliamentarians for their active role in the House for ensuring a successful democracy.

Five of the NC members are nominated by the king. The upper House does not have political representation and will not be the part of government in Bhutanese democracy. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 17, 2008 by Editor.

Bhutan to become constitutional next month
Thimphu, April 17: The new parliament will adopt the constitution of the kingdom in May when the first sitting of the elected parliament begins.

According to a statement from cabinet secretariat, “The first sitting of the Bhutanese Parliament, scheduled to begin in early May, will adopt the Constitution.”

The statement issued after the first cabinet meeting of the elected government also mentions that the parliament will enact the Election Bill and the Parliamentary Entitlements Bill as well.

The new government began functioning on Monday.

Next month, Bhutan will also see the centenary celebration of Wangchuk dynasty and coronation of fifth king Jigme Khesar Namgyal. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 17, 2008 by Editor.

Mission to integrate Bhutanese in US society
Jiwan Subba, born in Samtse Bhutan, graduated in English from North Bengal University (India). A former assistant teacher in exiled Bhutanese community in Nepal, Subba was officiating chair of Youth Organization of Bhutan. Based in California, Subba was elected as Secretary of Bhutanese American Community Center (BACC) in 2007. He talked to Vidhyapati Mishra of Bhutan News Service on activities of BACC and its role on third country resettlement of exiled Bhutanese in the United States of America. Excerpts:

BNS: What for BACC formed?
Subba: Bhutanese American Community Center (BACC) is the first charitable Bhutanese organization formed by the exiled Bhutanese in America, particularly living in the Bay Area, California in November 2006. It is registered in the golden state of California.
Its main objective is to help and promote new Bhutanese and other communities in the mainstream of the United States of America through education, advocacy and service. It welcomes all the communities throughout the world to work together to advocate for peace and prosperity.

BNS: What you aim in long run?
Subba: The mission of BACC is to empower and integrate the Bhutanese American and other communities in the mainstream of American society through education, advocacy and service. BACC guides children and youths in socially useful and productive work to preserve and promote Bhutanese arts and culture. We are also equally focused to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and respect, foster basic human rights, and strengthen cooperation among organizations in regional and international forums on matters of common interests, objectives and purposes.

BNS: What are the activities at hand?
Subba: We are campaigning among individuals and local community organizations for donation drive for the Goldhap fire victims and other such unforeseen calamities that hunt our relatives taking asylum in Nepal. Next we are organizing fundraising programs to help our fellow mates arriving in US as part of the third country resettlement. BACC is coordinating with local private refugee resettling agencies in the US for resettlement programs.

BNS: Presently, fellow citizens from exiled Bhutanese community in Nepal are being resettled to the US under Third Country Resettlement Program (TCRP). How does BACC assist these individuals?
Subba: As a secretary of the organization, I am confident that even though BACC respects the aspiration of the majority exiled Bhutanese on repatriation to their home country, it generously welcomes TCR P as an immediate relief for those people.

BACC has also prepared some plans to assist those arriving here.

We are always ready for airport pick-ups. We provide traditional foods on their first arrival and assist them to acquaint with the daily necessary things like kitchen headlining, transportation, public facility, shopping, etc.

Administrative work like translation, interpretation, school program to children, adults, job search, banking, schedule appointment for job interviews, doctor visit, ID card, social security, driving license are the areas where we can directly get involved to assist our fellow-citizens.

Further, BACC is working together with the local agencies. We have requested the local International Rescue Committee to resettle a considerable number of exiled Bhutanese in the Bay Area. BACC coordinates with the local US based Nepalese Community to assist our Bhutanese newcomers in their local area where we find ourselves hard to physically present over there.

BNS: BACC is based in California; do you suggest some Bhutanese under TCRP to come there?
Subba: I already mentioned, BACC is very much pleased and working hard to resettle a considerable number of exiled Bhutanese in Bay area where we can be of assistance to them always. Apart from family reunification, we have more than 100 people on list at hand and those are free cases. We still hope to have more. In addition, our commitment is there for ever if the figure is large.

BNS: From your personal experience, how hard is life for newcomers in the US?
Subba: Life for newcomers at any place, anywhere in the world, is not as easy in the beginning. When I first came in the US, I worked graveyard shifts and went to school during the daytime, but eventually things worked out well for me.

At first, the new comers will find themselves surrounded by an entirely new world, with a different living style then they used to. However, after a week or two, they certainly would find themselves learning new things every moment and would realize the meaning of life with full of opportunities (outside the camps). Further, I assure that, there are agencies and local community organizations, which will help them to find their skill related jobs, and help integrate them within the US community.

BNS: Will there be trouble of language for old people?
Subba: Of course, language does become a barrier to some extent to non-English speaking people, both young and old. Nevertheless, the facilities established here for instance, adult schools for elders, free public library and free interpreters would make their life much easier and comfortable. Besides, there are Nepalese and Indian communities all over American States, where our people can intermingle culturally and linguistically with them, thereby gaining confidence to find them integrated with the US social life. There are vast opportunities in this country even to non-English speaking people. For instance, I have seen numerous non-English speaking people working in restaurants, hotels and some grocery stores. They work out their daily livings with much contentedness.

BACC assures to work together with newcomers in California in hope of closing this gap of language barrier, for the integration of our people within the diverse culture of this country.

BNS: What roles should Bhutanese in the US play to assist exiled Bhutanese during resettlement process?
Subba: The Bhutanese in America should morally shoulder some primary responsibilities including explanation to exiled Bhutanese about TCRP and its advantages. Those who are in the US should inform their friends and relatives about the pros and cons of being resettled. Further, they should ask our fellow compatriots in camps not to intimidate any person or family who is willing to accept TCRP as an alternative solution. If we play leading role here for newcomers, we could requests United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Nepal to expedite the sensitive cases.

BNS: What about children and elderly?
Subba: The children will have equal educational rights and benefits such as free schooling up to higher secondary level. Elders, will have free adult school, medical benefits, SSI (Senior Supplement Income), food stamps, cash benefits and retirement benefits for women aged 63 and above, and men aged 65 and above. In addition, special care would be available to handicapped and mentally unsound individuals both young and aged people.

BNS: Why you suggest opting TCRP?
Subba: Since, we spent more than 17 years in exile with no any positive solution, why not we start moving to something different that changes our life as a whole, rather than lingering another 20 more years. We should always opt ‘United we stand, divided we fall’.

This entry was posted in Interview on April 16, 2008 by Editor.

MPs to get Nu 30, 000 salary (Brief)
Thimphu, April 15: The government has set Nu 30, 000 as monthly salary for a member of parliament.

However, salary of the ministers in cabinet is not yet decided. The decision has to be made by the Pay Commission, which is to be set up by the first meet of parliamentarians.

The previous cabinet ministers were salaried with Nu 66, 000 with free housing and two vehicles. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 15, 2008 by Editor.

Postcard from…Nepal (Feature)
By: Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Chet Nath Timsina dips his shaving brush in a metal bowl of water and carefully shaves around the bruises on his face. Light from the open back door spills into the bamboo hut and onto his plastered right leg, which balances on a stool in front of him. Mon Maya Timsina, Chet Nath’s 60-year-old mother, silently watches in the shadows.

This is not how Chet Nath, 34, a teacher and self-taught journalist, imagined he would spend his summer. Back in May, he and hundreds of other Bhutanese who have been living in refugee camps in eastern Nepal for as long as 17 years, tried to walk the 70 miles from Nepal through India to Bhutan. Indian police blocked them and ended up killing two people and injuring dozens. Chet Nath was one of those injured. Though he now lives in the small Nepalese town of Birtamod, just east of a cluster of refugee camps, he moved himself, his wife Uma Devi, and his son Kushal into his parents’ camp hut so that he can be cared for while his wife works during the day.

Chet Nath’s actions and subsequent injury reflect the intensity of an issue that has polarized the 106,000 Bhutanese refugees of ethnic Nepali descent: whether they should hold on to hopes of repatriation to Bhutan or accept resettlement offers from third countries, including the United States and Canada. The United States says it will take at least 60,000 people starting this year, and the first groups of resettled refugees have already left Nepal.

Holding on means continued limbo. Bhutan refuses to repatriate what it calls voluntary migrants to Nepal. Bhutan’s March 24 election of its first democratic government is unlikely to change this view. However, most media reports and firsthand accounts say the Bhutanese government forced the ethnic Nepalis into leaving Bhutan because of their growing numbers and influence on society. Accepting resettlement means giving up on the hope that Bhutan will be held responsible for its actions and the chance the refugees will ever return to their home country. But staying in Nepal is no option either since the Nepalese government won’t allow the Bhutanese to integrate into the country.

For 15 years, Chet Nath postponed major life decisions until the day he would be living back in his homeland. He put off marriage. He put off children.

“Then one day I realized I had passed half my life here in the refugee camp. I realized I couldn’t keep delaying. That is why I married late and had a child late,” said Chet Nath last June as he played on the bed with his three-year-old son Kushal. “I had never expected it would take so long to get back. I am still hopeful we’ll be back.”

After months of recuperation and rehabilitation, Chet Nath can walk again with a bit of pain in his right knee. The medical expense strained his family’s finances but he has returned to his under-the-table job teaching accounting and office management at a local college. Since the Mechi Bridge incident, one of Chet Nath’s sisters has decided to join her Bhutanese refugee husband in the Netherlands, where he unexpectedly sought asylum during a business trip. In a recent e-mail, Chet Nath wrote he is still waiting for signs that Bhutan will repatriate refugees. “Otherwise, as my wife tells, ‘We have to look for the future of the son,’ we might decide for resettlement as well.”

Source: http://www.fpif.org

(Pohl is a freelance photojournalist and writer in Virginia. To see more of her work, please visit www.laurapohl.com)

This entry was posted in Main News on April 15, 2008 by Editor.

YOB distributes mosquito nets to Goldhap camp
Goldhap, April 8: Youth Organisation of Bhutan (YOB) distributed 160 mosquito nets to extended families of fire victims on April 4.

California based YOB president Rajan Giri stated in a release that a sum of 50, 000 Nepalese currency was contributed for the same.

“I appreciate the humanitarian contribution made by friends in California” said Giri.

Giri has thanked Mitesh Parikh, Chetana Parikh, Kiran Pradhan, Milan Pradhan, Milan Rana, Pal Rai, Rita Thapa, Sunita Chhetri and Anup Lepcha for their valuable contribution. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 8, 2008 by Editor.

Thiney to lead royal cabinet of miniters
Thimphu, April 6: Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) authorized the nomination of its president, Jigmi Y Thinley as the chief among ministers in the cabinet.

The closed-door meeting of the parliamentarian also filed the nominations of 10 ministers, the Speaker and deputy Speaker.

“Corruption will not be tolerated at any level and this will begin from within the party,” said Thinely, whose party was earlier accused of misusing the funds, particularly the loans from banks, during election campaign.

The party and the candidates would have to set an example and anyone found corrupt would be taken to task, he told

Thinley also vowed that DPT and the new government would promote media and their activities in Bhutan. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 6, 2008 by Editor.

Exiled Bhutanese in Kolkotta for regional workshop (Brief)
Kolkotta (India), April 6: Three exiled Bhutanese presented papers on Bhutanese issue at regional seminar organized by All India Catholic University on Wednesay.

Bholanath Siwakoti, Kailash Chauhan and Purna Prashad Siwakoti presented separate papers on status and future of exiled Bhutanese, and democratic transformation of Bhutan. Puranaghare/Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 6, 2008 by Editor.

3 killed in blast, 3 arrested (Brief)
Kakarvitta, April 6: Three exiled Bhutanese were killed in an explosion inside an apartment in Siliguri, India on Thursday. The casualties are Kanchan Tamang, Lakpa Dorje Tamang and Puspa Rai.
Likewise, police arrested Dipen Rai, Karna Bahadur Rai and Furva Tamang. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 6, 2008 by Editor.

I. K. Gujral to write to Patil and Dr Singh
New Delhi, March 31: Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral who is the chairperson of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) will write to President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to try to help in solving the issue of Bhutanese refugees.

These refugees have been left out of the democratic process in the recent elections held in Bhutan, Mr Gujral said, “We need to understand the issue and also see how we can help.”

Mr Gujral was speaking at the deliberation organised by Sahr on the “Concerns of the Bhutanese Refugees in South Asia” on Monday, in the light of the Bhutan election results, to look at the possible solutions and a way forward.

Speaking at the deliberations, the president of Druk National Congress (Democratic) Thinley Penjore, who is living-in-exile in Nepal explained that though the world was all praises for the first elections in Bhutan held recently, their party does not recognise it as such since only two parties, both headed by the King’s relatives were allowed to contest the elections and large numbers of people were left out of the democratic process.

He said, “Unless the refugees issue is addressed justly, we fear that the so called ongoing process will emerge a mockery of the democracy.” He appealed to India’s prominent leaders, civil society and the media to play a greater role as citizens of the largest democracy to mount pressure on the government of India to press upon the King of Bhutan to restore political freedom and resolve the issue.

As many as 150,000 refugees live mainly in Nepal and a few thousands in the northeast part of India after they were forced to live Bhutan in the early 1990 and late 1980s. Explaining the crux of the problem, the general secretary of Peoples Forum for Human Rights, Bhutan, D.P. Kafley said, “For 18 years the Bhutanese refugee community in Nepal has been languishing in terrible conditions in seven separate camps.” Most of the refugees are the Lhotshampas who lived mainly in the south of Bhutan and are ethnic Nepali speaking people who have been living there since before 1958 when a census showed that they were indeed legitimate people of the country, explained Mr Penjore.

(By Sonal Kellogg in howrah.org)

This entry was posted in Main News on April 2, 2008 by Editor.

Reform to inform ‘refugees’ (Reproduction)

“Travel loans are a long constituted practice for many Western countries allowing resettlement of refugees, they are sometime essential to quell domestic pressure against spending tax money on foreigners”.

There is a serious lacuna in the information imparted to the refugees about their futures in the countries making up the core group. Of course, it is true that the United States is offering its helping hand to 60,000 Bhutanese refugees who have now been languishing in the overcrowded, harsh environments of the seven camps in eastern Nepal for almost 18 years. In this respect they are alleviating the suffering of a substantial number of refugees.

However, a closer assessment of the facts provokes many questions as to the extent of the humanitarian motive supposedly directing the actions of the core group and the UNHCR in tandem.

There are three options open to the refugees in theory, repatriation, local integration and third country resettlement (TCR). In practical terms, however, there is little alternative, third country resettlement is increasingly looked upon as a Hobson’s choice for those in the camps to secure a new life. For justice to be granted to the refugees all three options should be pursued by the concerned agencies, organizations and nations with equal energy, to create a comprehensive and durable solution.

At present only the TCR is considered as a solution and even this is regarded as a temporary solution by the UNHCR’s country representative Daisy Dale.

It is totally the choice of individual refugees to decide on their fate, if they wish to relocate to a third country represented in the core working group, they should be free to do so. Any coercion against their will is a flagrant breach of their rights and reminiscent of the attitude advocated by the Wangchuck dynasty which sought to displace them in 1989 and through the 1990s.

However, the UNHCR has been conducting hut to hut resettlement campaigns with the help of armed guards. The presence of armed guards serves to connote a reality that the UNHCR may not desire to present, but never-the-less it is viewed by refugees as an ultimatum. It is an intimidation in civility. From what they are accustomed to if someone turns up at your door with a gun, you do as you are told.

The important point to make is that any choice must be well informed, fair and impartial. The US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, Ellen R Sauerbrey has stressed the ‘voluntary’ nature of any decision to resettle. But for a decision to be voluntary it needs to be properly understood. The refugees are not located in a hub of easily accessible information. They have no computers and are seldom privy to international news on any comprehensive scale. They learn the vast majority of information regarding their resettlement from the UN agencies and the countries waiting to accept them. Can this imparting be necessarily considered as impartial?

What information is given to those refugees who are applying for resettlement? What do they understand about the mechanisms in place to help them? I regret to think very little. Nepal in conjunction with the core group and UNHCR must initiate steps to teach the refugees about the program they are about to enroll in.

A good example of the lacuna in information resides in the issue of the travel loan. This mysterious credit tool escapes even the most determined researcher, when enquiry is made into its specific constitution.

Travel loans are a long constituted practice for many Western countries allowing resettlement of refugees, they are sometime essential to quell domestic pressure against spending tax money on foreigners. The US states that any repayment from the repaid loan goes back into funding the travel of other refugees. According to the International Organization for Migration, the loans are repayable as per the schedule agreed to. Failure to comply with the repayment schedule may result in legal action, in which the refugees will be subject to interest accumulated, solicitor’s fees and collection costs.

The most suseptable group of resettlers is the elderly, if they cannot work, how will they repay the loan? America assures that social welfare programs will meet the deficit. However, currently there are upto 2 million people homeless in the States, if the welfare system isn’t capable of securing its own citizens, how can it be expected to help refugees?

American statistical information from 2002 shows that 43 percent of all travel loans have not been repaid. The voluntary non-governent resettlement agencies known as (Volags) are responsible for the refugees’ welfare for four months and subsequently to collect loan payments. They gain 25 percent of the repayment for their services. This in itself contradicts the American stance which states that all repaid loans are directly reinvested into resettling more refugees.

The concept of the travel loan is not exactly in line with a humanitarian motive; its image is only made more sinister by the lack of information given about it. Its repayment terms and conditions must be clearly specified and understood by those wishing to indebt themselves to the legal charge. I feel that a satisfactory effort has not been made to clarify this issue of resettlement with those concerned. Furthermore, the language used is misleading. The refugees are made to sign a ‘promissory note’, legally this is simply a contract, is there a reason to play with semantics?

There are a lot of important questions which have escaped any real attention. They are brushed aside in the excitement of a new life outside the camps. It is very easy to manipulate those who have nothing, the refugees do not want to ‘rock the boat’ which may deliver them to a promised land.

However, the lack of information is causing anxiety amongst the refugee population and fueling misinformation, significantly adding to confusion and uncertainty. With the lack of clarity comes suspicion of motive, if the core group wants to end speculation and worry, they should actively seek to provide answers to the refugees’ questions.

The Bhutanese refugees are particulary sensitive to their legal status. Already they have been forcefully disenfranchised through contrived legal documentation supposing that they voluntarily left their country of orign. It is not suggested that any such practice will be undertoaken by the resettlement countries. However, it is essential that the refugees entering the TCR program are reassured on the legality of their citizenship once they are resttled. All actions taken in regard to the resettlement of refugees must be taken solely in regard to their welfare.

(The writer is an intern of Human Rights without Frontiers, International.)

Source: The Kathmandu Post, April 2, 2008 (Wednesday)

This entry was posted in Main News on April 2, 2008 by Editor.

India must solve Bhutanese refugee problem
We are gathered here to discuss the different aspects of the problem of Bhutanese refugees who are languishing in seven camps of Nepal and also who are scattered in north-eastern part of India and West Bengal without having the refugee status. We all know the numbers of refugees in UNHCR managed camps which is around 106000 but we don’t have any authentic data of those who are not in camps but were hounded out from Bhutan. A survey carried out by Bhutan Solidarity in 1996 revealed that more than 40,000 refugees are living in India (West Bengal Assam and Arunachal Pradesh) and they have not been given the status of refugee by UNHCR. As per 1949 Friendship Treaty between India and Bhutan, GOI refused to give these people refugee status. They too are living in worst conditions.

When we think about the India’s attitude towards the Bhutanese refugees, we find that our track record is very poor, rather disgusting. It is a matter of shame for us that while the neighboring country Bhutan is continuing with the autocratic monarchy and its repressive activities with the help of world’s largest democracy India, the intelligentsia in our country has maintained silence over the issue whereas the Indian media, time and again, keeps on praising the monarchy in Bhutan. We are repeatedly told by the media that the tiny populace in Bhutan is prospering, the country is unaffected by the environmental degradation and cultural pollution and so on. During the last couple of years, Indian media is full of news praising the King for his liberal attitude by arguing that he himself wants to end the monarchy to usher in the democratic system of governance. The media keeps on telling us that the King of Bhutan wants to join the modern world because he feels that continuing with monarchy in the present scenario is suggestive of a regressive thought.

The same media never told us sternly that this ‘peaceful and environment friendly’ King ,in 1990 with the help of his army, had expelled 1.5 lakh citizens of his country, run bulldozer over their hamlets, destroyed their orange and cardamom plantations and unleashed a reign of terror and oppression on elders, women and children just because they were asking for the establishment of minimum democracy and respect for their human rights. Media never bothered to tell us that in the drama that has been enacted in the name of the countrywide elections held this month, neither political parties banned for last 20 years and termed illegal (Bhutan People’s Party, Bhutan National Democratic Party, Druk National Congress) nor the people living in seven refugee camps have been permitted to participate. The total population of Bhutan is around seven lakhs and expelling 1.5 lakh people out of this tiny population has been an incident never witnessed in the history of any country. The most surprising thing is that India is the only country in the subcontinent extending support to the King of Bhutan. He was even invited by the Indian government as chief guest in Republic Day parade two years back.

India has contributed significantly towards the plight of Bhutanese refugees. These people had brought out some pamphlets and organized peaceful demonstration demanding a minimum democracy in 1990. The centre of this movement was southern part of Bhutan which is close to the Indian border, particularly the West Bengal border. Although the King of Bhutan had imposed ban on the entry of television in his country, but how could this neighboring region of West Bengal could remain uninfluenced by the movement related activities which are the very soul of life in West Bengal. People from South Bhutan came to India for educational purposes and they had to pass through West Bengal. Apart from that, due to lack of connecting roads in mountainous Bhutan, people had to take the road which passes through West Bengal in order to reach the other parts of Bhutan. Since southern part of Bhutan was primarily inhabited by Lhotsompas, a Nepali speaking Bhutanese community which constituted 90 percent of the population, the King charged them with creating disturbance. When the people of Sarchop community from east and north Bhutan were also expelled, it became clear in the long run that this movement was not confined to the Nepali speaking community alone.

Teknath Rizal, advisor to the Royal Council set up by the King wrote a letter to the King requesting that he must humbly pay heed to the people’s complaints. But instead, the King put Teknath Rizal behind the bars. He spent 10 long years in prison and was released in 1999 when the King’s officials realized that he could die in prison due to illness. He is now living a exiled life in Nepal. Rizal hails from Lhotsompa community.

Similarly, a popular leader of Sarchop community Rongthong Kunley Dorji was arrested by the monarchy and charged with supporting the demand of minimum democracy. The King seized his property, put him in the jail where he was subjected to severe atrocities and was finally kicked out of the country along with his family. He was arrested by the Indian police on his arrival to India in 1996 and was put in Tihar prison for two years. He is currently on bail and the Indian government has charged him with various offences. India has always given refuge to the pro-democracy activists of various countries including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Burma, Tibet and Nepal. Keeping this in mind, India’s discriminatory attitude towards pro-democracy forces in Bhutan is surprising.

India’s role in this regard is both shameful and significant because when the helpless Bhutanese citizens arrived inside the Indian border after being expelled from their own country, Indian security forces forcefully loaded them in trucks as if they were livestock and dumped inside Nepal border. Those who resisted were beaten up severely. With no choice left they entered Nepal. Later on India laid its hands off from the issue. Whenever Government of India was requested to hold talks over the Bhutanese refugees issue, it raised its hands by saying that this was a bilateral issue between Nepal and Bhutan. Bhutan shares border with India, not Nepal. Any one who leaves Bhutan will obviously enter India first. It is a known fact that India has itself created this problem for Nepal. Nepal being a small and weaker state cannot force India which has repeatedly ignored its request to resolve the refugee crisis.

Is the government of India really neutral to the issue? No, it is not so. In the last 17 years, whenever the Bhutanese refugees tried to return home risking their lives, they were stopped at Indo-Nepal border at Mechi bridge by the Indian security forces. When they tried to proceed further, they were beaten up. The most recent incident in this series is that of May 28 2007 when one refugees was killed in police firing and hundreds of them were injured. And just after a few days of this incident, our foreign minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee said that ‘if the refugees get back to Bhutan, there will be demographic imbalance in the region.’ What does he mean by this? Should the refugees not try to go back to their homeland? Mr. Pranab Mukherjee never bothered to know the demographic changes Bhutanese regime made after driving out the Lhotsompas by resettling the people from the north in southern Bhutan?

In January this year, a team of Indian parliamentarians under the leadership of Forward Block MP Debbrata Biswas was stopped to visit refugee camps in Jhapa by the Indian security forces. He was scheduled to address a programme at Beldangi camp and also planning to hold talks with refugee leaders. He was stopped by the Siliguri administration and security forces at Panitanki, a bordering town. Earlier NCP leader D P Tripathy organised a team of MPs to visit Thimpu and talk to the King but it did not materialise. It came to our notice that Mr Pranab Mukherjee persuade them not to undertake this visit.

When Shri Indra Kumar Gujral was Prime Minister, he showed his keen interest in Bhutanese affairs and wholeheartedly supported the Bhutanese monarch. Nobody bothered to ponder over the policy prepared by Indra Kumar Gujral as India’s Foreign Minister on Bhutan, and particularly on the on-going democratic movement there. Feeling free from any accountability he gave full support to the king for the repression of the democratic forces in his country and in return secured Bhutan’s vote on the issue of CTBT. Incidently, Bhutan was also among the first few countries that supported India’s quest for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.

In August 1996, Indra Kumar Gujral went to Bhutan on a state visit. This was the first visit of an Indian Foreign Minister in 14 years. Just months before his visit, many groups of refugees from the Jhapa camp had made several attempts to cross over the border through Indian territory to return to their homes that had created considerable tension in the West Bengal. The governments of Nepal and Bhutan had held seven rounds of negotiation to resolve the issue of Bhutanese refugees. But the issue of refugees did not bother the conscience of the Indian Foreign Minister. Gujral did not feel the need of even raising it with the Bhutanese Royal government!

On October 12, 1996, a memorandum signed by many noted Indian citizens including Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer and Swami Agnivesh was submitted to Mr. Gujral, in which among other things, the demand of Indian participation in the negotiations on the refugee issue was emphasized. The members of the delegation were shocked and surprised by the Gujral’s response that he would not do any such thing which might create problems for the Bhutanese monarch. Earlier he had refused even to talk about Bhutan under the pretext of the national interest. Is it not the responsibility of India to support the democratic movements in the neighboring country? His response was that his government would not support democracy on the cost of the national interests. When he was reminded about the possibility of explosive situations on the India-Bhutan borders, he told the delegation that the government would deal with it.

This was the response of the foreign Minister of the ‘largest democracy’. The delegation was amazed and the talks ended in a tense atmosphere.

It is very surprising that these leaders whether they are from the progressive camp like I.K.Gujral or reactionary camp like George Fernandese, so long they are in power they support the Bhutanese monarchy and the moment they are out of power they become the human rights champion. Every Foreign Minister- be it I.K. Gujral, Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh or Pranab Mukherjee- has ‘off the record’ given same argument that the Indian support to Bhutan is only due to India’s geo-political compulsions.

A team from ‘Bhutan Solidarity’ visited the refugee camps again in August 2006 and found that 40 percent of the refugees were in the age group of 17-40. They are losing patience after the failure of many peaceful attempts to go back home and feeling that this problem can not be resolved through peaceful means. They have also been inspired by the Maoist people’s war in Nepal and this thought is getting concretized in their minds that justice will only prevail through the barrel of the gun. In spite of being aware of everything, Bhutan government and GOI have maintained an indifferent attitude. It seems as if both the governments are waiting for the refugees to take the violent path which will give them an excuse to unleash repression.

I feel that the Bhutanese refugee crisis can be resolved in a peaceful way provided the intellectuals of India raise their voice and stand behind them in solidarity with their struggle. The area which relates with these refugees is politically very sensitive. Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Jhapa, close to West Bengal, have been experiencing violent movements since long but the arms here are not in the hands of revolutionary forces, but in the hands of separatists, anarchists and state sponsored armed groups. In this scenario, if the Bhutanese refugees take to armed struggle, their voice will be lost and it will pave the way for their repression. In nutshell armed struggle waged by the Bhutanese refugees to solve their problem will prove to be suicidal at this stage.

In the last couple of years, US policy has been a fiasco in Nepal. Despite US disliking, the political parties of Nepal and Maoists reached a 12 point understanding in Nov 2005, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement between seven party alliance and Maoists took place, the entry of Maoists in the parliament and Maoists joining the interim government was witnessed. Inspite of all this, Maoists are still listed as ‘terrorist’ in the US records. Having seen utter failure of its policy in Nepal, US has now shifted its focus on Bhutan since it wants to consolidate its position in South Asia by hook or crook. US had announced last year that it will undertake to settle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees on its own and assist to settle 10,000 each in Australia and Canada. This announcement revealed many things. Firstly, it tried to create a divide among the refugees. Secondly, it tried to prevent the ideology of violence taking an organized form among them and lastly, assured the King of Bhutan that it will help him get rid of the mounting problem of refugees. This is what US aims at. While this proposal seems to be providing some relief to the King at the same time the debate on this proposal has for the first time in 17 years generated violent conflicts among the refugees.

This is high time, we must give a serious thought on the possible ways to resolve the refugee problem. This problem can surely be resolved peacefully and a terrible bloodshed can be avoided in this region if the intellectuals, human rights activists and active pro-democracy people of Indian political parties think seriously over this issue. If our endeavour fails to bring change the government of India’s attitude of indifference, then the movement of Bhutanese refugees taking a violent turn can not be termed as illegitimate. But I have strong feeling that even a small effort on our part can bring a peaceful solution to the problem.

(Speech delivered during a conference on Bhutanese Refugees organised by South Asian for Human Rights (SAHR) in New Delhi on March 31. Verma is ex President of ‘Bhutan Solidarity, India’)

This entry was posted in Opinion on April 1, 2008 by Editor.

BNDP reiterates not to make exiled Bhutanese hostage
Kathmandu, April 1: Bhutan National Democratic Party (BNDP) reiterated its position that it will not keep the exiled Bhutanese as hostage for political changes in Bhutan.

Addressing a pressed meet organized by the party in Kathmandu, Vice-President Dr. DNS Dhakal criticized the recent parliamentarian election and termed ‘undemocratic’.

“BNDP believes that the recently held so-called democratic election in Bhutan has enabled the regime in Thimphu to legitimize its legal ethnic cleansing policy towards Nepali-speaking Bhutanese, which was in practice since the early 90s,” said Dhakal

BNDP fully respects the rights of individual exiled Bhutanese and we cannot hold them back from moving to a safer third country, Dhakal responded to a quiry. However, Dhakal equally highlighted the need of creating a united platform even after relocation in third countries. Bhutan News Service

This entry was posted in Main News on April 1, 2008 by Editor.

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