Bhutanese American delegates lobby in DC

Peace Initiative Bhutan (PIB) delegates visited Washington in July to call on Congress and the Biden Administration to champion human rights and be a beacon for democracy. 

PIB representing different Bhutanese American organisations that serve Bhutanese and South Asian refugees with direct services, programs, and advocacy, organized this peace trip. The delegation promoted messages on building positive peace in Bhutan based on trust and mutual understanding, in hopes of reaching sustainable peace by reconciling the existing differences between the government and its Nepali-speaking citizens. 

During this three-day visit, from July 24-27, 17 delegates from various states met with the Director for South Asia Regional Affairs National Security, Brian Luti, Deputy Assistant and Asian American Pacific Islander Liaison to the President, Erika Moritsugu, and the President’s Executive Officer, Howard Ou. 

At that meeting, Anisha Thapa, a delegate from Pennsylvania, shared her family’s painful separation story.  She urged them to help her family, who had been separated for decades, to achieve visitation rights. “I have never met my grandparents. They are more than ninety years old, and my mum wants to meet them before it is too late,” she said.  

Puspa Tiwari from Ohio shared the successes and challenges being faced by the Bhutanese American community. Citing the CDC 2012 report, she stated that mental health and suicide devasted the Bhutanese American community. According to the report, suicide among Bhutanese Americans is the highest of all communities nationally. 

The participants also drew the attention of the Biden Administration to the values of “Family Life and Family Unity” and “Freedom of Movement” as core components of International Humanitarian Law.  The delegates asked for continued engagement and advocacy to the government of Bhutan for building peace and reconciliation with exiled Bhutanese around the world. 

Specifically, PIB called for:

  1. Call on the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to expedite the repatriation, assimilation, or resettlement of the remaining 6,500 refugees still living in Nepal;
  2. Insist that Bhutan allow Bhutanese American citizens visas to visit their families and loved ones still living in Bhutan;
  3. Demand that Bhutan end its inhumane treatment and incarceration of Nepali Bhutanese ‘political prisoners’ who are being held in Bhutanese prisons with life sentences without due process. These ‘prisoners of conscience’ who championed democratic rights must be released, allowed to re-enter Bhutanese society or be resettled to other countries.
  4. Bring accountability by recognising Bhutan’s ethnic cleansing and human rights violations of the Nepali Bhutanese people.

PIB participants also met with US Senator Bernie Sanders, staff of US Senator Gillibrand, US Senator Brown, US Senator Schumer, House Speaker Pelosi, US Representative Joe Morales, the U.S Department of State, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), and many others. 

At the close of the visit, participants realised the gravity of the pain and suffering of their parents and their responsibility for

finding an amicable solution that no parties can feel that they are defeated. One of the trip organisers, Suraj Budathoki, stated,

“PIB is open to a dialogue with community members and stakeholders in the US and Bhutan to bring a benevolent closure to

this conflict.” Sudarshan Pyakurel, the executive director of the Bhutanese Community of Central Ohio (BCCO), stated, “we welcome the forthrightness of the government of Bhutan in building lasting peace in Bhutan by reconciling the differences between us. And as Bhutanese Americans, we are ready to play a positive role in this endeavor.” 

Organisations supporting this trip were Building Community of New Hampshire, Bhutanese Community of Central Ohio (BCCO), Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh, Nakshatra Foundation, Global Citizens Circle, House of refuge USA, and APIAVote. Funding was provided by BCCO, Bhutanese American business owners, and individuals.

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