The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Monday, July 10, 2006

Teknath Rizals words on Exiled subjects

Our movement aims to establish the rule of law in Bhutan

Tek Nath Rizal

As the new chairman of the Bhutanese Refugee Representatives Repatriation Committee (BRRRC), veteran Bhutanese human rights leader Tek Nath Rizal has the daunting task of uniting the Bhutanese refugee movement and ensure their early and dignified repatriation. He spoke to Nepalnews on the protracted refugee stalemate and his plans to give momentum to the refugee movement. Excerpts:

What is the progress made so far towards repatriation of Bhutanese refugees back to their homeland?

There has been no satisfying progress. Bhutanese refugee community and its leadership have agreed to launch a joint movement. Human rights groups, political parties and other social organization finally felt the need for a common forum to jointly launch repatriation efforts. A steering committee has been instituted under my leadership which will be a forum for debate and discussion to chart out strategies to further the movement.
We are in regular contact with the political leaders and human rights defenders in Nepal and abroad. They have given us words of support and commitment to advocate in favour of the Bhutanese refugees. South Asian Forum for Human Rights (SAFHUR), led by former Indian prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral, has decided to invigorate the campaign for repatriation of Bhutanese refugees. I hope this would be of great support in exerting pressure on Indian government to change its earlier stand that the problem was of Nepal and Bhutan only.

Recently you visited the refugee camps in eastern Nepal for the first time. How did you find the situation there?

Youths have no guidance. They have not been given opportunities to study. They have no source of earning. In such a situation, I cannot say that they would not be instigated to join an armed rebellion.
Really, I don't have words to describe this appalling condition of humanity. They live in small tents made of plastics and bamboo. Scorching heat of sun from the top and hot air due to barren-rocky land below itch refugees. I found huts to be like tents near railway stations in India where slumdwellers live. The huts do not have protective roofs, no walls.. Snakes and frogs make their homes under the beds. On the other hand, the donors have closed the supply of kerosene, clothes, mosquito nets, utensils, vegetables and other essential goods. It has been announced that there will be no more facilities for construction of huts and no replacement of roofs. The situation of infrastructure is such that it may not last by the end of this monsoon. At the same time, the refugees are not allowed to work outside the camp. This has exhausted completely the economic status of the refugees. I think they don't have even five rupees to donate for their movement.
I could not recognize my childhood friends. They cried when they tried to talk to me. I had hard time to counsel them. Many people, who knew the history of Bhutan, can describe the atrocities of Bhutan government and who have worked in high positions in the government services have died. Many of such potential personalities have become so old that they cannot express their feelings in words. Youths have no guidance. They have not been given opportunities to study. Those who have been able to complete school level education have not been able to attend colleges. Few who have been able to complete college education have been forced to remain idle. They have no source of earning. In such a situation, I cannot say that they would not be instigated to join an armed rebellion. I cannot define whether these people should be called refugees or people confined within four walls.

So, what needs to be done?

Guarantee their nationality, give them identity. They want the end of this sorrowful life. If they are forced to live in a similar condition for prolonged time, the situation would be uncontrollable. Young people have been growing up with their rages. The unreasonable eviction of their parents by the Bhutanese regime, no support from Nepal government and getting no justice from international community, who advocate promotion of right to live and end discrimination and inhuman behaviour, have enraged the younger generation. The democratic nations and the UN should find a place for them to live and involve them in fruitful activities. I appeal on their part to give them future, give them life to live as a dignified human being, enshrined and guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Otherwise, this will be a great sin against humanity on the part of the international community, especially the UN.

How do you see the recently concluded UN Human Rights Commission?

We did have great expectations but sadly we could not attend it. My colleague, Hari Bangale, was in Geneva to attend a human rights training but unfortunately he had to return before the session started due to expiry of his visa. We could not work so much to present the world session because I was totally focused into unifying the refugee leadership and bring so many organisations under an umbrella. Of course, we have told our friends abroad, refugee support groups and other international organizations to support us by raising our issue during the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council. We had repeatedly appealed the Commission about our plight in the past. I am sure the world leaders and human rights defenders have understood the cries of Bhutanese refugees. During the first session of UN Human Rights Council that will be held in June, we want our friends and supporters to gather in Geneva and demand inclusion of the Bhutanese refugee problem as one of the agenda in the Council meeting.
The present situation in southern Bhutan is pathetic. Children are not given admission in schools. Many were expelled in the middle of the session alleging that their relatives have joined the forces in exile. Lhotsampas have been terminated from government jobs. Human rights situation in eastern Bhutan is deteriorating due to presence of ULFA and Bodo militants. These issues have to be addressed during the forthcoming session of the Human Rights council.

You have been chosen as the 'top leader' to shoulder the responsibilities of Bhutanese movement for human rights and repatriation of refugees. What are your programmes?

It is, hence, clear that the present king (of Bhutan) passed his whole life as an autocratic and tyrant ruler. The draft constitution is not complete and is a mere means to protect the power of king and his courtiers through new tactics
This is a starting point. We have many bridges to cross before we enter into mass movement in Bhutan. I have been chosen as the chairman of BRRRC. A steering committee has been orgnanised to lead the movement. I am not here to use veto power simply because I have been shouldered responsibilities to lead the movement. I cannot say this is my programme because this has to be decided by the forum itself representing all organizations in exile. What I can make sure is that the issue of human rights in Bhutan would be the top agenda of our movement. We shall concentrate on right to repatriation and right to nationality. Justice can be guaranteed with the restoration of human rights and cancellation of the Bhutanese government policies promoting ethnic differences in society. Politics is broader subject in our case. It would be sensible to fight for political rights and democracy after repatriation. The new phase of movement will surely be a big challenge to the Bhutanese king and his government who has been lying the international community through various elements about the plight of the southern Bhutanese. I tell the writers and visitors, who go to Bhutan to come to us, study the situation of refugees in camps, listen to their stories and visit southern Bhutan where new people have been settled in the land of Lhotsampas. I appeal them not to tell the stories of Bhutan just by sitting on red carpets spread by king and his allies. There are no rights, no right to speak, no right to write and no right to association and assembly. The king finally has realized that people should be empowered after we cried for 17 years. If the situation of human rights in Bhutan was alright, then why was the king forced to draft a new constitution? The king himself has announced that Bhutan would be a 'constitutional monarchy' after the promulgation the constitution in 2008. It is, hence, clear that the present king passed his whole life as an autocratic and tyrant ruler. The draft constitution is not complete and is a mere means to protect the power of king and his courtiers through new tactics. Our movement will end all these discrepancies to establish the rule of law in Bhutan, guarantee the right to freedom of expression and right to association and assembly, among others. Indra Adhikari Mar 31 06
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