The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Sunday, July 29, 2012

National Assembly endorses ongoing verification process

As the National Assembly moved into its third week of deliberations the peoples representatives asked the government to explain the purpose and progress of the verification process. They expressed their concern over rumours and speculation that the government might allow some of the people who had left Bhutan after committing a range of anti-national and seditious activities to return.
BCCI Chimi

The Samtse chimi said that the people did not want the noglops to return because they had left the country after destroying schools, BHUs and bridges, and committed acts of violence, including murder. He said that, after rejecting the repeated pleas of His Majesty the King himself not to leave the country, they were now accusing the government of having evicted them.

The Samdrup Jongkhar chimi said the basis of the joint verification process must be the distinction between genuine and false refugees. How can you be a refugee if you have sold your land, house, animals, and all other property and left a country out of your own free will ? he asked. Who are these people we are supposed to be verifying ?

The Sarpang chimi said the people in the camps in Nepal were ngolops bent on sowing seeds of discord and disharmony. The Chhukha chimi said they were suffering the consequences of their own decisions.

The Haa chimi submitted that the government should not even consider repatriating people who had left under such circumstances. We have not forgotten the unpardonable acts committed by them against the people and the nation, he said. How can the government even consider the return of such people ?

The Dagana chimi reminded the Assembly that the government must adhere to the previous resolutions, the thrimzhung chenmo, and the citizenship and immigration laws of the country while deciding the fate of the people in the camps in Nepal.

Besides appealing to them directly, His Majesty the King had even abolished goongda woola and rural taxes for the southern dzongkhags to make them stay, the Mongar chimi said. People who had emigrated from Bhutan on their own free will can never be accepted as refugees.

The Paro chimi said that it was important to take note that the people who had gathered in Jhapa, Nepal, were not Bhutanese refugees as claimed by them. The Wangduephodrang chimi said that the ngolops had left, knowing they would find a place to stay in Nepal. The Nepalese government should not have invited them in the first place, if they did not want to keep them, he said.

The Gasa chimi said the camps in Nepal consisted of two kinds of people : criminals and those who were masquerading as Bhutanese refugees. These people tried to take over the country through propaganda and outright violence, he said. Now that their treacherous plans have failed, they want to come back to the country by making all kinds of demands. Allowing them to return would seriously undermine our citizenship and immigration laws.

In response to the submissions made by the chimis the foreign minister, Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley, said that the royal government had always agreed to take back all genuine refugees if they were found to have been forcefully evicted. The process of verification was, therefore, necessary because Bhutan could not accept every person who claimed to be a Bhutanese refugee.

Explaining the background of the process Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley said that Bhutan and Nepal had signed a bilateral agreement on the four categories of people in April, 1994. The actual process of verification had begun after the two governments made a breakthrough in their discussions in December last year.

The minister informed the Assembly that, with 98,897 people in the camps in Nepal, including 13,000 children who were born there, the two sides had agreed to start the verification process in one camp with the understanding that the processes of verification and the harmonization of positions on each category must be done simultaneously and not separately.

It was also agreed that, should differences of opinion arise in the process of joint verification, the team members would make every effort to resolve it among themselves. Failing this, the matter would be referred to the foreign secretaries or home secretaries of the two governments. If any problem could not be solved at the secretaries level, it would be tackled at the ministerial level.

The Joint Verification Team (JVT), comprising a total of 10 officials representing the two governments, began their work on March 26 this year, starting with the Khudanabari refugee camp in Jhapa, which has a total population of 12,446 people, or 1,963 families.

Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley said that, by July 5, 2001, the JVT had completed 62 days of verification, completing 660 huts/families and 4,128 individuals interviewing an average 10 to 11 families, or 65 persons, every day. At this pace the JVT, which works as a team, is able to ensure that all claimants are given a fair opportunity to state their claims, Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley said.

The foreign minister pointed out that news coverage in the Nepalese media had been largely negative, mainly on the grounds that the pace was too slow, thereby questioning Bhutans commitment to the process. This may be interpreted as being slow but we must remember that it is during this stage that the two sides will be able to acquire valuable experience and build up the expertise in the important process of verification, he said. It is important to note that the consequences of a verification process that is discredited will be far more severe.

Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley informed the Assembly members that he would meet his Nepalese counterpart after the National Assembly to give further impetus to the verification process. The two ministers would look at how and when the process of harmonisation would be tackled so that it can conclude simultaneously with the verification process in keeping with the terms of reference stated in the agreement.

Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley said that the two governments had also discussed different ways through which the two countries could engage in confidence building measures to promote and strengthen bilateral relations and cooperation.

Also responding to the Assembly members the home minister, Lyonpo Thinley Gyamtsho, said that the governments of Bhutan and Nepal had agreed to harmonise their positions on the four agreed categories: bonafide Bhutanese if (they) have been evicted forcefully; Bhutanese who have emigrated; non Bhutanese people; and Bhutanese who have committed criminal acts.

While Bhutan must take full responsibility for the people falling in the first category, those who had emigrated will be dealt with in keeping with the citizenship and immigration laws of Bhutan and Nepal, he said. Those who are found to be non-Bhutanese must return to their respective countries while the repatriation of those in category 4 will be done in keeping with the laws of the two countries. They will be given full opportunity to prove their innocence in the court of law in Bhutan.

Lyonpo Thinley Gyamtsho pointed out that the ngolops leaders based in Nepal were trying to criticise and undermine the verification process. Having left Bhutan after committing criminal acts, they would gain nothing from the verification process. This group of people are unlikely to return if the verification proves fruitful, he said. Thats why they are plotting to derail the verification process.

The ngolops, he said, had resorted to all types of strategies to fulfill their objectives and their own vested interests. They had destroyed developmental facilities, resorted to kidnapping and blackmail, organised so called peace marches, promoted disinformation and propaganda, and tried to create religious and political disharmony in Bhutan.

It must be noted that whatever strategies they adopt, their agenda and objective is clearly stated in their demand letter which is to bring into Bhutan a large number of non-Bhutanese people of Nepali origin and to give themselves and other people of Nepali origin Bhutanese citizenship and land by changing the system of government and the citizenship laws of the country, the minister said.

Haa Chimi

The deputy minister of the National Environment Commission questioned the definition of refugees as used in the context of the people in the camps in Nepal. Genuine refugees, he said, originated only during times of strife, war and natural disasters like flood, famine, and drought. These people claimed to be refugees because they wanted to settle in Bhutan, he said.

International organisations should, therefore, carefully study the situation before they give these people refugee status, the deputy minister said, adding that the people in the camps were receiving US$ 20 to 22 million, or about Nu 900 to 1000 million, each year from the UNHCR. They were lured by money.

The Speaker of the National Assembly noted that the Joint Verification Team was conducting the process of verification as agreed between the governments of Bhutan and Nepal. The process, he said, was a concrete result of the difficult bilateral talks that had dragged on for many years.

The National Assembly resolved that joint verification of the people in the camps should be conducted, based on the four categories that had been agreed between the two governments.
Should any problems arise in the course of the verification process, it will be referred to and solved at the secretary level of the two governments. If the problem cannot be solved at that level, it will be taken up at the ministerial level.

In conclusion the Speaker of the National Assembly said that, in the final analysis, it was the result of the process that counted most not the pace of the process.

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