The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Korea needs to open its doors

Korea needs to open its doors

South Korea has shirked one of the vital responsibilities that comes with its new status: admitting refugees and asylum seekers

U.S.: Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery

U.S.: Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery

Human Rights Watch Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee

Letter to SAARC Leaders In Anticipation of Summit In New Delhi

MARCH 29, 2007 8:00PM EDT
Dear SAARC Government Leaders:
As the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meet in New Delhi on April 3 and 4, 2007, the discussions will inevitably focus upon economics and regional security. At SAARC meetings, human rights problems in each member country have usually been treated as an internal matter. However, it takes only a quick survey of the region to see that there are many human rights issues that would benefit from mutual engagement and agreement.
Apart from other serious human rights problems, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka are also dealing with situations related to armed conflicts and insurgencies. Nepal, with its numerous human rights problems, has only just emerged from a violent conflict that claimed over 13,000 lives, and violence continues in the south. Bangladesh has witnessed increased militancy and the caretaker government has detained tens of thousands, often ignoring basic due process, in its efforts to combat corruption and crime. Bhutan continues to discriminate against citizens of Nepali origin. In the Maldives, there are serious curbs on political freedom.
In Sri Lanka, the human rights situation has deteriorated drastically since major hostilities between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) resumed in early 2006. The LTTE has been responsible for numerous political killings and indiscriminate bomb attacks, and continues to use child soldiers and forcibly recruit adults for its forces. It has prevented civilians from fleeing areas of combat in the north and east. Government security forces have increasingly violated the laws of war by engaging in indiscriminate attacks in which civilians were killed and have also been implicated in extrajudicial executions. “Disappearances” attributable to state security forces or allied armed groups have risen sharply; hundreds of alleged “disappearances” have been reported on the Jaffna peninsula over the past 15 months. More than 15,000 refugees have fled to neighboring India and over 200,000 were internally displaced by the fighting in the north and east. The government has forced displaced civilians to return to their homes in the east despite their concerns about security and access to humanitarian aid. The Karuna group, with the open support of state forces, continues to abduct and forcibly recruit boys and young men for its forces and political work. Civil society has increasingly come under attack and national institutions involved in human rights protections have been undermined.
In India, impunity laws that protect members of the security forces from prosecution continue to fuel human rights abuses in the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir and in the northeast. Security forces have been responsible for widespread abuses including torture and arbitrary detentions. Recently, in Jammu and Kashmir, police investigations revealed that some policemen, usually in joint operations with the army, were killing civilians in faked encounters, and then claiming that they were Pakistani militants. New Delhi has failed to act on the recommendations of a government-appointed committee that said the Armed Forces Special Powers Act should be repealed. Despite encouraging disaffected groups to choose dialogue and peaceful protest in the northeast or in areas where Maoist groups have begun an armed campaign, the Indian government has failed to acknowledge or address such methods; for instance, it has failed to investigate the reasonable demands of Irom Sharmila, who has been on a seven-year hunger strike to demand an end to human rights abuses by troops in Manipur. The government’s failure to implement its laws that protect vulnerable communities received international attention in Maharashtra state recently, where four members of a Dalit family were brutally murdered, but no arrests were made until there were violent protests. Hindu extremist groups continue to threaten religious minorities, tribal groups and Dalits. Indian police have used excessive force against villagers and farmers opposing development projects. Laws to protect women and children have not been effectively implemented. India has failed to adequately acknowledge and protect refugees from Burma and Bhutan, and has provided military assistance to the Burmese army, which has frequently attacked civilians and committed other atrocities in its war against ethnic insurgents.
In Pakistan there have widespread reports of arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances. Alleged terrorism suspects are often detained without charge or tried without proper judicial process. Human Rights Watch has documented scores of arbitrary detentions, instances of torture, and “disappearances” by the security forces in Pakistan’s major cities. The government has failed to provide the civilian population in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas adequate protection from Taliban attacks after agreements ending military operations there effectively ceded power to local tribal leaders closely allied with the Taliban. Civilians have also died in counter-terrorism operations due to the security forces’ use of excessive force. While the authorities routinely misuse counter-terrorism laws to perpetuate vendettas and as an instrument of political coercion, sectarian militants continue to target the Shia Muslim minority in Pakistan and are responsible for attacks upon civilians in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Women and girls in Pakistan confront astounding levels of violence, with hundreds of women and girls murdered each year in the name of family “honor.” Journalists and human rights defenders face frequent threats and attacks from state agents and extremists. Pakistan’s judiciary remains subservient to the military. When it does attempt to act independently, the government has intervened, as it has done recently with the arbitrary removal of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
In Afghanistan, more than 1,000 civilians were killed as a result of violence related to the insurgency in 2006; 15,000 families were displaced and over 200,000 children were unable to attend school. The violence prevented reconstruction and access to clean water, education, and health care. The Taliban and other anti-government forces continue to attack aid workers, government officials, teachers, students, and schools. Regional warlords implicated in war crimes, some allied with the government, continue to perpetrate serious human rights abuses throughout Afghanistan. Afghan women and girls continue to suffer from entrenched discrimination throughout the country. They have among the highest rates of illiteracy, maternal mortality, and forced marriage in the world. There are few remedies available for gender-based violence and many women and girls confront severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. Afghanistan is again on the precipice of becoming a haven for human rights abusers, criminals, and militant extremists, many of whom in the past have severely abused Afghans, particularly women and girls.
In Bangladesh security forces have long been implicated in torture and extrajudicial killings. These have continued since a state of emergency was declared on January 11, 2007. The killings have been attributed to members of the army, the police, and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism force. Killings in custody have been a persistent problem in Bangladesh. To date, no military personnel are known to have been held criminally responsible for any of the deaths. There have been widespread abuses reported against Hindus and Ahmadiyya Muslims. Women continue to suffer domestic violence including acid attacks, largely with no response from the state. Most recently, under the state of emergency, the military has arrested thousands of people on allegations of corruption and other crimes, but many have been denied their due process rights. Some have been tortured. There have also been attempts by the authorities to control the media, with editors being privately summoned to impose self censorship.
Bhutan has continued its discriminatory practices to enforce a distinct national identity, in line with Bhutan’s “one nation, one people” policy. These policies are perceived as a direct attack on the cultural identity of the ethnic Nepalese living in southern Bhutan. The government forcibly evicted tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalese in 1990 and 105,000 still remain in seven refugee camps in Nepal. Nearly 50,000 Bhutanese refugees live outside the camps in India and Nepal. Bhutanese Nepali speakers who managed to avoid expulsion and still live in Bhutan remain very insecure. Some have been denied citizenship cards following the latest census in 2005 and so they are now effectively stateless in their own country.
In the Maldives, citizens continue to face restrictions on political freedom. Security forces have been implicated in torture and arbitrary detention, among other abuses. There are severe limitations upon the rights to freedom of the press, assembly, association, and religion. Unequal treatment of women continues, as do restrictions on workers' rights.
In Nepal, the November 21, 2006 agreement between Nepal’s coalition government and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) ended ten years of fighting that killed an estimated 13,000 people. The deal included compliance with an armed management pact, under which each side would put away most of its weapons and restrict most troops to a few barracks, under the supervision of monitors from the United Nations. Both parties agreed to end all forms of feudalism and promote greater inclusion of marginalized groups. However, ethnic, linguistic and regional tensions continue, with increasing violence in the south where ethnic minorities are demanding equal representation in determining Nepal’s future. Women are yet to be an equal part of the peace process. Impunity remains a problem, with little urgency in investigating and prosecuting those responsible for atrocities during the conflict. The army was responsible for enforced disappearances, torture and mistreatment of detainees, while the Maoists recruited children into armed conflict and punished civilians that they deemed as insufficiently committed to their cause with executions, mock executions, cutting body parts, and severe beatings. Meanwhile, trafficking of Nepali women and children into India as domestic labor or sex workers continues, particularly because thousands remain internally displaced due to the conflict.
Human rights abuses such as those listed above are often the cause and fuel of conflict. A failure by the state to provide and protect economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights, including ensuring the rights of marginalized groups such as ethnic and religious minorities, can lead to discontent that eventually turns violent.
Militants and armed groups, such as Kashmiri, Maoist and northeastern militants in India, the LTTE in Sri Lanka, and Islamist groups in Pakistan and Bangladesh, often commit human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminate bomb attacks, extortion, killings and abductions. Security forces deployed by the state for counter insurgency operations, unless properly checked, have in turn become responsible for abuses including torture, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances.
Regional security and economic progress cannot be achieved unless every citizen is provided with a secure environment to enjoy their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. This is especially true for groups historically discriminated against, like women and children. Half of the world’s poor live in this region. Policies and laws to help them will be useless unless effectively implemented.
SAARC represents a sixth of the world’s population and plays a significant role in global affairs. It is crucial that SAARC adopt measures that provide good governance standards for the region, including respect for fundamental human rights. If it does so, it could become a beacon for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, to date SAARC has not taken human rights seriously. Instead it has been largely a talk shop and a photo opportunity for its members’ leaders.
Human Rights Watch encourages SAARC members to:
  • Ensure the protection of vulnerable communities including religious and ethnic minorities, Dalits and tribal groups. Governments should repeal all laws that lead to discrimination against minorities such as citizens of Nepali origin in Bhutan, Tamils in Sri Lanka or the Ahmaddiyas and Hindus of Bangladesh. Instead, laws designed to protect these groups should be properly implemented, such as in the case of Muslims, Christians, tribal groups and Dalits in India.
  • End specific legal, cultural, or religious practices by which women are systematically discriminated against, excluded from political participation and public life, segregated in their daily lives, raped in armed conflict, beaten in their homes, denied equal divorce or inheritance rights, killed for having sex, forced to marry, assaulted for not conforming to gender norms, and sold into forced labor. Arguments that sustain and excuse these human rights abuses - those of cultural norms, "appropriate" rights for women, or western imperialism - barely disguise their true meaning: that women's lives matter less than men's.
  • Implement laws to end human rights abuses against children including the use of children as soldiers; the worst forms of child labor; torture of children by police; police violence against street children; conditions in correctional institutions and orphanages; corporal punishment in schools; mistreatment of refugee and migrant children; trafficking of children for labor and prostitution; discrimination in education because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or HIV/AIDS; and physical and sexual violence against girls and boys.
  • Build strong international human rights norms and institutions to create a successful, rights-respecting counter-terrorism policy. Protection of human rights should be treated as an essential tool in the fight against terrorism, not as an obstacle.
  • End state participation in enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and extrajudicial executions, which are often masked as armed encounters.
  • Prosecute and punish those responsible for human rights abuses, including persons implicated as a matter of command responsibility when superiors knew or should have known of ongoing crimes but failed to take action. These include high-ranking and powerful individuals, including those holding government positions.
  • Stop supplying weapons to governments likely to use them to commit violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. India supplies weapons to Burma, and Pakistan has provided weapons to Sri Lanka. SAARC member states , have also provided weapons to abusive opposition groups.
  • Tie military aid to fellow SAARC members and other countries to strict human rights compliance.
  • Prohibit the use, production, and trade of antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
  • Adopt multilateral labor agreements to protect workers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and India who migrate to the Middle East and Asia. These workers, especially those in construction and domestic service, regularly suffer unpaid wages, confiscation of their passports, hazardous working conditions, and sometimes physical abuse. High recruitment fees and deception during recruitment have led many workers to be trapped in situations amounting to debt bondage and human trafficking. Labor-sending governments should regulate and monitor labor recruitment agencies by placing caps on recruitment fees, providing clear information in enforceable employment contracts, and strengthening support services in embassies abroad for abused workers.
  • Provide proper protection and access to humanitarian assistance for refugees and internally displaced persons. No one should be returned to a place where their life or freedom would be threatened. The groups at risk today in the SAARC region include Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Rohingyas in Bangladesh, Burmese and Sri Lankan refugees in India, and Tibetan and Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. The internally displaced include tens of thousands who fled from armed conflicts in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan as well as those displaced due to natural disasters such as the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Kashmir earthquake.
We look forward to discussing these issues with each of you in both a bilateral and multilateral context.
Thank you for your consideration.
Yours sincerely,
Brad Adams
Executive Director
Asia division

Nepal/Bhutan: Refugee Women Face Abuses

Nepal/Bhutan: Refugee Women Face Abuses

UNHCR, Governments Must Take Action at ExCom

(New York) Bhutanese refugee women in Nepal encounter gender-based violence and systematic discrimination in access to aid, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and governments meeting in Geneva next week must take decisive action to eliminate such abuses in refugee settings worldwide.
The 77-page Human Rights Watch report, “Trapped by Inequality: Bhutanese Refugee Women in Nepal,” examines the uneven response of UNHCR and the government of Nepal to rape, domestic violence, sexual and physical assault, and trafficking of girls and women from refugee camps. These problems persist despite reforms UNHCR introduced after internal investigations uncovered “sexual exploitation” of refugee women and girls by aid workers in Nepal and West Africa in 2002.
Human Rights Watch urged UNHCR and governments participating in UNHCR’s Executive Committee (“ExCom”) meetings from September 29 to October 3 to commit themselves to protecting refugee women.
“Refugee women in Nepal are not getting their fair share of aid,” said LaShawn R. Jefferson, executive director of the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “UNHCR cannot wait any longer to fix policies that put women’s lives at risk. The government of Nepal also has to respond to this urgent problem.”
Human Rights Watch called on governments who contribute a substantial portion of UNHCR’s budget to make sure such changes are adopted. UNHCR and governments should ensure that refugee women receive their own registration documents, and that refugee women experiencing domestic violence can find safety.
Nepal’s system of refugee registration discriminates against women by distributing rations through male heads of household. This policy denies women equal and independent access to food, shelter and supplies, and imposes particular hardship on women trying to escape abusive marriages. Either these women must stay in violent relationships, leave their relationships (and thus relinquish their full share of aid packages), or marry another man, in which case they lose legal custody of their children.
UNHCR has significantly improved reporting systems, staffing levels, legal aid and codes of conduct for aid workers in Nepal, but distressing gaps remain, Human Rights Watch said. Refugee camp management and Nepalese authorities often address domestic violence by promoting “family reconciliation,” and do not adequately address women’s own wishes, safety and access to services. UNHCR has documented 24 suicides in the camps since 2001, four times the suicide rate in the local population. Moreover, 35 refugee women and girls are missing from the camps and may be trafficking victims.
The Human Rights Watch report shows how Nepal’s laws constrain the prosecution of gender-based violence. Specific domestic violence legislation does not exist in Nepal. A 35-day statute of limitations and burdensome medical reporting procedures prevent rape victims from filing complaints with the police and pressing criminal charges. The same obstacles have prevented any prosecution of aid workers and Nepalese government employees accused of “sexual exploitation” in October 2002.
“Women’s legal status in Nepal and their opportunities for redress against violence are abysmal,” said Jefferson. “UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies should advocate for legislative changes in Nepal.”
After reports of “sexual exploitation” by refugee aid workers in 2002, UNHCR removed three international staffers in Nepal on grounds of gross negligence. UNHCR should promote transparency and set a standard of accountability for its staff and partners by providing information on the disciplinary measures it has taken.
UNHCR and donors should also increase pressure on Nepal and Bhutan to resolve their longstanding refugee situation in a manner that is timely and meets international standards. Over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees have been living in seven camps in southeastern Nepal ever since they were arbitrarily stripped of their citizenship and forced to flee Bhutan in the early 1990s. Bhutan and Nepal meet this week in New York to discuss a recent refugee screening that deemed only 2.5% of those considered eligible for repatriation to Bhutan with full citizenship, leaving the rest to an uncertain and potentially stateless future. The process failed to meet international standards, and excluded women from meaningful participation.
Cases of Bhutanese refugee women featured in the report:
(Pseudonyms are used to protect privacy)
Geeta M. told Human Rights Watch that her husband frequently beat her and threatened to deny her food and other rations. “Sometimes I was beaten so badly I bled. My husband took a second wife. I didn’t agree. He said, ‘If you don’t allow me to take a second wife, then the ration card is in my name, and I’ll take everything.’ I have asked my husband for the health card and ration card and they don’t give it to me. I have not gotten approval to get a separate ration card.”
One refugee woman, Durga S., told Human Rights Watch, “My husband is suspicious whenever I talk to anybody else. Since he brought a second wife, I am beaten frequently. On my thighs, there were blue marks. He had beaten me with a belt and with his hands. He has already hit me, why should I show everyone? People will talk badly about us. My husband threatens to kill me and throw me away. He beats me if he thinks I’m reporting it to someone.”

China and Bhutan: crushing dissent

China and Bhutan: crushing dissent

Bhutan/Nepal: A solution for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal?

FEBRUARY 15, 2001 7:00PM EST

Shri Chakra Prasad Bastola
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Lyonpo Jigme Thinley
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Dear Minister,

Our organizations would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation to the governments of Nepal and Bhutan for your willingness to move forward in the search for a durable solution to the long-standing Bhutanese refugee crisis. Many of the over 90,000 refugees are entering their tenth year of life in exile in Nepal, and the agreement by both the governments of Nepal and Bhutan to initiate a joint verification with a view to repatriation to Bhutan has brought the refugees a renewed sense of hope and optimism.
While we recognize the significant progress that has thus far been made, we nevertheless share some critical concerns about the process and procedures for the joint verification. These include the absence of an independent third party to monitor and oversee the verification and repatriation process; the lack of clarity regarding the documentation required for the verification; the absence of any independent appeal process; and provisions for refugees to be accompanied to their verification interview if necessary.

We understand that the Terms of Reference agreed to by both parties make no reference to an independent monitoring or referral body, and that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has not been given an active role in monitoring and facilitating the verification and repatriation process, as is the norm in most refugee situations worldwide.

We strongly urge the governments of Nepal and Bhutan to rethink their decision not to formally involve UNHCR and to request the agency to take a more formal role in monitoring and facilitating the verification, repatriation and reintegration process, possibly as part of a tripartite commission including both governments. This not only will give the process more credibility but it will ensure that the verification and repatriation conform to international standards. There are other reasons for involving UNHCR:

· The joint verification team could greatly benefit from UNHCR's expertise in screening for and implementing voluntary repatriation programs worldwide.
· UNHCR could serve as a referral point in the event of any disagreement or difficulty that arises during the verification
· UNHCR could play a critical role in the dissemination of information about the verification procedures and in general public awareness raising in the refugee camps.
· UNHCR has developed useful guidelines and standards for voluntary repatriation that both governments could follow, such as those contained in the 1996 UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation as well as various Conclusions of UNHCR's Executive Committee (ExCom) in 1974, 1980, and 1985 respectively.

We would be grateful for clarification on several other aspects of the joint verification process. It is unclear what documentation the refugees are required to produce as proof of prior residence in and/ or citizenship of Bhutan. We urge both governments to clarify and make public the list of accepted documentation for verification to avoid confusion and uncertainty amongst the refugees.

We also hope that you will ensure that there is an opportunity for refugees to be accompanied to their verification interview by a family member or representative from a non-governmental organization working in the camps. This is particularly the case for vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied minors, single women, the elderly, and the physically and mentally disabled.
Finally, we understand that the current Terms of Reference do not include any provisions for an independent appeal process for refugees who may wish to challenge the final decision of the verification. We strongly urge both governments to consider establishing an independent appeal mechanism to deal with contested decisions. This may be a role that UNHCR, or another international organization or body, could usefully play.

Once again our organizations would like to express our appreciation to both of your governments for your willingness to move forward in finding a durable solution for the Bhutanese refugees. We hope that you will consider our recommendations and concerns seriously with a view to ensuring that the verification is carried out in a transparent and fair manner and no refugee is denied their legitimate right to return to Bhutan.

As international NGOs we will be monitoring the verification process closely. We look forward to hearing your responses to our concerns, and would like to reiterate our continuing support for your efforts to seek a solution to this long-standing refugee crisis.

Yours sincerely,

Human Rights Watch
Lutheran World Federation
Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children
Refugees International
Bhutanese Refugee Support Group

Bhutanese refugees begin new life in Arizona

Bhutanese refugees begin new life in Arizona

Open letter to donor governments on Bhutanese refugees

October 8, 2003

Your Excellency,

We appreciate the concerns that your Government has expressed at the deeply troubling situation of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.

As the High Commissioner noted in his speech at the opening session of UNHCR's Executive Committee meeting held in Geneva last week, there is a critical need for urgent measures to resolve this situation after twelve years of stalemate. The situation has become even more disturbing with the deteriorating security situation in the country and the withdrawal of police presence from the camps, which has left the refugees without adequate security.

We understand UNHCR's frustration at its exclusion from the verification process and its inability to ensure repatriation for the Bhutanese refugees. However, we do not see the High Commissioner's proposal to gradually withdraw assistance from the camps, to promote local integration in Nepal, and to support third country resettlement, as leading to an outcome that reinforces the right of the refugees to return home - a right that the majority of refugees have indicated they wish to exercise. Nor does it hold the Government of Bhutan accountable for its international obligations to respect the refugees' right to return.

As you know, the undersigned NGOs have been monitoring this situation for quite some time. Some of our organizations recently undertook a joint mission to India and Nepal, where the delegates met with many refugees as well as Government officials and staff of UNHCR and NGOs. During the mission, refugees expressed their desire to be able to return to their homes and properties in Bhutan as full citizens and in conditions of safety and dignity. They told the visiting delegates that they believed only UNHCR could guarantee their security on return.

The undersigned NGOs have also provided extensive and very critical analysis of the deeply flawed verification process which the Governments of Nepal and Bhutan have conducted in Khudunabari camp without UNHCR involvement.

While we note the extraordinary sensitivity and complexity of the situation and the unhelpful attitudes of the Bhutanese and Indian governments, it is vital that fundamental international standards not be compromised. To do so would not only violate the rights of the Bhutanese refugees but also seriously undermine the international refugee system at a time when it is under unprecedented attack from many directions. A decision not to insist on the refugees' right to voluntary repatriation would condone the arbitrary deprivation of nationality on the basis of ethnicity.

We therefore urge you to coordinate your diplomatic, political and economic efforts to:

  • Ensure that Bhutanese refugees are able to make fully informed and voluntary choices about their futures.
  • Insist on the right of Bhutanese refugees to return to their country with full protection due to them under international law, including the right to return to their original homes and properties and, where this is not possible, to receive full compensation.
  • Insist that there should only be two categories in the verification process - Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese. (In the case of the verification already undertaken in Khudunabari camp, all those persons classified in categories I, II and IV should be treated as Bhutanese and be enabled to return to Bhutan as full citizens in safety and dignity.) For those classified as non-Bhutanese, a full, fair and independent appeals process should be established.
  • Insist that UNHCR should be involved in the verification and appeals process.
  • Ensure international monitoring of the repatriation process by UNHCR, which has the mandate and the expertise for this task. It is vital that only an agency with a protection mandate and relevant experience should be given the responsibility of monitoring this return.
  • Support UNHCR to promote local integration and third country resettlement for those refugees who are unable or unwilling to return to Bhutan.
  • Ensure that no child is rendered stateless or separated from his/her family as a result of the verification and return process.
  • Ensure that women are individually registered and protected from gender discrimination through the entire process.
  • Ensure that refugee representatives are consulted and involved at all stages of the process.

  • Encourage the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to address the human rights implications of this situation.

    The situation of the Bhutanese refugees has reached an impasse. The bilateral process has so far totally failed to respect the rights of the refugees or to achieve a durable solution for them. It is time for the donor states to Nepal and Bhutan to convene an international conference, bringing all stakeholders together, including UN agencies and refugee representatives, to devise a comprehensive solution to this protracted refugee situation that meets international standards and gives due consideration to each of the durable solutions: voluntary repatriation, local integration and third country resettlement.

    It is vital that all those who care about the protection of these refugees and, by extension, the integrity of the international refugee system, use their influence to address this issue with the greatest urgency.

    Yours respectfully,

    Rachael Reilly
    Refugee Policy Advisor
    Human Rights Watch

    pp. Peter N. Prove
    Assistant to the General Secretary
    The Lutheran World Federation

    Eve Lester
    Refugee Coordinator
    Amnesty International

    Malavika Vartak
    South Asia Regional Programme
    Habitat International Coalition - Housing and Land Rights Network

    Melanie Teff
    Advocacy and Policy Coordinator
    Jesuit Refugee Service

    Ralston Deffenbaugh
    Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

  • HRW
  • Nepal/Bhutan: Donors Must Push for Resolution to Refugee Crisis

    Nepal/Bhutan: Donors Must Push for Resolution to Refugee Crisis

    International Conference Needed; UNHCR Proposal Inadequate

    (London) -- Donor countries to Bhutan and Nepal should convene an international conference to resolve the long-standing Bhutanese refugee crisis, six leading nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said in a joint letter.
    In a joint letter to donor governments -- including Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom -- the NGOs said that the bilateral talks between Bhutan and Nepal had failed to deliver a solution. At the same time, the NGOs said that a proposal put forward by Ruud Lubbers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to promote local integration in Nepal and resettlement in third countries did not offer a solution for most of the refugees and would compromise their right to return to their homes.
    The six NGOs -- including Amnesty International, Habitat International Coalition, Human Rights Watch, the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Lutheran World Federation, and the Bhutanese Refugee Support Group -- warned that UNHCR's decision to phase out assistance for the refugee camps in southeast Nepal would leave 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in a precarious position.
    "The refugees have consistently expressed their desire to go home," said Rachael Reilly, Human Rights Watch's Refugee Policy Advisor. "UNHCR's proposal is not a solution. It does not uphold the refugees' right to return and lets Bhutan off the hook for expelling them in the first place."
    The NGOs stressed that UNHCR's decision to phase out assistance for the refugee camps puts the onus on the international community to find a solution to the refugee crisis, one of the most protracted in the world. They called on donors to convene an international conference bringing all the stakeholders together - including U.N. agencies,
    governments, and refugee representatives - to find a comprehensive solution for all the refugees. Similar frameworks were successfully developed in the 1980s and 1990s for large refugee populations from Indochina and the Balkans.
    Over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees - an estimated one sixth of the population of Bhutan - have been living in camps in southeast Nepal since the early 1990s when they were arbitrarily stripped of their nationality and forcibly expelled from Bhutan in one of the largest ethnic expulsions in the world. The U.N. refugee agency, with the help of NGOs, has been providing assistance to the refugees since 1992.
    But UNHCR has been systematically excluded from efforts by Bhutan and Nepal to bilaterally resolve the refugee crisis over the past ten years, and the government of Bhutan has flatly denied UNHCR access to the country, which is normally granted in most refugee situations.
    In June 2003, the governments of Bhutan and Nepal announced the results of a joint screening process to identify the status of the refugees in one of the camps and determine who could return to Bhutan. According to the screening, less than three percent of the refugees would be able to return to Bhutan with full citizenship rights and tens of thousands could be rendered stateless. NGOs rejected the process as flawed and the results invalid. It has also been called into question by UNHCR and other governments.
    "UNHCR and the international community are right to reject the deeply flawed screening process agreed between Bhutan and Nepal," said Peter Prove, Assistant to the General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation. "It is time for donor governments to take decisive action to help resolve the refugee crisis and bring to an end the refugees' forced exile."
    The 15th round of joint ministerial talks between Bhutan and Nepal is due to take place in Thimpu, Bhutan from October 20 to 23.