Friday, October 24, 2008

Bhutanese Refugees

If you’ve read what the mainstream media has had to say about Bhutan in the last year then you would probably have a pretty decent impression of Bhutan and its government. A monarchy that has “given up its power” and embraced democracy, and a government that has chosen to strive for “gross national happiness” instead of production or straining towards a western style consumer society.

However looking past this highly successful public relations campaign by the Bhutanese government shows a very different picture.

According to the CIA handbook Bhutan has a population of around 680,000 people. however according to the UNHCR 100,000 of those are ethnic Nepalese who have been forced to live in refugee camps in Nepal since the early 1990’s. On top of the Royal Bhutanese Government systematically discriminates against the remaining ethnic Nepali population. The last government census (in 2005) labeled 13% of the population within Bhutan as “non-nationals” and thus denied them any rights, including the right to vote.

In 1985 pro democratic uprisings, largely in the southern Nepali population were suppressed by the Royal Bhutan government. The Nepali population was viewed as a threat to the monarchy and systematically discriminated against. The Hindu religion was outlawed and only the Bhutanese dress, dialect and customs were legal. The entire Nepali cultural identity was outlawed. On top of this, freedom of the press was closed and foreign tourism was curtailed to try and limit outside influences.

To the concern to the Bhutanese monarchy the Nepali population continued to grow, and at a faster rate then that of the ethnic Bhutanese, and despite the Monarchy’s best efforts, a radical democratic movement was still active and growing in strength, fueled now by civil rights claims as the ethnic Nepali’s demanded the right to their own culture and language. The Royal Bhutanese government changed the citizenship requirements and only granted citizenship to Nepalis who could prove their citizenship with “registration” papers from the ministry of home affairs dating back prior to 1958, despite that ministry not being in existence until 1968.

After a nationwide census in 1988 the Royal Government began a crack down on the Nepali population. Especially political activists were targeted, any more than 100,000 people, more than 15% of the Nations total population was expelled, imprisoned or even in some cases killed. It was an ethnic cleansing operation of epic proportion, and one of the most underreported events of our generation.

The western media had always ignored the plight of the Bhutanese refugees, which made its reporting of the “elections” this year even more insulting. The accepted line was that this was an encouraging and refreshing to see a “benevolent dictator” king give up some of his powers for the good of modernizing the country. It is absolutely laughable that these elections had any credibility at all. On top of almost a 6th of the country living in exile, and another 13% being disenfranchised, only two political parties, both staunchly royalist were registered and allowed to participate in the election. The king and a number of his representatives automatically gain entry to the assembly’s without being elected. The upper house was only open to people with a higher education qualification, and in a country such as Bhutan where public education at an elementary level is largely unavailable then this just serves to drastically limit the members of the assembly to the narrow and privileged grouping around the monarchy.

In the end while there was an election, and on Election Day there was no vote rigging or tampering, it does not mean that these elections were not rigged as the media has reported. The voting system in Bhutan was so flawed that the outcome was already a foregone conclusion and the oppression of the Nepali and other minorities, as well as the true democratic movement was always going to continue unchallenged.

The elections of this year in Bhutan were nothing more than a Public Relations exercise to change the impression of Bhutan in the international community, and sadly it has been very successful.
It seems that after almost 20 years the refugees languishing in Nepal are finally having their problems dealt with, but unfortunately the solution that the UN has come up with is not the ideal solution for the refugees. A third party resettlement program has been formulated where the governments of the United States, Australia and a handful of European countries have agreed to resettle the refugees in their respective countries. While this is obviously far better that the refugees continuing to stay and rot in their camps, and the standard of living in these countries is somewhat higher than in Bhutan or in Nepal, the desire of the overwhelming majority of the refugees is the want to return to Bhutan and their communities, relatives and homeland, but one that is free from discrimination and democratic.

1 comment:

Nepal(Janak) said...

This is a good old updated news about Bhutan communist party. I want new updated news about Bhutan communist party. but anyway thank you for this news.