Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Bhutan: State of the state from PM


Monday, November 15, 2010

Bhutan: Echoes of Pain

Tek Nath Rijal
Bhutan’s criminal justice and prison system is cruel, barbaric, inhuman and primitive. The prisons were in bad condition. More than a formal prison, they were a brutal place for sentencing the opponents. The prolonged detention and brutal punishment that follows here through highly unconventional means is hardly known to the outside world. I still recall a barbaric act in which a political prisoner, Dasho D.B. Subedi, was stripped off his clothes and the police personnel tied rocks on his genital.
In another instance, an illiterate village woman prisoner was asked to undress and lie flat on the ground. After she undressed, security personnel inserted gun muzzle into her genital. Similarly, a prisoner named Tularam Rai was flogged repeatedly on his ankle until he fainted. Padam Lal Dhakal, Prem Bahadur Gurung, Kapil Mani Acharya, Narayan Acharva, Bishnulal Adhikary, Ram Bahadur Rai, Barmalal Adhikari, Tejman Chhetri, Loknath Dhakal, Mukti Paudel and Chakrapani Khatiwada recount stories of gruesome tortures in prisons. Such instances of brutality continued unabated. All that went inside the jails were seldom reported.
The RBG (Royal Bhutan Government) is given the overall charge of the prisons. The Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) and the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) officials were placed under the control of the RBG. The political prisoners were mercilessly tortured with impunity by the command of the King. People’s right to freedom of expression had been severely suppressed. Dissidence and opposition to the government policies are considered anti-national activities. The law of Tsa-Wa-Sum (the three elements — king, country and government) bans criticism of these elements. This law declares any act of “making conversation and correspondence” criticizing the King and his government by the citizens as treasonable offence inviting life sentence or death. It may be mentioned that the draconian National Security Act (NSA) was enacted in 1992. It was given retrospective effect from November, 1989, the time when I was abducted from Nepal, to implicate me on false charges of treason.
Under the NSA, the government arrested about two thousand people who had participated in the peaceful demonstrations in 1990. As prisons had limited space in the district headquarters, hundreds of prisoners were detained in health and education centers as well as deserted houses of the royal family members. These institutes had been shut down which not only deprived thousands of students of education but also prevented the public from basic health care. According to Ram Bahadur Rai, a political prisoner who is still inside the jail, more than one thousand five hundred political prisoners were detained in the Dradulmakhang prison alone. Nine to ten prisoners were cramped into 9’ x 9’ cells.
The detainees did not receive adequate medical facilities. The doctors occasionally visited jails, but their rude attitude surpassed that of the police. If any prisoner had fever, the guards would take the patient to the river and throw him/her into the ice-cold water. In Cherugang jail, five prisoners had died due to such inhuman practice. Apart from it, the regime used mind-control devices--that made the prisoners unconscious--to extract confidential information. In such a state, the prisoners were taken to the court and made to confess and sign false statements. The victims, moreover, were kept in a state of fear so that they would not tell others about such a device being applied.
Once inside the prison, the prisoners were kept incommunicado for months. The relatives who came to visit the prisoners were harassed and humiliated. The hard-core criminals from the Ngalong community, serving life sentences, were used to torture the political prisoners.
The prisoners were forced to work at private saw mills and apple orchards of Namgval Wangchuck and Ugyen Dorji. They had to endure long hours of labor that stretched from 4 am to 9 pm while being shackled. They were neither given time to wash their body nor were they provided any tools for digging soil or stones. They were also forced to work in the construction of schools, hospitals and roads in and around Thimphu for which the regime received huge amounts of foreign aid. On the one hand, the private contractors used the prisoners as laborers while they were forced to work on the construction of the police officers private buildings, on the other. The detainees were not only forced to use their mouth to pick up anything that fell on the ground but were also forced to lick the paint droppings.
Beatings with canes, sticks, batons, chains, leather belts and rifle butts, on the back, head, arms and feet of detainees were routinely carried out. One night, Tshering Wangda stormed the jail and severely beat up the detainees. He did so to extract the statements of confession. They were kicked around like a football and were also forced to fight with one another. This had an ugly purpose: to entertain the RBG and the RBA officials. Such barbaric acts, while entertaining to the perpetrators, would often result in injuries to the prisoners. On several occasions, detainees were tied to a post outside the jail compound and left overnight in the freezing and biting cold.
As if the above mentioned methods of torture were not enough, the guards, in their whims, would order the prisoners to run. Then, they would whip their backs and butts. Those who fell while running were overrun by the prisoners following them injuring the fallen ones severely.
Various acts of sexual perversion were ordered by the guards. For instance, prisoners were ordered to perform anal sex between father and son, to masturbate in their presence, and so on. In Thimphu prison, both male and female prisoners were brought to a room in pair and ordered to perform various perverse sexual activities, either alone or as a couple. Guards often hit the sexual organs of the prisoners with their boots and laughed at the expression of pain. The female prisoners were sexually harassed and abused.
If a prisoner died and his relatives or son is also in the same prison the relative would be ordered to abuse the dead. One day, in Chemgang jail, a prisoner, who was unwell, asked his father for water. Overhearing their conversation, he ordered the father to urinate in his son’s mouth. The father was forced to do so. In the evening, the father who came back from the forced labor, found his son dead.
Two prisoners in Lodrai prison were killed and shown as having committed suicide. Both were found dead, hanging in the ceiling with their hands and legs tied. How can a person, whose hands are tied, commit suicide? Their unnatural death was put under the carpet. No one was there to enquire. Manoj Biswa, a Lhotsampa jailed in Samchi, was found dead and shown as having committed suicide, when in fact he was murdered. When he refused a guard’s order to drink water from a drum, the guard in a fit of anger, submerged his face in the water. He could not breathe. As a result, he died. Chakrapani Khatiwada, a priest from Lamidara temple, died in Thimphu prison due to excessive torture. Punya Prasad Dhakal, a student leader, was tortured to death in Chemgang jail.
Those arrested from the villages were never registered in the district police office, not even in the prison. The whereabouts of many ex-prisoners is not known. The officials claimed they were released. But, to this day, their whereabouts is unknown. The bodies of political prisoners killed by the police were never handed over to their family. The movable and immovable properties of the political prisoners were seized by the regime. It has not given so far a full account of the number of people arrested, detained, killed and released. It’s only after the lCRC started visiting the jails that the regime has been obliged to keep the records of its political prisoners.
Even the personal possessions were never returned to them after their release. Instead of handing over the court verdicts to the concerned detainees, the prison officials confiscated it. The regime feared that the detainees would present the documents as evidence to the human rights bodies after their release. Even the cards issued to prisoners by the ICRC were confiscated at the time of their release. Instead of re-habilitating them, the regime seized their documents and evicted them under duress. While in Nepal, they were denied registration and have been surviving at the mercy of their relatives and sympathizers.
Bhutanese in Indian Jails
The Indian authorities were well-aware of the Lhotsampas’ contributions to Bhutan’s socio-economic progress. On this backdrop, we had great expectations from India that it would help us in the hour of need. Sadly, however, our hopes were completely shattered. Adding salt to injury, law-enforcement agencies of the states bordering Bhutan arrested Bhutanese citizens fleeing their homeland. These hapless refugees were beaten, tortured and imprisoned in Siliguri, Jalpaiguri and Barhampur (Kolkata) jails. As recently as on May 27, 2008, one Bhutanese was killed in Indian firing and seven were injured, while they were proceeding to Bhutan. Some of those fleeing the country have been handed over to the Bhutanese security personnel. The stateless refugees are deeply anguished at this treatment meted out by India, a country that claims as a savior of democracy. It has further etched a permanent scar on their psyche.
Atrocities on Religious Grounds
There are many ethnic communities in Bhutan, like Brokpas, Doyas, Totas, Khengs, Mangdepas, Lepchas and others, besides the three main communities — Lhotsampas, Ngalongs, and Sharchokpas. The Sharchokpas are indigenous people of Bhutan, but they too are neglected, discriminated against and humiliated. Neither their good services to the nation are appreciated, nor do the ruling elites allow them to prosper.
Sharchokpas are predominantly Nvingmapa followers but they have no right to elect their own religious head. The King selects one Ngalong abbot and imposes it on the entire Sharchokpa community. Sharchokpa monk, objecting to, it or demanding to elect their own abbot, were either killed, tortured or incarcerated for long jail terms. Khenpo Thinley Ozer, one of the chief abbots of the Nyingmapa Mahavana Sect was imprisoned for eight years in solitary confinement. Another monk, Gomchen Karma, was murdered in day light by Lakpa Dorji, the Dzongdag of Mongar. Lakpa fired from a 9 mm pistol provided by the regime and remained unpunished.
Due to the suppression, members of Sharchokpa community were either forced to flee the country or stay back in a state of repression. Many of them are now living in the refugee camps. The relatives of refugee Sharchokpas continue to face barbaric treatment inside the country. Dasho Rongthong Kuenley Dorji, Dasho Thinley Penjore, Rinzin Dorji, Aum Deki Yangzom, Tenzing Zangpo, Gup Khilla and late Aappa Chheku are some of the distinguished Sharchokpas, who had escaped from their native land and have been working for establishing genuine democracy and human rights there. On April 6, 2009, Zangpo, a political leader, was arrested from Guwahati in India and deported to Bhutan. There are reports that he is in a prison inside Bhutan. But his whereabouts are still unknown.
Bhutanese people had great expectations of securing protection, justice and support for the ongoing democratic struggle from the so-called world’s largest democracy. But instead, it brazenly violated the international laws by deporting a refugee leader like a criminal.
About the Author:
The author was born on March 27 1947 in Lamidara in south Bhutan, as the youngest son of Dina Nath Rizal and Bishnu Maya Rizal, Tek Nath Rizal joined the country's Department of Survey at age 16. In 1964, he joined Bhutan Engineering Service. From 1974 to 1984, he served as a National Assembly member from Lamidara constituency of Chirang district. During this period, he was also a National Labor Recruiting Officer.
The most important designation he held was Royal Advisory Councilor (1984-88). In that capacity, he was member of both the council of ministries and royal Civil Service Commission. He was also a coordinator of national-wide investigation bureau which investigated the corruption rampant in the country. But he was unceremoniously dismissed from the post and was forced to leave the country. In November 1989, he was arrested from his shelter in southeastern Nepal and deported to Bhutan. He underwent a horrendous torture for a decade inside Bhutan's prison and was released on December 17, 1999. Currently based in Kathmandu, Nepal, Rizal, a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, is Chairman of Bhutanese Movement Steering Committee.
Excerpts from the Book by the author entitled 'Torture: Killing Me Softly-Bhutan, through the eyes of Mind Control Victim"
Printed at: Jagadamba Press, Hattiban, Lalitpur
Publisher: Friends of Bhutan
Edition: 2nd 2010 (Shortly to be Published)
Price: NU 300, IRS. 300, Nrs. 450, US$ 30
Edited by Deepak Adhikari
Copyright © Tek Nath Rizal

Bhutan: In the Shadow of Fear

Tek Nath Rijal
Enduring the torments at one after another prison, I was moved into Dradulmakhang prison, whose very name evoked fear. Known in Thimphu as detention centre, it was worse than the Rabuna jail. Apart from being disgusting, some of the dreaded criminals served their sentence here. The menacing presence of not only Bhutanese, but also notorious criminals from India and Bangladesh scared me to death. The prison reminded me of the stories told about Nazi Concentration Camps, during the World War II. The turreted stone-walled prison with iron-gate and barbed wires was surrounded by a few dark pines which stood like sentinels guarding the prison. In fact, the prison buildings and forts were built a century ago with the forceful labor and the contribution from the inmates.
I was stunned to find that the jail buildings in both Rabuna and Thimphu looked similar. In Rabuna jail, I was kept on the ground floor, but here my cell was in the first floor of a dilapidated building. Some obnoxious odor wafted through my cramped and damp cell causing constant nausea. The ceiling, like in Rabuna, was made of wood except there was an iron hook hanging menacingly in the centre. The difference between the two jails was that the Rabuna accommodated only political prisoners, while Dradulmakhang had pet criminals, too. These criminals were kept on the ground floor and I was kept alone on the first floor.
The criminals were allowed to make fire to warm their bodies in the winter, which was justified from a humanitarian angle. However, the hidden intention was to create problem for me through the dense smoke emanating from the fire. As if this was not enough, they were provided with heavily moist or wet wood or coal for making the fire. When the criminals were taken out on labor duty, prison officials threw chili powder in the fire. One can imagine the suffocation created by the fumes of burning chilies in a room without the ventilation. Actually, the walls as well as the floor were made of the wooden planks with gaps between the two planks, through which the rising smoke crept in my room.
Let me describe the structure of the detention centre. The area where I was kept was actually a big bathroom attached to a living room. When I was brought here, the room was allotted to six policemen, who were duty-bound to guard me. The bathroom was converted into a living room by erecting a five-foot wooden partition, though the height of the wall was seven feet. It was done on purpose, as I learnt later. Whenever I started eating my food, one of the guards or inmates from the ground floor would always come to use the latrine. The foul odor would make eating impossible.
The most disgusting part was that the toilet was without running water. This caused the stink unbearable with the foul smell emanating out of the heaps of human excreta that kept piling up each day. I was given only five liters of water per day for latrine, bathing and drinking, making it a precious commodity so that I could not afford that to flush. Thus, the room had an air of a garbage dumping site. The room buzzed with flies and mosquitoes. The old quilt-cover--laden with dust and infested with bedbugs--was not long enough to cover my body. I was neither able to ward off the biting cold nor fend off the mosquitoes. As a result, some part of the body was always exposed to the attack by mosquitoes. The toilet was flushed only when international humanitarian groups visited the prison. Once the visit was over, the prison authorities would resort back to the same inhuman practice.
In addition, I was not permitted to wash myself or my clothes for a long time. Living constantly in dirty environs was terrible. Bad smell emanated from my clothes and it obviously was extremely hazardous to my health. After a few months, on my repeated pleadings, I was provided with a small piece of detergent soap and water. After washing my clothes, as per the rule, I gave them to one of the guards to get them dry. However, I never got those clothes back. The guard told me the clothes had been blown away. I protested saying, “What would I wear now?” But he shrugged and left. After some time, this guard was transferred and a new one replaced him. When I inquired about my clothes, he feigned ignorance. Deliberately, I was not given the clothes for next six months and had to manage by wearing the battered quilt-cover and a stinking bed- sheet.
I was passing the lonely and torturous moments inside the detention center. One day, a constable came hurriedly and asked me if I was interested in smoking a bidi (a rolled tobacco leaf. I replied affirmatively. He whispered, “Come on! Tight this bidi.” Gesturing persuasively, he thrust on me a piece of bidi along with a matchbox and disappeared. I opened the matchbox and found out that it contained only a few match-sticks. I lighted the bidi and felt satisfied as I was smoking after a long time. To my amazement, there was something else inside the matchbox: a brand new razor blade. My whole body shivered at this. I could not believe that the officials would stoop so low because the prisoners are strictly denied access to such hazardous articles. It was difficult to guess why an item like a blade was left. Perhaps, the regime hoped that I would commit suicide in utter despair.
It was not the first time the regime had provoked me to commit suicide. It reminded me of a rope which was left in my room just a few days ago--it would have been a convenient appendage to the iron hook on the ceiling. The jail officials deliberately chose the time to keep the rope when I was attending hearings in the court. Incidentally, the judicial process took four years to begin. It began only when all the options to keep me detained illegally were exhausted, due to the ever-mounting international pressure. The most brazen effort to exhort me in committing suicide took place when a technician, on the pretext of repairing the electric wiring opened the wiring system and spent the whole day doing nothing. In the evening, he left the live electric wires exposed, went out of the room and did not come back. Thus, the wires remained dangerously exposed for a long time.
A similar incident occurred inside the jail. There was no provision for storage of drinking water in my room. Whenever I requested the guards to provide me drinking water, they tended to turn a deaf ear. But, whenever they supplied water to me, it was always brought in an empty beer bottle. This happened many times. It is strictly prohibited to provide the prisoner anything made up of glass, as they may hurt themselves or others. Clearly, they wanted me to make use of the bottle either to end my life or, in a fit of rage, to attack the guards so that in the name of self-defense they could justify my killing. In this way, they evolved different strategies to get rid of me and started provoking me towards committing suicide. For this purpose, first, they made me depressed through mind-control technique and then conditions conducive for me to commit suicide were created. Thanks to my immense inner strength, I could resist the regime’s relentless efforts to end my life. That is how I survived ten years of rigorous torture inside jail.
The regime left no stone unturned to entice me to commit suicide, but eventually failed. I was seized by a sudden pang of conscience in spite of all these provocations pushing me to the edge. Fortunately, I escaped such a fate. This was also due mainly to the lesson learnt from my mother, which would often come flooding back to my memory. There was a time when women committed suicide in my village after their husbands were forcefully taken to labor camps. When the breadwinners were missing for a long time, the women, out of helplessness and overburdened by having to nurture children, jumped into the river. I have a vivid recollection of my mother narrating those stories and counseling the neighbors not to commit such acts. Since childhood, she always told us that life, in due course, might create some moments, inflicting sorrow and pain on us, but at such times, we should never think of ending the life. Hence, it was my mother's teaching that helped me survive those days of extreme brutality.
(Excerpts of a book on 'Torture Killing Me Softly: Bhutan through the Eyes of Mind Control Victim)

I was born in Nepal: HM the King of Bhutan
The King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, revealed at an interaction with Nepal’s Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal that he was born at a Hospital in Kathmandu in the year 1980.
“Thus I have sentimental attachment with Nepal because I was born there in the year 1980”, he added.
“Nepal and Bhutan must join hands because we share similar cultural and geographical settings”, said the Bhutanese King.
“We both are landlocked, mountainous and developing nations”, he also said.
“Nepal and Bhutan have tremendous prospects of harnessing of Hydro-Electricity, we must thus work together in developing our respective economies”, the Bhutan King suggested PM Nepal.
Whereas other leaders of South Asian Countries separately paid courtesy calls on Bhutan King, however, the Bhutan King in a grand departure from all the diplomatic protocols himself came to see the election defeated Nepal PM at the Nepal House built in the SAARC village, say reports.
A rare honor indeed. Nothing remains now to be said for this grand honor granted to Nepal and its population by the Bhutanese Sovereign. Thanks Your Majesty!
The meeting between Nepal PM and Bhutanese King lasted for almost an hour.
Analysts opine that since His Majesty the King of Bhutan has himself admitted that he was born in Nepal and thus the Nepal Government is advised to confer upon the Bhutan King “Distinguished Honorary Citizen of Nepal” certificate organizing a grand ceremony befitting the sagacity , height and the modesty of the Bhutanese King.
It would be in the wisdom of both Nepal and Bhutan to cash in on from the frankness of the Bhutanese Monarch and initiate diplomatic activities to open Bhutanese embassy in Nepal and act in a manner that has been advised by the King of Bhutan in order to expand Nepal-Bhutan bilateral ties.
(With strong inputs from Nagrik daily dated April 30, 2010. Thanks Nagrik).

Bhutan: Inviting International Attention

Tek Nath Rizal and Thinley Penjore, Bhutanese nationals
The historic records of Bhutan reveal government’s gesture of gratefulness paid either on the edge of sword or prison. The several reincarnate of Bhutan’s unifier, the Zhabdrungs, ended up theft lives in the hands of King’s appointed assassins in 1931 and 1953 while, the first Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Palden Dorji, the farsighted national personality ended up his life in the hands of military assassin in 1964.
One of the politically conscious Southern Bhutanese Garjaman Gurung, who spoke in support of the Zhabdrung, was allured into the royal palace at Paro on the pretext of sorting out differences amicably and was assassinated by putting him into boiling oil in a large frying pan. Another person, Mahasur Chettri of Tsirang, who spoke against Zhabtog Lemi (Forced Contributory Labor), was arrested in public. His family members and the village community were called to witness the punishment being awarded to Mr. Chettri. Against the principles and ethos of Hindu Religion, a cow was slaughtered and its fresh hide wrapping him, was thrown alive into the Sunkosh River.
Similarly, loyal, grateful and innocent people landed up in prison cells framing them of being supporters of the fabricated Bhutan -Tibetan internal royal conflict of 1974. Many succumbed to prison torture while those released after decades of imprisonment continue living under strict surveillance. Upon royal amnesty or release from the prison, they found their families either displaced or their properties registered in the name of senior government officials.
A loyal Royal Body Guard who escaped the royal atrocities was chased and killed at gun point at his home to in Saleng in Mongar district of east Bhutan by a senior bodyguard officer following the 1974 incident. His brother, who joined the pro-democracy movement was abducted from Siliguri in the Indo-Nepal border on fabricated charges and incarcerated for life in Bhutan. His family members, an ailing wife and children have been missing from the refugee camps since 2005. The heinous crimes committed by the regime can go endless as the ink may run out of stock but the stories of atrocities are endless.
During Bhutan’s infrastructural building, the female workers were mobilized to work for the period extending beyond one month at a time. In Hindu culture, daughters or wives are not separated from the house for such long periods of time. Due to coercion against the culture, the entire community of Danishey Kali Gaon of Tsirang had to flee the homeland for freedom and safety. In the name of decentralization, regime used government forces to mobilize people to work under Zhabtog lemi with no wages. In the same way, the present refugees languishing in Nepal have been evicted as their reward of being grateful for their hard labor in the road construction and administrative infrastructural building of modem Bhutan. Large sections of these people are branded either as illegal migrants or anti-nationals.
Democracy and Human Rights in Bhutan is a Farce
The making of its own citizens stateless and refugees is due to absence of democracy and human rights with Bhutan’ s insincerity to follow the provisions of the United Nations on various rights of its people. Bhutan does not have right to: Freedom of Speech and Expression; Peaceful Assembly and Union; Justice, Due Process of Law and Equality before Law; Vote Freely and Fair Elections; Freedom of Religion
• Freedom of Press, Publicity and Printing; Oppose and Choose the Government; Form Unions, Associations, Organizations and Political Parties; Social and Cultural Rights; Right to return to our country.
There is a complete ban on the formation of unions, associations, organizations and political parties. In the absence of the Constitution or Basic Law or the Bill of Rights, people do not enjoy even the basic human rights. Dissidence and opposition to the Government is treated as treason and punishable according to Thrimzhung Chhenpo and Tsa-Wa-Swn. Without transforming absolute monarchy into constitutional democracy, rule of law and human rights are not guaranteed in a feudal society. The door to peoples’ participation in the nation’s political, social, economic and cultural domain remains under lock and key. So, it will be through the transition of polity into democracy that the people of Bhutan will have greater say in the affairs of the state, especially in terms of accountability and transparency of the government, which, at present, is totally missing.
The establishment of representative and participatory democracy, rule of law, secular political and social order, end of racism and inequity, promotion of true decentralization, balanced and uniform economic growth and development, release of political prisoners, declaration of general amnesty, repatriation of Bhutanese refugees are some of the vital tasks that need to be achieved.
The September eleven episode brought about millennium drive against terrorism bulldozing and chasing Bin Laden all along the deserts and mountains ultimately ushering among others, substantial social change in the Afghan governance and at the same time reminding the rest of the world to help support the eradication of world terrorism. The arrest of Saddam is yet another example of success in the transformation of the military rule to democracy. But flushing out of the Indian insurgents in December 2003 in the Himalayan kingdom only tormented the families of scores of Sharchhokp ethnicity who were taken into prison under fabricated charges as being responsible for helping these elements in the Bhutanese soil.
In our crusade for the:
Establishment of Constitutional Monarchy with multi-party Democracy, Parliamentary system of government and Independent Judiciary; 2. Establishment of National Human Rights Commission for the compliance and effective implementation of provisions of the UN charters, declarations and covenants, including rights of linguistic, religious and cultural minorities; 3. Promotion and strengthening of harmony and goodwill amongst multi-ethnic society of the multi-racial, multi-religious and multicultural groups in Bhutan; Institutionalization and consolidation of civil society to create a vibrant, stable and functioning democracy; Drafting of a written Democratic Constitution, which shall be the basic law of Bhutan with the rule of law as the foundation of the democratic process; The political, economic and social stability, security and well being of Bhutanese nation; Creation of a conducive environment for refugee repatriation;
The people of Bhutan seeks support and solidarity to liberate citizens from the existing bonds of suppression and pave way to equal opportunity coexisting with the main stream of the global family and live in a free society having dignity and honor of a human being.
In the present context, Bhutan is completely run by an absolute monarchy. There are no private organizations, institutions or any political parties, even social organizations. The government bars people from criticizing the acts of the government or raising question on Royal family members and King. The Driglam Nam Zha (its so-called dress and language code) and such other traditional laws define any one as terrorists or anti-nationals if found speaking against the government or the royal family members. Government officials censor the news. Even other programs of the radio and television and most of the articles on the newspaper are administered by government. Government not only discourages private publications but also imposes serious penalty on such attempts.
According to the provisions of the Rule on the administration of the National Assembly vide Rule no. 11, drafted in 1953; every member of the legislature shall have the full right and privilege to express his thought in the Assembly. No rule or law can interfere with the member’s freedom of expression.
But according to the Citizenship Act 1958, amended in 1977 states, “Anyone having acquired Bhutanese citizenship involve in the act against the king or speaking against the royal government or being in association with the people involve in activities against the Royal government shall be deprived of the citizenship. Similarly, Citizenship Act 1985 says any citizen of Bhutan who has acquired the citizenship at any time, if the person has shown by act or speech to be disloyal in any manner whatsoever to the King, Country and People of Bhutan, his citizenship will be seized.
People never demanded press freedom nor did they try for private publication in the past. It was only after 1990 that freedom of press and right to information has been felt. Bhutan People’s Party staged peaceful demonstration demanding establishment of democracy and human rights which could only guarantee freedom of press and expression in 1990. The Druk National Congress also peacefully demonstrated in east Bhutan. It covered capital and major towns with demand for fundamental rights in 1997 and ended up shooting a monk at point blank range killed in cold blood while a Chief Monk was incarcerated for eight years merely for asking for freedom to practice their own religion which is Nyingmapa Buddhism, one of the sects of the dual system of Ka-Nying. Other political parties like Gorkha National Liberation Front continued with their peaceful demands for the establishment of democracy in Bhutan.
In the name of press and right to information of the Bhutanese people, a radio, a television (both run by Bhutan Broadcasting Service owned by state) and a weekly newspaper (Kuensel, published by state owned Kuensel Corporation) exist whose contents are censored by the government. They carry the voices of the government and the prominent figures that support the absolute rule. There are neither any private publication houses nor any organization working in the field of right to information. Specifically, no person is permitted to start any private organization or the publication house. As such any one speaking against the government, king or the high profiled bureaucrats face serious physical punishment. A hundreds of thousands people were banished from their homesteads while staging for the right to organization, speech and culture in 1990. Even then, a large section of the Bhutanese people feel the need of a private publication house or any organization working for their right to speech and expression in Bhutan. The Right to speech should be guarantee to its citizens.
Bhutan has lately been advocating transformation of itself into a democratic kingdom under the leadership of its king Jigme Singye Wangchuk. The recently drafted constitution vide Article 16(e) “The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal Prerogatives, may Exercise powers relating to matters, which are not provided under this Constitution or other laws”, does not give power to the parliamentarians which are not in tune with the democratic norms whereby the constitution only becomes supportive to autocratic role. Similarly, Article 2 (26) — “Parliament shall make no laws or exercise its powers to amend this Constitution so as to affect all or any of the provisions of this Article”-this cripples entire democratic values in the parliamentary democracy with written constitution. There is also no apt provision for the development of journalism and freedom of press. The government has said that two weeklies have been registered. One of them Bhutan Times has begun its publication from April 30. The other Bhutan Observer is yet to be seen.
Electronic Media
Bhutan Broadcasting Service, established in 1973 and given its current name in 1986, operated under the auspices of the Department of Information; it began with Sunday programs and increased to thirty hours a week of shortwave radio programming in Dzongkha, Sharchopkha, Nepali, and English. There was daily FM programming in Thimpu and shortwave reception throughout the rest of the nation in the early 1990s. In 1991 there were thirty-nine public radio stations for internal communications. There were also two stations used exclusively for communications with Bhutan’s embassies in New Delhi and Dhaka and thirteen stations used by hydrologists and meteorologists. There were no television stations in Bhutan in the early 1990s, and a 1989 royal decree ended the viewing of foreign television by mandating the dismantling of antennas. The government wanted to prevent Indian and Bangladeshi broadcasts from reaching Bhutan’s citizens.
While television was banned in Bhutan, foreign cable lines continue restricted circulation as the free access to foreign television is considered a threat to the national identity and culture. In 1989 king banned private satellite dishes and dismantled 28 privately owned dishes. At that time people mostly viewed Indian and Bangladeshi channels. The most favorite was STAR television network. Audio-visual program started in 1981 with DSCD. It made films and documentaries on life, culture and religion (development oriented). But the program was stopped in 1996.
Re-Registration of Refugees
In Nepal, during the time of initial registration of asylum seekers, many people were excluded. They could not report on time as they were out looking for food. When they approached for registration, the screening posts were found closed. Such persons and those unaware of the facilities accounting approximately fifty-thousand have been living in different parts of India under displaced condition. Therefore, parents and children are separated. In some cases, husband and wife are separated. It has become difficult for us to locate their whereabouts.
In line with the expectations of Bhutan, gradual reduction of humanitarian assistance to the refugees in the areas of education, medical, food items and basic amenities like cooking fuel and shelter maintenance were brought to the camps in recent times. The UNHCR on the other hand as coordinating agency of the UN assistance to the refugee community show their concern for early dismantling of the camps due to donor fatigue, which however, indirectly supports the interest of Bhutan whose main target is to shy away from accepting repatriation and resolving the refugee imbroglio.
With regard to recent development of Nepal’s policy towards re-registration of the refugees, Nepal must review its policy before it is implemented. At the time of bilateral talks which dragged for fifteen rounds, refugee leaders were not consulted. Despite bowing that the refugee issue is a political issue between the people and the regime, Nepal carried on as a bilateral process. Nepal also at the same time did not approach India for their intervention. It would have been appropriate for Nepal to have proposed to India for their intervention at the beginning of the process where Nepal could have facilitated for regime-refugee dialogue.
The families from outside Lhotshampa community who do not have the capacities to communicate or socialize with other than their own community have fallen victim to non availability of screening post and registration facilities. In the process, many are learnt to have entered Kalimpong and Darjeeling in the state of North Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh in the north east; besides, several of them are wandering in different parts of Nepal. Therefore, re-registration of the refugees without accommodating these people into the mainstream of the asylum seekers in Nepal would be a serious injustice to the displaced and suffering people who are the victims of regime atrocities. In this context, Nepal should not be focusing and concentrating only on the Nepali speaking community of the Lhotsham region. These people from the Sharchhokp, Ngalong and Kheng region, who lived in complete peace and harmony, have become political victims only because they realized the inhumane treatment meted to the common people and left Bhutan to join hands with the Lhotshampa.
Many of their relatives continue suffering in jails in Bhutan while monks were killed during military crack down in east Bhutan. This community has become vulnerable in the refugee camps due to difference in language and culture. Many of the victims of crackdown were not registered as Nepal government took more than six years to decide on their registration. The kith and kin of this community also equally suffer discriminatory policies of the regime and undergo social out caste in their home town in Bhutan. These vulnerable groups do not have any relatives and adaptable communities in Nepal to whom they could approach for help and support. It therefore becomes Nepal’s responsibility to look at the refugee community with broader perspectives rather than perceiving them only as a Nepali speaking community.
Ever since the time of entry of asylum seekers into Nepal, the refugee leaders urged Nepal to seek international assistance for the assessment of properties that were left behind at the time of eviction. Every time the new government was formed in Nepal, appeals were submitted in written for consideration to facilitate assessment of the refugee properties. By now, Bhutan regime has resettled people all over the region and Nepal is out for re registration of the refugees. It is urged to make provisions to accept registration of the refugee properties along with the people so as to be convenient at the time of making assessment of the properties for justice upon repatriation.
Excerpts only from the author’s book entitled Unveiling Bhutan. The full text of the book is in our website (see inside Nepal-World)-ed.

Indo-Bhutan friendship, which is portrayed as unique in the world is in reality limited to hi-fi policy level of statesmanshi


Tek Nath Rijal & Thinley Penjore*
When Bhutan evicted the Lhotshampa community, the parliamentarians, senior citizens, farmers, women, children, handicaps, aged people, pundits and all those helpless people, unable to resist the torture entered Assam and Bengal to save their lives. The neighboring people, who were well known to the evictees due to their past relationship from the times of their fore fathers having depended on India for salt, matches, clothes and basic needs of livelihood, including those of the Nepali speaking community of the neighboring villages of Indian citizens came forward to sympathize and help the Lhotshampas in plight.
The relationship between the escapees and the neighboring people prevailed not only because of racial and cultural linkage like marriage but also because the relatives residing at the other side of the border were none other than those who were separated at the time of border demarcation. The suffering escapees had entered into the bordering villages looking for their ancestral relatives for protection from the Bhutanese army. Although, relief was forthcoming at the initial stage, owing to government’s vigilance the host supporters, both non Nepali speakers and those of the same race and culture withdrew from providing humanitarian relief.
The distant relatives in Assam and Bengal who had extended their sympathy and made arrangements for the escapees to take shelter in their villages and vacant forest land had to flee to save their lives. Bhutan security forces collaborated with the Indian Border Security forces and picked up the escapees and dumped them in the Lorries bound for the west. The vehicles, irrespective of whether they carried goods or animals were used for loading Bhutanese evictees and dispatched them to the Indo-Nepal border. Consequently, youths and men who were out of camp looking for food were left behind. They are missing to this day. Little valuables saved from the looting armies inside Bhutan were either snatched by Indian security forces or lost in the process as people were dumped into vehicles like cats and dogs. The women and children, particularly pregnant women suffered bleeding and miscarriages due to the barbaric Indian security forces while handling the escapees. Many died on transit while those who could make it to Nepal continue under medication till today due to traumatic inhuman torture in the hands of both the Bhutan army and the Indian security forces.
After arrival in Nepal, due to non availability of immediate humanitarian relief, both old and children succumbed to hunger and multiple epidemics. The cremation and burial of those who died were highly emotional and a terrifying sight. The local supplies made available through alms were hardly sufficient to survive as distributions were meager about ascoop full of grain weighing approximately fifty grams. The support and solidarity of the local people of Nepal reached its government who approached the United Nations for humanitarian support in order to save Bhutanese refugees dying every day along the Sacred Mai River. In 1991 UNHCR, at the request of Nepal government, appeared on the scene to coordinate emergency relief assistance for the Bhutanese refugees.
As the news media began covering the incident, the world community became aware about the existence of Bhutan ruled by an absolute monarch. All these activities were witnessed by the Central Government of India very closely, yet it remained a mere spectator. The media exposed Bhutan as one of the SAARC member nations, which has no Human Rights or such provisions and organizations that could either advocate or protect the innocent people from the claws of brutal rule.
Looking back to the past from the time of British rule and the subsequent independent India, Bhutanese people have played their own role in the Indian struggle for independence while British India has also been responsible in the emergence of hereditary Monarchy in Bhutan. The Indo-Bhutan friendship, which is portrayed as model and unique in the world podium is in reality limited to hi-fi policy level of statesmanship. Taking into consideration the overall aspects of the growing historic relationship between the two countries, India can not be irresponsible as it is the largest multiparty democracy. India has played a vital role in guiding Bhutan on several specific areas of diplomatic relationship; it assisted Bhutan in the management of its defense and security. The industrial, trade and commercial collaboration of the Bhutanese products, all of which account for Bhutanese national economy, are controlled by India.
In consideration of the aforementioned realities, as India had guided Bhutan in all the development, political, diplomatic, defense and economic welfare, it is unfair of India to be a silent observer to the phenomenal aspects of Bhutan’s refugee making using its brutal army. While Bhutan is responsible for its wrongdoing to its own people with torture, cruel and degrading treatment extending to eviction and land grabbing, being a silent observer, India is equally responsible for the injustice being meted to the people.
(*The authors are respectively the chairman and vice chairman of BMSC -Bhutanese Movement Steering Committee)

How did the Bhutan refugee problem start?

Nepal: How did the Bhutan refugee problem start?
Several countries of South Asia have been generated and received flow of refugees in large numbers in the twentieth century. While large-scale movements of India to Pakistan and vice versa took place following the Partition in 1947, the movement of Afghan refugees in Pakistan in the 1980’s was also significant. A large number of refugees entered India before the breakup of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh in early 1970’s. On the other hand, Bhutanese refugees in Nepal are smaller in number. Unlike in many countries of the world where refugees leave their homeland because of external intervention, war or communal disturbances, the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal represent the result of selected ethnic cleansing policy of the Royal Government of Bhutan followed since 1990 when multi-party democracy was restored in Nepal after Jana Andolan -1. However, not all persons of Nepali origin were expelled as refugees so that it was a not total ethnic cleansing.
The Bhutanese refugees entered Nepal in late 1990. There were 5,000 refugees by February 1991. Their number had swelled to over 100,000 by the year 2000. A British writer has commented that Lhotshampas growing influence was seen as a threat to Bhutanese way of life. According to him Lhotshampas were “presented with a choice between remaining in Bhutan, but as subordinate citizens maintaining abbreviated versions of their traditional way of life, or fleeing to Nepal”. It is thus a refugee problem generated and received inside SAARC. It is also one of the refugee problems when both the generating and receiving countries are designated as Least Developed among the developing countries by the United Nations. There are fifty such countries, which are categorized on the basis of such criteria as low income, human resources index and economic vulnerability. Nepal and Bhutan are also land-locked countries.
The Bhutanese refugees entered Nepal passing through Indian Territory as Nepal and Bhutan do not share a common border. In other words, India was the country of first refuge for the Bhutanese refugees. On the other hand, both Nepal and Bhutan share a common border with India and China.
Census conducted by the Bhutanese government listed its population in 2005 as 672,000. However, it did not categorize the Bhutanese living in Bhutan at that time on the basis of ethnicity including Lhotshampas. An article published in The New York Times lists Bhutan’s population being 700,000. The World Bank listed Bhutan’s population as being 918,000. According to former Indian Ambassador to Bhutan Salman Haider population in Bhutan was between 600,000 and 1 million.
Bhutan’s per capita income was listed as US$870 in 2005. On the other hand, Nepal’s population was estimated to be 25 million. While both Nepal and Bhutan had a per capita GNP of US$180 in 1988, Bhutan’s per capita Gross National Income had become US$870 in 2005, it was only US$270 in Nepal, a figure which was less than a third of Bhutan. A study by a British scientist found Bhutan “eighth happiest country in the world, although it was a relatively poor country”. Gross National Happiness includes such criteria as god governance, equity and harmony with nature. However, harmony did not mean harmony with more than 100,000 refugees living in camps in Nepal who were forced to leave the country. The density of population in Nepal in 2005 was 190/ which was nine times that of Bhutan which had a density of only 20/ according to the World Bank. As there were more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in camps in Nepal, they represented 14 percent of population. This would make Bhutan one of the countries generating one of the largest per capita refugee populations in the world. The percentage of persons of Nepali origin in Bhutan (called Lhothsampas) was stated to be as much as 45% before expulsion of the refugees. The Fact Book published by CIA (updated in March 2007) suggested that 35% of population was Nepali in origin. ( A Canadian Professor who is advisor to sustainable development to the United Nations University states that Lhothsampas represent between 35 and 45% of Bhutan’s population but it is uncertain in his opinion whether these include those living in the refugee camps in Nepal. This is due to different figures given by different sources regarding Bhutan’s population.
The problem of refugees of Nepalese origin dates back to the early 1990’s immediately after the success of People’s Movement (Jana Andolan-1) in Nepal when Lhotshampas in increasing numbers started demanding democracy in Bhutan. The relations between the royal governments in Nepal and Bhutan during Panchayat era in Nepal were quite cordial. Actually it was during this period that Tek Nath Rizal, a leader of Nepali-Bhutanese was arrested inside Nepalese Territory in 1989 and handed over to Bhutan, where he was imprisoned for ten years. The King of Bhutan told an international newsmagazine in 1990- “The survival of Bhutan is at stake. We cannot have a large population that feels it is not Bhutanese” . King Jigme of Bhutan was reported to be asserting in his interviews throughout the 1990’s that Bhutan was a small country sandwiched between two big neighbors and was too small to afford cultural pluralism, as it needed to define its cultural identity. Hutt believes that Lhotshampas’ growing influence was seen as a threat to a distinctive Bhutanese way of life. Bhutanese Refugee Leader Rizal writes that rapid economic development in Bhutan in the past forty years benefited the Lhotshampa community as they were involved not only in food grain production but also in horticulture and vegetable farming. They benefited more than the others which proved to be a curse as it led to their eviction. On the other hand, King Jigme Wangchuk told the Indian daily The Times of India in 1993 when a large number of refugees had already left Bhutan:
“I actively participate in Dussera celebrations. Besides, how can they complain of discrimination when there are so many cultural and religious commonalities between the two groups? Our governing deity is Mahakali and we also worship Shiva and Vishnu”.
Both Bhutan and Nepal are multi-ethnic countries sharing a common Buddhist- Hindu heritage. Nepal is a Hindu majority country having a large Buddhist minority. Bhutan is a Buddhist majority country having a large Hindu population in the same region. People speaking Tibeto-Burmese languages and practicing Lamaism in Nepal are living amicably with their Hindu neighbors and didn’t have to leave the country as refugees even when Nepal was a Hindu kingdom. This was in spite of discriminatory practices contained in civil code, Mulki Am which was in force till 1964. The reason why a large number of Lhotshampas speaking Nepali and mostly following Hinduism had to leave as refugees could perhaps be explained due to fear of losing power by the Bhutanese ruling family if the principle of one-man one-vote were to be followed in Bhutan. In addition, Lhotshampas were unwilling to dilute their own linguistic and cultural identity. Kharat, an Indian writer believes anti-Drukpa activities of Lhothsampas led the Royal Government to “forcefully integrate them into Driglaam Namzha meaning traditional Bhutanese culture”. He also believes that some Lhothsampas were advocating the concept of “Greater Nepal” which would have threatened Bhutan. Hun says a uniform dress code was required for all Bhutanese nationals including Lhotshampas. Teaching of Nepali language was discontinued and Nepali language materials were removed from curriculum in 1989. According to him, removal of Nepali language was symbolic and provocative. Teknath Rizal, leader of Lhotshampas in Bhutan writes that there existed tolerance between different ethnic groups in Bhutan till 1988 and Lhotshampas were free to attend court in their traditional dress and plead their case in their mother tongue. Most of the Lhotshampas were subjected to attack on their dress and language. It was made obligatory to wear traditional bakkhu dress in southern Bhutan and Djonkha language was made compulsory in schools. He feels that 1988 census was an exercise to brand some citizens of Bhutan as non-citizens and King Jigmey himself was involved in targeting this against the Lhotshampas. He complains that most of the Hindu temples in southern Bhutan were destroyed and Buddhist monks appointed by Bhutanese government appropriated funds generated for their upkeep. Sinha, an Indian writer thinks it was the democratic aspirations of Lhotshampas that forced the Drukpa establishment for ethnic polarization. A Nepalese researcher found that most of the Bhutanese refugees were forced to sign documents in Djonkha language, claiming that they were leaving Bhutan voluntarily. Only few of them knew the language. In a nutshell, it could be said that the Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin forming a large percentage of population were forced to migrate from sparsely populated Bhutan to more densely populated Nepal. While the per capita income of Bhutan and Nepal were similar at the time the refugees left, Bhutanese as a whole had become better off fifteen years later as Bhutan’s per capita income had increased threefold that of Nepal. It was ethnic cleansing in a limited sense as some Lhotshampas still live in Bhutan. The primary reason for this refugee movement was thus the fear of Bhutanese ruling classes that Lhotshampas would not assimilate and would threaten Bhutanese Djonkha religious and linguistic identity when Bhutan would emerge as a democratic country when all its citizens would have universal adult franchise. The Bhutanese Government has changed the names of some towns inhabited primarily by Lhostampas as Samchi became Samtse, Sarvanga was replaced by Sarpang respectively. The hometown of refugee leader Teknath Rizal which was Lamidanda, became Lamidangra. Such cartographic changes seem to correspond to ethnic cleansing in Bhutan. Although several cities in South Asia have changed their names as Bombay became Mumbai and Madras became Chennai by the Government elected by the people, change of names of cities was done by Bhutan at a time at a time when refugees living in these towns had left the country.
Refugee Camps in Nepal
Bhutanese refugees are living in seven camps in Jhapa and Morang districts of southeastern Nepal. They numbered 104,235 in 2004. Bhutan has claimed that the refugees were migrants from Nepal who entered Bhutan illegally, criminals and those who were availing themselves of food and shelter supplied by UNHCR. According to latest figures provided by UNHCR, the refugees in the six camps in Jhapa district and one in Morang numbered 107,431 in January 2007. Bhutanese refugees receive assistance in such sectors as food grains, health care, education, shelter, water supply, sanitation, educations and legal assistance. Assistance from UNHCR and WFP is channeled through such INGOs as Lutheran World Service and Caritas and Nepalese organizations such as Nepal Bar Association, Jhapa unit and Centre for Victims of Torture.
Attempts to find a solution
A Joint Ministerial Committee between Nepal and Bhutan was formed in 1993 to find a solution to the refugee problem. The first meeting of MIC held in 1993 decided to divide the people in the camps in four categories: bonafide Bhutanese if they were evicted forcibly, Bhutanese who migrated voluntarily, non-Bhutanese people and those who committed criminal acts. Refugee Leader Tek Nath Rizal has written that such classification is a conspiracy of the Bhutanese administration and the Nepali side was trapped in accepting it. Eleven meetings of MJC held in Kathmandu and Thimpu failed to bring any results. However, in the eleventh meeting held in Kathmandu in February 2003 it was agreed to form a Joint Verification Team consisting of Nepalese and Bhutanese officials A breakthrough was made in the 15th meeting of MJC held in October 2003 when Nepal and Bhutan agreed to actual repatriation from Khundanbari Camp after verification of refugees in category 1,2 and 4. (20)
It was found as a result of verification exercise that 70 percent of refugees in Khundabari camp were genuine Bhutanese consisting of those who were evicted and had left “voluntarily”. However, UNHCR was not part of verification process. It was primarily because Bhutan Government did not see any role and involvement for UNHCR. The UN refugee agency was also not given access to areas of potential return in Bhutan. ‘When modalities of return were being discussed at Khundabari Camp, the refugees reacted violently on 22 December 2003 to harsh conditions being presented by Bhutan for their repatriation. They were told that they would have lesser rights in the camps in Bhutan than they enjoyed while in Nepal, This resulted in a security problem for Bhutanese officials. This was used by the Bhutanese Government as an excuse for delaying the process of repatriation. Bhutan wanted investigation of the incident and asserted that it would not accept a single refugee before the perpetrators of the event were punished. Refugee Leader Teknath Rizal believes the behavior of Bhutanese Government representative in the camp demonstrated that they didn’t want to solve the problem of refugees. Not a single refugee was repatriated from the refugee camps in sixteen years to Bhutan till now. This represents a classic example of failure of Nepalese foreign policy in this respect.
According to UNHCR, 70 percent of refugees in Khundanbari may be eligible to return but will have to re-apply to get their citizenship papers after probation of two years. Some may be denied citizenship and may become stateless. UNHCR would need to have a presence in Bhutan to assist Bhutanese Government in creating condition for reintegration and rehabilitation to monitor the return of refugees. Bhutan is unwilling to allow UNHCR any role inside Bhutan. It has also been the policy of Bhutanese Government to resettle northern Bhutanese in the lands where the refugees (Lhotshampas) were formerly living. Even if the verification exercise in the Bhutanese camps had progressed since December 2003 it would have taken eight years to “verify” the entire refugee population in view of its slow pace.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Bhutan at a Crossroads

By Mirka Knaster

Can one of the world’s happiest countries survive the 21st century?

Nestled in the soaring eastern himalayas between Tibet and India, Bhutan is one of the happiest countries on Earth. How do we know that? Because when researchers at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom pieced together 100 studies to create the first world map of happiness in 2007, Bhutan ranked first in Asia and eighth in the world—which is extraordinary, given that Bhutan’s Gross Domestic Product ranks 137.

When another attempt to measure international happiness, the Happy Planet Index, asked people around the world a simple question—“Overall, how happy would you say you are these days?”—the Bhutanese came in 13 among 178 nations. Notes the World Bank, “Bhutan should be considered one of the few countries where the quality of life of its people is higher than would be expected from traditional development indicators.”

Walter Callens
For Bhutan, happiness isn’t accidental. It’s a policy goal. After ascending the throne as Bhutan’s fourth king in 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck advanced the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) and placed it above Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the ultimate measure of well-being for the Bhutanese, arguing that health, education, and justice were necessary for a nation to develop. His Oxford-educated son, Jigme Khesar Mangyal Wangchuck, who succeeded him in November of 2008, has pledged to continue this policy.

Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness is measured by how well the natural environment is supporting the people; the extent to which communities and families are intact and thriving, not just financially but also culturally; and by its citizens’ reports on their own levels of happiness. The Bhutanese, as well as many outside observers, argue that the secret of their happiness lies in the security of their community, kinship, and family relationships, and in a self-sufficient lifestyle. And their Buddhist spiritual tradition, which considers craving the root cause of unhappiness, guides their daily life.

Its commitment to priorities beyond the almighty dollar is often cited as a main reason why happiness is so pervasive in Bhutan—and it is why the country has been celebrated by commentators around the world. “They do things that don’t make economic sense,” writes journalist Eric Weiner in his 2008 book, The Geography of Bliss. “In Bhutan, what’s on the inside is often more impressive than what’s on the outside.”

But this way of life now faces significant changes. As the country modernizes its government and economy for the 21st century—most notably in its shift to parliamentary democracy, with its first-ever national elections held in 2008—there are signs that some Bhutanese may be leaving their traditional values behind.

“People are aspiring for more and more wealth,” says Damber Kumar Nirola, a psychiatrist at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu. “Smaller cars are not OK for them; they need a bigger car. They need taller buildings.” Nirola questions whether the Bhutanese will be able to preserve their GNH as their GDP rises and democracy reshapes their way of life. “When you see your neighbor going up and up in materialistic gain and you are trying to be spiritual and fan away your desires, how many can do it?” he asks.

That agonizing question isn’t unique to Bhutan; indeed, Bhutan’s national struggle to preserve happiness contains lessons for people all over the world, including Americans.
New world, old happiness

Bhutan started to take its first steps toward modernization in the 1960s, when then-King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the present monarch’s grandfather, cautiously opened the doors of his medieval-like kingdom to change. In recent years, the pace of change has accelerated. In 1999, for instance, Bhutan allowed television into the country. In March of 2008, Bhutan transformed its political system through a new constitutional process and nationwide elections.

Walter Callens
Modernization has helped improve the country’s literacy rate, health care, educational system, transportation infrastructure, and its access to potable water and safe sanitation. But it has also brought a number of new challenges, chief among which has been creating jobs for the new ranks of educated youth.

Until now, the public sector was able to provide employment for the majority of high school graduates, while the rest of the youth stayed in rural areas and worked on farms. But more and more children are now getting an education, and “none of them want to go back to the farm,” says Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji, who served as the prime minister of Bhutan from 2002 to 2003 and again from 2007 to 2008. Unfortunately, given Bhutan’s size, the civil service cannot grow to absorb more people, and a rise in unemployment among young Bhutanese is leading to disenchantment and, from there—for the first time in the country’s history—it’s a short step to drugs, gangs, and crime.

“The time has come when we can sometimes be robbed,” says Damber Kumar Nirola, the Thimphu psychiatrist. “Young people believe that by taking alcohol, taking drugs, they feel happy. Obviously, all these drugs somehow increase the dopamine level in the brain, which is supposed to cause some sort of euphoria, and people believe that that is happiness. But happiness simply in the form of euphoria is not the one we desire.”

Although marijuana grows wild in the countryside, the Bhutanese feed it to pigs. The youth prefer to sniff correction fluid or pop pills smuggled in from India. Overdose deaths now average one a month, a dramatic change from the past. Perhaps as a result of spreading drug addiction, crimes such as rape and theft are rising, along with the vandalization of statues and religious objects—an activity previously unheard of in Bhutan. Even so, violent crime, including homicide, remains low.

The increase in crime and drug addiction might also be related to recent changes in family dynamics. According to Chief Justice Tobgye, traditionally in Bhutan, “looking after the family was a most pleasant duty and ethical responsibility.” Grandparents or aunts and uncles would take charge when parents were not available. But the younger generation’s shift from the country to the city often means leaving extended family members behind. Working people are relying instead on what once was unthinkable: child-care providers. Some Bhutanese wonder whether old-age homes will eventually appear, too.

These shifts may have been exacerbated by the introduction of international media into Bhutan. Whereas in pre-media days, families sat around together singing, telling stories, and joking, today they’re facing the TV screen and wrangling over the remote control. Nim Dorji, formerly an employee of Bhutan’s department of agriculture but now the managing director of Snow Lion Adventure Travels, says, “In my family, my children like to watch cartoons; my mother-in-law is very keen on Hindi movie serials [soap operas]. There’s always some kind of conflict, so I had to buy a TV for my mother-in-law. The only time we meet is mealtime. Soon after that, she goes back to her bedroom and watches television. Things are changing.”

As images of other lifestyles stream in through TV and the Internet, rock, hip-hop, and breakdancing hold the interest of Bhutanese youth far more than soft indigenous music and dance. Thimphu has radio stations, discotheques, and bars where Western music dominates, along with Western-style clothing.

Despite these challenges, Chief Justice Tobgye does not favor returning to an isolated past. “With the whole world opening,” he says, “Bhutan cannot close itself.”

Walter Callens
Four pillars of happiness

Bhutan is, of course, not the only developing country to face such challenges. But how its government is responding to them is unique. To Western eyes, some of their measures may appear overly authoritarian. For instance, when young Bhutanese began imitating the professional wrestling they saw on TV, the state banned wrestling programs. When lawmakers were caught playing computer games on their laptops during legislative sessions, Parliament barred its members from bringing laptops to work. The government also prohibits the sale of tobacco, smoking in public places, plastic bags, and big advertising billboards.

Perhaps more significantly, Bhutan is trying to fuse its modernization with a renewed commitment to traditional values. In 1999, the Planning Commission (now called the GNH Commission), articulated a vision for Bhutan’s “peace, prosperity and happiness” by 2020.

To achieve this goal, four distinct but mutually supporting pillars were established to uphold the guiding philosophy of GNH: equitable and sustainable socioeconomic development; environment conservation; preservation and promotion of culture; and good governance. The government has also created indicators to track its progress maintaining GNH, using surveys to discover how respondents rate income, family, health, spirituality, and good governance with respect to their personal happiness.

These four pillars not only reflect Bhutan’s national priorities; they offer principles for any nation looking to balance economic and social well-being.

Sustainable socioeconomic development and environmental conservation. The first two pillars—economic development and environmental responsibility—go hand-in-hand.

“One of the most important means through which to achieve GNH is the surrounding environment—nature,” says Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji, who became minister of agriculture in 1999. Bhutan exploits its natural resources as long as there is no concomitant indigenous or environmental degradation. For example, constitutional law stipulates a minimum of 60 percent forest cover; it is presently 72.5 percent. Although there is logging, clearcutting of trees is prohibited. Community forests also keep people actively involved in sustainable management.

“Forest protection is of the highest priority because we live in a very fragile, young mountain system,” says Dorji. “One monsoon would be enough to create a landslide. It would have an impact on everything.” When he became a government minister nine years ago, “good timber was being exported—we used to get a very good price from India—and the inferior quality timber was available for our local people,” he says. “So keeping in view the long-term impact, not looking at the short-term gain, the government decided: No more timber export.”

As educated youth increasingly want to remain in urban areas, the government is trying to make agriculture more economically attractive by switching from subsistence to commercial farming. But each proposal is carefully evaluated according to GNH guidelines. When a company from Calcutta offered to help Bhutan grow tea, the government decided against it because tea would force other crops to compete for land and require a lot of chemicals.

Instead, Bhutan is looking at organic and niche products, such as traditional herbal medicine.

Cultural preservation. Because Bhutan, which is half the size of Indiana, with a population of barely 700,000, is sandwiched between two giants, India and China, the government promotes its rich cultural identity through training, conservation, and accessibility.

When young people leave the country for an advanced degree, they have to enter a two-week cultural reorientation program upon their return. Men, women, and children are still required to wear indigenous attire for public occasions. Buildings conform to a uniquely Bhutanese style of architecture. The intention of all these symbols is to ensure that the national culture is visible and alive.

Good governance. Democracy in Bhutan has progressed gradually and peacefully during the last five decades. But why bother to move in that direction when the people are happy with a benevolent king? “We have been asking that question quite a lot,” says Sonam Kinga, a member of the National Council, one of the houses of the new Parliament. “The transition we experience here takes a very different trajectory, unlike post-colonial democratization. The leader of the country is initiating democracy, whereas in the West, it came in opposition to the state.”

Because the Bhutanese have so much regard for their monarch (unlike Bhutan’s Himalayan neighbor, Nepal, which has been torn by a Maoist insurgency and a fierce anti-monarchist movement), they asked why he suggested the change. Kinga says, “The only answer that we got from him was there could be good kings now, but in the future there may be bad kings, and people should take advantage of the democratic system. It could contribute to our well-being.”

Today, Bhutan’s democratic government is working out the fine details. A 32-member committee in Parliament debates every single point in the constitution because traditional features of Bhutanese culture seem at odds with certain ideas borrowed from Western constitutions. For instance, the Buddha’s teaching permeates every aspect of Bhutanese life: Bhutan without Buddhism is not Bhutan. Fortress-like dzhongs have been built since medieval times to function as both administrative and monastic centers. Yet the constitution has an article that points to the separation of religion and politics. Kinga says he has been arguing against that particular clause.

“Basically, the rationale of the Bhutanese state is in the interconnection of the secular and the spiritual that has a 368-year history,” he points out. Will constitutional values replace Buddhist values? “Here you have a constitution that tries to be Bhutanese, but also brings in concepts and principles from modern liberal democracy,” he says. “We do not know whether they will really harmonize because, ultimately, when the constitution is implemented and lived, we might end up with contradictions.”

Lessons from Bhutan

Given Bhutan’s singular circumstances and its differences from a heterogeneous, large-scale, and highly developed country like the U.S., does this Himalayan Buddhist nation have something to teach North Americans about how to cultivate happiness in the face of social and technological change?

Tim Kasser, associate professor of psychology at Knox College in Illinois and the author of the 2002 book The High Price of Materialism, believes it does. He has spent two decades studying people’s values and goals and how they relate to their quality of life, and he has recently turned his attention to exploring how public policy can foster individual happiness. Kasser cites two ways in which Bhutan’s focus on GNH can have such an impact.

First, it offers important cues to the country’s citizens. “By setting up GNH and working hard to establish policies that help achieve it, Bhutan is offering a whole different set of values as to what’s important,” he explains. “It’s not trying to pursue American corporate capitalism. Imagine if we lived in a country where we saw indicators of GNH—literacy, ecological sustainability, and equality—appear in the newspaper every day, rather than the Dow Jones
average. That would promote a different mindset among citizens.”

Kasser argues that Bhutan is trying to lead its citizens down a path that, according to decades of research, really is more conducive to cultivating happiness. “People who pursue extrinsic materialistic goals tend to be less happy, less likely to contribute positively to society, and more likely to be competitive and ecologically destructive,” he says. “People who pursue intrinsic values—self-acceptance, affiliation, community feeling—tend to be happier, to contribute more to society, to be more cooperative, and to live more lightly on the earth.”

The second important thing about GNH as a policy goal, says Kasser, is that it creates important institutions that can help people achieve happiness. “While government probably can’t legislate happiness,” he says, “what it can do is pass legislation that removes the social and economic barriers to happiness, and that promotes situations that are likely to provide happiness.” He cites legislation that exists in other countries that the U.S. could adopt: mandatory paid parental leave and minimum paid vacation laws; banning advertising to children “because it increases materialistic values and is associated with obesity”; and taxing advertising, rather than allowing it to be a tax write-off.

Though the U.S. seems to be worlds away from Bhutan, Kasser suggests it’s not too late for Americans to take some cues from the Bhutanese, even as the Bhutanese are starting to emulate the West.

“We can start measuring happiness or well-being and get that information out there so people can see that promoting well-being is not the same thing as economic growth,” says Kasser. “It all depends on what values we want to organize our society around.”

This is precisely the question with which Bhutan is grappling. The country is consciously modernizing while simultaneously trying to hold onto its traditional values, a feat that has eluded most other nations. But it is hard to predict whether Bhutan will be any more successful. Some of its residents, such as innkeeper Pema Dawa, are not optimistic.

“As one thing gets eliminated, more things will go, leading to erosion of the culture,” he says. “In 50 years, I don’t know what will happen to Bhutan.”


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tibet Chronicles


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bhutanese and Tibetan Refugees in Nepal - Implications for Regional Security

This paper addresses the situation and outlook of Bhutanese and Tibetan refugees in Nepal before the background of regional security issues. The paper introduces the situation of 100,000 Bhutanese refugees who have been stranded in Eastern Nepal for 15 years and reviews the roles of the governments of Bhutan and Nepal. Furthermore, the paper discusses the situation of 20,000 Tibetan refugees in Bhutan and the policy of the Bhutanese government on it. Finally, the paper elaborates on the challenge for Nepal, a US proposal to accommodate 60,000 refugees and the shutdown of the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office in Nepal.
© 2006 National University of Singapore

The whole test is HERE


Monday, September 21, 2009

Resources better spent on UN-approved refugees: Kenney

'Fake' applications here are hurting those waiting abroad, the Immigration minister says.
By Laura Payton
Published September 9, 2009

As part of its efforts to reform Canada's refugee system, the government wants to bring in more refugees designated by the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says.

This, he argues, would be a much more effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, benefitting people who are really facing persecution, instead of the thousands of "fake" applicants who apply within Canada each year.

In recent months, Mr. Kenney has spoken extensively about his desire to reform Canada's refugee system. He has made it clear that he wants to lower the number of applications made within Canada, which has created a backlog of more than 60,000 applications and costs the government millions of dollars in social assistance while claimants await their hearings.

"My concern is more broadly with how easy it is to abuse Canada's generosity and for non-refugees to immigrate to Canada through the back door of our asylum system using the long processing times and the...various levels of appeal, to string out a fake asylum claim to several years of residency in Canada and sometimes ultimately to gain permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds," Mr. Kenney said in an interview last week.

The minister says resources aren't properly spent the way the system works now, and that real refugees in desperate need of assistance are being allowed to languish in limbo as others take advantage of Canada's system. He wants to see that situation reversed.

"It's a question of a compassionate allocation of resources away from massive legal costs and social support for de facto immigrants who are gaming our system and abusing our generosity to additional resources for real victims of persecution abroad, most of whom are living in untenable situations in UN refugee camps," he said.

"It's ridiculous that Canada provides enormous benefits to fake refugee claimants, who are de facto immigrants, who have the effect of clogging up our asylum system and delaying processing times for real victims of persecution, and of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars of public resources on people who are making fraudulent asylum claims, while at the same time there are millions of people stuck in UN refugee camps who can't return to their home[s]."

Canada is accepting thousands of Bhutanese Hindu, Burmese Karen, Burmese Rohingya and Iraqi refugees, all of whom live in refugee camps, said Mr. Kenney.

The Conservative government, over the years, has made a point of highlighting the admittance of such groups into Canada whenever they have occurred, and Mr. Kenney said he would like to increase such intakes.

"Those who are opposing any kind of positive change or reform, those who are ideologically married to the status quo, don't have a leg to stand on. They're saying we should spend billions of dollars and gum up our asylum system [here] rather than using those resources to help resettle bona fide UN convention refugees to Canada. I don't think they could be more wrong on this issue," Mr. Kenney said.

But Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council on refugees, says Canada has international human rights obligations to help refugees who apply inside the country.

"We hear very frequently about people casting the refugees 'over there' as being the good refugees, while those who are in Canada are portrayed as the bad refugees. We totally reject this division of the world's refugees," she said. "They're not different categories of people, they're refugees who are in need of our protection."

She is also skeptical that a government that saves money on its refugee claimant process will spend it on helping refugees living abroad.

"Many people say...if we spend less money in Canada we can do more for refugees overseas. That is a kind of trade-off that is often spoken about but rarely acted upon," said Ms. Dench.

Nepal and India agonize over China

By Dhruba Adhikary

KATHMANDU - Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt was the place where Nepal's Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal first met his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, on the sidelines of a summit of non-aligned nations in mid-July.

From this standpoint, his first official visit to India last week appeared as a follow-up for a review of bilateral relations which remained at a low ebb when Maoist leader Prachanda headed Nepal's coalition government.

Prachanda's assertive posture, witnessed through his decision, exactly a year ago, to make China - instead of India - his first destination abroad made New Delhi suspicious about the Maoist leadership. The ensuing uneasiness continued until he resigned

on May 4 amid a controversy Prachanda thought was ignited by India, although he refrained from naming that country.

Mr Nepal succeeded him on May 25.

Whether his assurances to the Indians for correcting the perceived tilt towards China did have the intended impact remains a matter of conjecture, but Mr Nepal told the national media, on his return on Saturday, that his goodwill visit to India was "highly successful despite speculation ..."

Officials issued a 34-point joint press statement at the end of Mr Nepal's four-day sojourn in India, containing pledges for money to be spent on development projects, especially in the southern flatland called Terai.

But Prachanda and others in his Maoist party are not impressed. He said Mr Nepal's initiative as an exercise in futility, because the foreign minister did not join the entourage and because Mr Nepal - unlike him - was not elected by the people. Prachanda said Mr Nepal looked like a puppet and that the media in the host country had virtually ignored the presence there of the prime minister of a neighboring country.

Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala, daughter of Nepali Congress president and former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, had created a scene by dropping out of the entourage at the 11th hour, expressing her anger, in a seemingly childish manner, against Mr Nepal for not having promoted her to the post of deputy prime minister.

Officials of her ministry were left embarrassed in New Delhi, where they had scheduled meetings for her with several leaders, including the external affairs minister. Back in Kathmandu, Koirala explained to the Nepali Congress executive that she could not accompany Mr Nepal because of indisposition at the time of departure.

On the question of legitimacy, although Mr Nepal was not elected in the polls held in April 2008, he later became a nominated member of the 601-strong Constituent Assembly. A majority of the house, representing 22 political parties, then elected him to the post he presently occupies. Moreover, insist Mr Nepal's supporters, he did not push Prachanda out of power; the charismatic Maoist leader himself announced his resignation. Since the prime minister's chair fell vacant, non-Maoist members in the assembly made Mr Nepal an alternative leader. Nepali Congress is the main coalition partner.

The Indian media, both print and electronic, did not give extensive coverage to Mr Nepal's activities in New Delhi, and subsequently in Mumbai. But some of the editors who accompanied the prime minister, together with ministers and senior officials, have contended that the visit coincided with the big-news event of the presidential elections in neighboring Afghanistan.

Another major issue that dominated headlines at the time was the expulsion of a prominent Hindu nationalist leader, Jaswant Singh, from the Bharatiya Janata Party for having written a book that purportedly praised Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the creator of Pakistan. (See Raw Indian nerves exposed and Opposition party adds to its disarray , Asia Times Online, August 27).

On the day of Mr Nepal's arrival in New Delhi, The Hindu newspaper published a prepared interview which contained his remarks on the importance of closer relations with India, rather than with China.

Was then the whole exercise a sheer waste of time and resources? It was not, said Chakra Bastola, a senior member of the Nepali Congress - the largest among the incumbent coalition partners. "[Even] if the visit was not especially significant, it would be unfair to dub it as a failure," Bastola, a former foreign minister, told Asia Times Online.

He subscribed to a prevalent view that Mr Nepal's efforts needed to be positively evaluated in the context of the extraordinary circumstances that have beset the country.

At the substantive level, while Mr Nepal can take satisfaction for being able to secure Indian assistance for a couple of development projects, the joint statement failed to show that the prime minister made sincere efforts to get New Delhi's responses to more pressing issues. These include the inundation of large tracts of farmland due to the construction of dams and embankments by the Indians along the border, the displacement of thousands of people from border villages because of continuous harassment from Indian security personnel deployed to watch movements across the porous border that Nepal and India share, and cases of encroachment into Nepali territory in more than 60 places on the 1,800-plus kilometer-long frontier.

Dozens of armed groups, with their bases in the territories of the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, have been creating havoc, leading to surging numbers of killings, abductions and extortions.

Similarly, the trade deficit is growing as India continues to place non-tariff barriers on imports from Nepal. New Delhi has also been unhelpful over the issue of 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in Nepal waiting to be repatriated.

On a broader scale, Nepal remains unstable, even though the decade-long armed insurgency by the Maoists officially ended in 2006. The absence of war, analysts contend, does not imply peace.

The presence of the United Nations through a special mission is a constant reminder of the fact that Nepal is a trouble-torn country. In the words of Andrew Hall, the British ambassador in Kathmandu, "Nepal is a fragile state ... [and] fragility matters because it risks spreading instability to a region of critical importance to United Kingdom interests."

Other European countries hold similar opinions. Britain, together with other member-states of the UN Security Council, have instructed their Kathmandu-based envoys to regularly monitor events and trends in Nepal.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Carter Center - run by former US president Jimmy Carter - expressed concern over the political stalemate in Nepal. "Reminiscent of the 1990s, political leaders in Kathmandu are focused on zero-sum power politics at the expense of constitution-drafting, the peace process and the provision of basic government services."

The three-year peace process has yet to reach its logical conclusion; about 20,000 former Maoist combatants have to be rehabilitated and a new constitution has to be written - to replace the existing interim one - for what is to be the Federal Republic of Nepal, by May 2010.

Growing lawlessness across the country has become a formidable challenge. Clashes between the youth wings of the main political parties invite troubles that could undermine the ethnic harmony the country has maintained thus far.

"Nepal's peace process is in danger of collapse," reads the first sentence of a new report issued by an international organization dedicated to preventing conflict worldwide. The publication of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, released less than a week before Mr Nepal flew to New Delhi, said the Maoists faced a mess largely of their own making, even as Nepal's national army began to adopt an assertive political role.

In the group's view, behind much of the recent instability lies an Indian change of course. The report categorically alluded to "naked interventions" on the political front which will eventually undermine India's own long-term interests. The group also took note of the fact that India's policies on Nepal were framed primarily by civil servants and mostly without political discussion at appropriate forums, such as parliament. To make matters worse, implementation of even such policies was delegated to "covert intelligence operatives".

The example of Sri Lanka often finds mention in public discourses in Nepal. References are made to how India's attempt to "micro-manage" that country's affairs ended in a fiasco, after a protracted bloody war that claimed thousands of lives.

New Delhi does not appear willing to learn the lessons of Sri Lanka, or else it would not continue to interfere in Nepal. That India has not stopped taking a political interest in Nepal's politics was evident in a long interview its ambassador, Rakesh Sood, gave to The Kathmandu Post on June 15. "We would like to have good relations with all the political parties here," Sood was quoted as saying. As is the practice, an envoy of a foreign country maintains formal relations only with the government of the host country, not with individual political parties of that country. This approach is bound to increase anti-Indian feeling in the neighborhood, as is happening in Nepal.

The Crisis Group report also pointed to India's growing obsession with the UN's role in Nepal. "India does not want extended Security Council attention on its backyard," said the report, citing cases where New Delhi not only sniped from the sidelines but also stirred up public controversy. Interestingly, the group's latest recommendations included a Security Council visit to Nepal to understand the complex situation. This idea was initially floated by Russia, which is one of the five permanent (veto-wielding) members of the Security Council, along with Britain, China, France and the US.

China is another issue for India. One of the questions the visiting Nepali prime minister faced during a media interaction in New Delhi related to Nepal's alleged temptation to use the "China card" against India. Mr Nepal assured his audience by saying that his country understood the security concerns of India. In reality, Nepal needs to address the concerns of China as well, such as "Free Tibet" campaigners who regularly obtain support from Tibetans living in exile in Dharmashala, India.

This raises the issue of whether the Chinese threat the Indians consistently refer to is real. While remaining watchful about its security interests, China has not interfered in Nepal's domestic politics. Studies like the one conducted by the Crisis Group underline the Indian tendency to justify their meddlesome measures on the basis of a threat perception from China.

One striking example is the the Prachanda-led government's decision to sack the army chief, General Rookmangud Katawal. New Delhi claimed the decision, taken in early May, was made on the promptings of Beijing. "There is, however, no evidence that China incited the Maoists to sack the chief of the army staff," the Crisis Group said.

It is also true that since most of the Maoist leaders took shelter in India for many years, Beijing has not yet accepted them as reliable comrades. "To use them once in a while is one thing, but to rely on them as a permanent political force is quite another matter," said Congress leader Bastola, who was involved in the early phase of negotiations with Maoist leaders, conducted at an undisclosed location in New Delhi.

If China is at all increasing its presence and interest in Nepal, it is, ironically, facilitated by India. India's policy of shifting its focus from the hills to the flatland of the Terai region is obviously creating a vacuum in the mountains, thereby leaving space for China to fill. In Bastola's opinion, the Indians are unnecessarily putting blame on others for their own flawed policies and faulty designs.

Dhruba Adhikary is a Kathmandu-based journalist.

2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Globalisation - the view from Bhutan : Lyonpo Jigme Thinley

If globalisation creates insecurity and shaming disparities of wealth, it will not work. For prosperity to be truly shared, says Bhutan’s foreign minister, the world needs an ethic of solidarity and sharing rather than profit.25 - 10 - 2001

Together, the developing world accounts for four-fifths of the world population. We have an abundance of natural resources and an awesome capacity to alter the course of the world. For all our diversity in religion, culture, race, and ideology, some questions may be asked about globalisation on behalf of all of us.
To start with, what is it? Is globalisation a natural progression towards a state where all the evils of society will be removed by means of integration and an equitable world order? Or is it a ‘conspiracy’ of the industrialised countries to establish and maintain a new world order which will consolidate and perpetuate the interests of a privileged minority of the world’s population?

We should ask ourselves why it is that the industrialised countries are generally enthusiastic about globalisation, while the developing states are possessed by doubts and anxieties? For a start, the definition and rationale of globalisation emanate from the developed countries. The main players and beneficiaries who propel the processes are the industrialised countries led by the G8 and the large multinational corporations based mainly in the West.

In addition, the institutions which frame the rules of the game are perceived to be under the control of the industrialised countries, notwithstanding their democratic structures. Finally, the situation speaks for itself: deepening poverty in many developing countries contrasts sharply with the growing affluence in the West.

If we accept that globalisation is a product of human activity, how might we manage it to serve the larger interest of human progress? In order to stimulate reflection and debate I shall focus not so much on the positive aspects of globalisation, but on the less palatable aspects.

One-sided economics

In the economic realm, globalisation has come to mean the supremacy of market forces through a set of rules. These are established on the premise that national governments are inefficient, and their regulations a hindrance to the free movement of goods, services and capital which bring with them the promise of growth and prosperity. The primary purpose of these rules, therefore, is to invalidate and dismantle national laws and regulations and to promote market liberalisation. The WTO – the brainchild of the industrialised world – was set up to this end, in order to preside over free trade.

In the view of the developing world, the industrialized countries are leading the way in a process of establishing these rules – only in order to break them. In order to maintain their lead against international competition in crucial areas, they have resisted moves to free up the movement of labour; insisted upon universalising labour standards and imposed anti-dumping charges. They have developed a fixation with garment quotas and with restricting transfers of knowledge and technology.

This has led critics of globalisation to allege that liberalisation is one-sided. The South Centre has observed that while liberalisation is largely complete among industrialised countries with very low tariff rates on most manufactured goods, the developing countries continue to be faced with higher tariffs, particularly in regard to their most valuable exports – agriculture and textiles.

It took thirty years for rich countries to agree to open their markets to textile and clothing exports from the countries of the south. Even that agreement remains to be implemented. Hence the oft-repeated cliché about a “level playing field”. This conjures up an image of little David having to face the wrathful might of Goliath without so much as a sling.

In addition, we have the common, often valid complaint of a lack of transparency with respect to the way in which the rules are negotiated. Typically, the developing countries react to this situation with discord, frustration and submission. It is little wonder, then, that rules favoring the strong are passed.

Politics – a divided scene

The world changed with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The days of rivalry along ideological, political, military and trade blocks ended with the convulsive ending of the Cold War. Globalisation gained an amazing impetus. And the third world was no more. North-south dialogue was rudely halted and the development agenda was shelved. Meanwhile, the UN was visibly weakened, crippled by pecuniary limitations imposed with brazen impunity by certain members who enjoy powers beyond ordinary membership.

No longer wooed by the Cold War rivals and their proxies in the new uni-polar world, the developing countries remain divided, further disadvantaged by having lost their value. As they struggle against marginalisation, it is only natural that many will pick up whatever crumbs they can along the tracks of the global gravy express.

But is it surprising if they are beginning to assert their sovereignty against international rules and regulations which are imposed in ways that are neither culturally sensitive, nor considerate of differing stages of development? As various multilateral institutions and mechanisms become more and more intrusive and authoritarian, and as they challenge the legitimacy of sovereign rights against international norms, developing countries have become helpless against external shocks and the domestic consequences of free trade.

Multinational pressure

There is also the question of NGOs, both external and homegrown – the latter being usually financed by the former, or similar sources. Increasingly, NGOs too come with their own rules, ones which question the political legitimacy of host governments.

Then there are the multinationals for whom the interests of communities and even customers must yield to those of their shareholders. The ways in which they can extract the connivance of both governments and public in developing countries when they need it are numerous indeed.

Of course, there is also a plus side to this multinational pressure. For the wonders of instant and continuous information have put every government under global scrutiny against the yardstick of human rights, justice, and accountability. To this, one can add the incentive from multinationals and investors who demand the preconditions of an enabling environment within a democratic establishment.

Disappointed expectations

Developing countries will not be able to survive and compete successfully in a globalised world without considerable growth in the social service sector, which is essential for their physical and intellectual empowerment. The Millennium Summit of the UN resolved to reduce poverty by half by the year 2015. It did so confident that higher growth would raise levels of employment, wages, and improve access to standards of health, education and other social services.

In reality developing countries have not witnessed this expected growth. While it is beyond the power of a country to alleviate rising poverty, Overseas Development Aid (ODA) flows have trickled, and soaring debt burdens have served to aggravate gaping wounds. ODA has declined in the ’90s to an average of 0.2% of GDP from the OECD countries. This contrasts with their pledge of a minimum of 0.7%. The illiterate and the sick in many developing countries will continue to see their governments spending more on debt servicing than on their education and health.

Allowing the free flow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the developing countries was supposed to render the begging bowl unnecessary. We know now that FDI flows and the participation of the multinationals are not in the direction where investment is needed, but where there is profit. Even where such flows do take place, it has resulted in the widening of the social divide. It has given greater access to a higher quality of services to the already advantaged.

The Bretton Woods Institutions, on the other hand, have until recently resisted the call for a fundamental change in their principles and approaches. This has caused serious problems to developing countries.

Where more government did not mean more services, less government does not appear to be more advantageous for the poor. And as globalisation continues to accelerate on the wings of profit, social responsibility seems to have flown away from our collective conscience. It is not in the normal nature of market forces or the multinational corporations to show concern for equity, or to feel responsible for those who cannot afford their goods or services.

What chance of change?

Can this change? For developing countries with large populations of poor people, the government’s role is crucial. It must intervene to supplement the actions of the market forces, at the very least to establish, promote and protect arrangements for the distribution of basic services, fair wages, food security and so forth.

This need is glaring in the shameful disparities that have come to characterise our society as never before. Boundless affluence exists amidst an extreme misery of poverty, deprivation and sickness. During the last decade of accelerated globalisation, global inequality has become worse than ever, and per capita incomes have actually fallen in fifty countries.

This yawning divide is even being felt in industrialised countries. There is increased insecurity in the work-place under threat of mergers and shift of production lines to low-wage economies. Globally, the number of people who earn less than one dollar per day increased to 520 million in 1998. Against this tale of misery, value of shares and stocks rose on Wall Street and elsewhere. Since 1970, the wealth of the industrialised countries has doubled.

Social impacts

The impact of globalisation on the social fabric has been stark. Increasing urbanisation has brought about the disintegration of family and community, cohesion and cooperation. Most notably, the revered tradition of extended family – that unfailing social safety net – is fading into memory even as we extol its virtues. At the same time, the very foundation of the welfare state, that product of Western ingenuity, is also being shaken to its very roots.

The sinking health of our environment is largely attributable to the developed countries. Yet it is the poorer countries that are forced to choose between conservation and population pressure for more land. What is needed is genuine solidarity and equilateral cooperation in a spirit of shared responsibility. But the solutions propounded by the countries of the North tend to be based on the application of their economic and political powers.

When it comes to the transfer of science and technology, current arrangements regulating the transfer including Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) are not designed to facilitate the flow of knowledge. Patent rights in particular, have hindered and in some cases halted the cross-fertilisation and spread of knowledge.

The monopoly enjoyed by the pharmaceutical companies on their products is only the most glaring example of this. This goes far beyond the right to earn a reasonable return on the investment which ostensibly justifies it. The plight of AIDS and HIV patients in Africa desperately crying out for medicine comes vividly to mind.

As for the security perspective, globalisation seems to have failed humanity. It has failed to rid humanity of the spectre of a nuclear holocaust. Arms and armies are as prominent and threatening as ever, and the oiling of the weapons industry of the rich countries by the developing countries remains a glaring irony. So too is the fact that the five permanent members of the Security Council top the league of arms exporters. Wealth may be one way of pursuing security but it seems that creating insecurity is one way of pursuing wealth.

Gross National Happiness

Unless the course of globalisation changes, the UN millennium summit goal will remain a dream. Yet there is hope. The industrialised countries and the multilateral financial institutions have pledged to address the plight of the poor with more urgency. Their agenda includes some debt cancellation, a development plan for Africa and a global fund for the fight against AIDS/HIV. But are these pledges being realised?

I have tried fairly to represent the developing countries’ sense of fear and injustice. But I have spoken little of the amazing ways in which globalisation has touched and uplifted the people of the developing world.

Globalisation is the product of our collective action, and it is in our collective interest to generate the will and capacity to fashion it into a creative force. Our world is shrinking by the day. The impact of the ideas and actions of individuals and countries can and do have unimaginable consequences for the rest of the world. We cannot avoid but bang into each other everywhere, all the time. It is therefore vital that we strive to live equitably. Without this there can be no harmony, only constant collision.

Humanity must evolve a new set of ethics, a new approach to sharing rather than profiting. We need to accept that prosperity amidst inequity is fragile and evanescent. In the final analysis, wealth is only a means to the happiness that the human individual seeks in life. Therein lies the philosophy behind the objective of Gross National Happiness (GNH) that my own country in the high Himalayas has undertaken to pursue. But happiness is only an emotional state of being. It is an illusion. Is there anything absolute and permanent in the nature of prosperity? It too is an illusion. The only way that an illusion can be sustained is when it is shared by everyone.