The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Election day PHOTOS: BBC

Bhutan opposition threatens to resign over unfair election

Small party vows to resign from Himalayan country's first elected parliament

DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/Getty ImagesA Bhutanese polling officer (R) prepares to disconnects the Electronic Voting Mechine (EVM) in the presence of the other polling officers at the end of counting at a polling center in Thimphu on March ...
NEW DELHI -- After a century of absolute royal rule, when politics moved at a glacial pace, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan became the world's newest democracy this week.

Yesterday it almost became a one-party state as members of its fledgling opposition said the country's first-ever general election had been unfair and they would resign from parliament.

The People's Democratic Party (PDP) won only two seats in the 47-member assembly, but both candidates said they would not take up their seats, alleging civil servants from the capital Thimpu had unfairly influenced the results after campaigning closed.

"We found that thousands of people descended on our villages, civil servants and people from the towns," said Tashi Tsering, a PDP spokesman.

"They went and did a lot of informal campaigning, which had a big influence on the results. This is completely against the law."

Bhutanese turned out in huge numbers to vote in the polls after the king urged them to embrace democracy. Thimpu was deserted as many people returned to their villages.

But everyone was shocked by the result, a landslide in favour of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), which won 45 seats.

Political analysts said the vote was an endorsement of Jigmi Thinley, the DPT leader and a former prime minister. He is also a close advisor to the kings of Bhutan and a staunch monarchist.

But it was also a vote, they said, against the king's relatives by marriage who were seen as having used their influence to buy land cheaply and dominate business.

Sangay Ngedup, the PDP leader, is another former prime minister and uncle of the present king. He was thought to be popular with older rural voters for his record as agriculture minister, but lost his riding to a school teacher.

"With two members in opposition, that hardly constitutes an opposition," said Mr. Tsering.

"They felt they would rather use their resignations to try and get the election commission to look into these matters."

He added the PDP was not asking for a re-run of the polls.

"What we would like is that those responsible for breaking the law are held to account," he said.

The DPT declined to comment.

Kunzang Wangdi, Bhutan's chief election commissioner, said any resignations had to be submitted to the speaker once parliament convened.

"The election was free and fair and witnessed by the international media and independent observers," he said.

Reuters © 2008

Gross national sadness

Norwegian Refugee Council sets record straight on Bhutan
By Gyan Subba
Geo-politics is all about double standards and national interest. The Americans invade Iraq, ostensibly to restore democracy and get rid of Saddam, but everyone knows it is about oil.

NRC Reports: Bhutan Norwegian Refugee Council, Oslo January 2008 ISBN: 978 82 7411 176 1
India backs Nepal’s democracy movement, but is in bed with the Burmese junta. Everyone knows it’s about gas.
But how does one explain India’s outright support for Bhutan’s eviction of 100,000 refugees, and its help in transporting them to Nepal. It can’t only be about hydropower.
Not just New Delhi, the ‘international community’ has been a mute by-stander to the world’s biggest refugee crisis in per-capita terms—Bhutan’s eviction of one-sixth of its population 17 years ago. There is more media coverage and outrage about 22,000 Tibetan refugees in Nepal than five times as many Bhutanis. Could it be because most Bhutani refugees are not Buddhists?
Finally, some Europeans seem to have taken notice that something is rotten in the kingdom of Bhutan. The Norwegian Refugee Council has timed its newsletter covering the refugee crisis for Bhutan’s first election this week. And to set things right for past neglect, it is a sharp indictment of the gross violation of human rights of its citizens perpetrated by the Druk regime.
‘Despite the extensive abuse of its own population, the country has—to a large extent—managed to avoid criticism in the international media,’ writes NRC Reports editor, Richard Skretteberg. ‘On the contrary, the media has often helped perpetuate the myth of an exotic land of happiness. However, what we have before us is a silent tragedy occurring in a media-created Shangri-la.’
Better late than never to say this. Finally someone in Europe has picked up what the Nepali media has been banging its head on for nearly two decades to get the world to take notice.
NRC Reports goes on to highlight the threats, detentions, confiscation of property that led to the original ethnic cleansing in 1991, and the Bhutani regime’s delaying tactics on their return with the direct collusion of India.
‘India bears a significant responsibility for finding a solution for the Bhutanese refugees…but the greater responsibility lies with Bhutan itself,” adds Skretteberg.
The NRC Reports also pokes holes in Bhutan’s ‘democratic elections’ this week.
The 2005 census in Bhutan has defined 13 percent of the population, mostly Lhotsampas, as non-nationals which means 82,000 Bhutanis within Bhutan weren’t allowed to vote in this week’s elections.
‘Exclusion of an ethnic group before an elections cannot be considered real democratisation,’ says the Report.
The report says there can be only three durable solutions to the crisis: repatriation to Bhutan, local integration in Nepal or resettlement. On repatriation, it accuses the Bhutani regime of being intrasigent and not even allowing back those classified as genuine Bhutanis in 2003. Local integration would be Nepal’s responsibility and Kathmandu has also been dragging its feet on extending citizenship even to those born in the camps and Bhutanis married to Nepalis after coming here.
The resettlement option for 85,000 Bhutanis to settle in western countries has created tension within the camps and the report calls on the resettlement to be entirely voluntary and the refugees allowed to retain the right to return to Bhutan.
What the report does not shed light on is the biggest mystery of all: how a tiny country of 700,000 people can arm-twist a giant neighbour of one billion people and charm western politicians and foreign aid bureaucrats to get away with ethnic cleansing. Not only is Bhutan not punished, it is now being congratulated for having ‘democratic elections’.
Coutesy: Nepali times

First of 60,000 refugees from Bhutan arrive in U.S.

First group, 121 refugees, arrives to resettle in New York, Chicago, other cities
U.S. has agreed to take 60,000 refugees; six other nations taking 10,000 each
Refugees are ethnic Nepalis who were forced into exile, human rights group says
Some refugees don't want to come to U.S., still hoping to return to Bhutan

KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNN) -- Bhutanese refugees began arriving in the United States on Tuesday, the first wave of what the United Nations describes as one of the world's largest resettlement efforts.
The U.S. has offered to resettle 60,000 of the estimated 107,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese origin now living in seven U.N. camps in southeastern Nepal -- their home for the past 17 years. Six other nations -- Australia, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, New Zealand and Denmark -- have offered to resettle 10,000 each.
"Once they arrive, they will be sent to different cities around the U.S.," said David Derthick, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, which is screening and transporting the refugees.
The first group, arriving throughout the week, includes 121 refugees. They are being sent to New York; Chicago, Illinois; Syracuse, New York; St. Louis, Missouri; and other cities, the International Organization for Migration said.
The United Nations said several families had arrived in New York as of Tuesday, and more are en route to locations in Texas, Arizona and Maryland.
So far, however, only about 25,000 of the refugees have registered for resettlement, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Web site, and not many more than 10,000 are expected to leave Nepal by the end of the year.
Bhutan, wedged between China and India, is a Buddhist kingdom about half the size of the U.S. state of Indiana. It's considered one of the world's most isolated countries and the government strictly regulates foreign influences, including tourism, to preserve the country's Buddhist culture. See Bhutan on a map »

The country had no electricity, paved roads, cars, telephones or postal service until the 1960s. It allowed access to television and the Internet only in 1999.
Bhutan stripped the minority ethnic Nepalis of their citizenship and forced them into exile in the early 1990s, allegedly in an attempt to ensure a homogenous culture, according to the independent, nongovernmental group Human Rights Watch. Many of the Nepalis have taken up arms and joined with violent Maoist rebels, the group said.
The refugees claim they were forced to leave Bhutan by security forces, but Bhutan has disputed whether all are truly refugees.
Some 15 rounds of talks between Nepal and Bhutan have failed to resolve the issue.
The United States' resettlement plan has divided the refugee community, as members disagree over whether it is best to resettle in the United States or hang onto hopes of returning to Bhutan.
A report posted on the UNHCR Web site quotes refugees who have chosen to go to the United States.
"We chose to resettle because there was no other outlet," said refugee Jay Narayan Adhikari. "Talks between Nepal and Bhutan have produced no results."
"Everyone says 'America, America, America,' but I don't know much about it," said his wife, Sita, according to the U.N. report. "It's only for the sake of the children that we are ready to go."
Nearby, the Bajgai family was separating because of its large size. Three children were leaving first, to be joined by the others later, the report said. Two of the daughters were crying as they packed their bags, but their mother told them: "Why are you crying? We have nothing here anyway. We will join you soon. Our future will be brighter there."
Of the 25,000 who have registered for resettlement, more than 12,000 names have been submitted for consideration for host countries, mainly the United States, the UNHCR said. More refugees are expected to register after they hear how those in the first group have been integrated into new homes, it said.
Bhutan became the world's newest democracy on Monday when an election ended more than 100 years of royal rule in the South Asian nation. Watch Bhutanese line up to vote »
Officials in Bhutan declared the first elections in the Himalayan kingdom a resounding success.
Officials said 79.4 percent of the country's 318,465 registered voters went to the polls -- a surprisingly large turnout for a populace that had largely said they preferred to remain under the rule of their revered king.
But many Bhutanese changed their minds after former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck went around the country pitching his case for the elections.

12000 Bhutanese refugees to be resettled in US and other countries

Kathmandu, Mar 25:

Out of 108,000 Bhutanese refugees living in seven camps in Goldhap Refugee Camp of Jhapa in eastern Nepal, 12,000 persons have been referred for resettlement in seven different countries.
The process of interviewing refugees who are interested on the resettlement proposal will continue, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) yesterday said. The UNHCR has referred slightly more than 11,000 persons for resettlement to the United States of America and approximately 800 persons to Australia, slightly more than 150 to New Zealand, and smaller numbers to Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway.''To date, over 2,500 persons have been accepted by the US, which will interview refugees on a regular basis at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) office in Damak'' the state run media quoted UNHCR officials as saying at a press conference in Jhapa. UNHCR informed that more than 100 persons have already been accepted by New Zealand. Many refugees have been interviewed by officers from Australia and are in various stages of processing.Other countries have also accepted smaller numbers - Canada 29, Denmark 13, Netherlands 32 and Norway has accepted 24 persons. The Nepal government has provided exit permission and travel documents to over 600 persons who would be departing for resettlement. Fewer than 20 refugees were left for resettlement in 2006 and 2007, according to UNHCR. By March-end 2008, it is anticipated that over 200 persons would have departed to third countries. ''This trend will continue with more departures scheduled for each month. By the end of 2008, IOM anticipates that 1,500 persons will be leaving for third countries each month,'' UNHCR said. The organisation estimates that by the end of 2008, more than 10,000 persons will be departed for new homes, many of them to the US. The US has said it will provide at least 60,000 resettlement places but will consider more if there is a need. Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Norway are considering providing in total up to 10,000 resettlement places for these refugees over several years. Canada will begin interviewing refugees later this year and other resettlement countries will also travel to Nepal during 2008 to do the same, UNHCR informed.
--- UNI

Over 100 Bhutanese Exiles in Nepal being resettled in United States – UN

Refugees in Goldhap camp in eastern Nepal25 March 2008 – One of the largest refugee resettlement operations in the world has been launched this week, with more than 100 Bhutanese refugees in eastern Nepal heading to the United States to begin new lives, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported.
“This is the largest movement of refugees from Nepal’s camps so far, and the pace will pick up in the coming months,” agency spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva.
By the close of 2008, over 10,000 refugees are expected to leave Nepal for resettlement in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway.
Currently, there are more than 107,000 refugees – who left Bhutan in the early 1990s – residing in seven camps in eastern Nepal.
Some 25,000 refugees have registered for resettlement, UNHCR said. The agency has submitted more than 12,000 names to third countries, mostly to the US.
“More refugees are expected to come forward for resettlement after they hear of how the first groups integrate in their new homes,” Ms. Pagonis noted, adding that others are holding out for a chance to return to Bhutan.
Earlier this month, UNHCR appealed for funds after a devastating fire destroyed 95 per cent of the Goldhap refugee camp and left most of its 9,770 residents homeless.