Selling the “Southern Problem”

Over the past two years, Lhostampa exiles and the Thimphu government have published their version of events. Also, a South Asian jurists' report was released in early August 1992 in Colombo. Sri Lanka.

The Facts behind Recent Developments in Southern Bhutan.

This booklet was produced to defend the policy of One Nation, One Identity against attack by Lhotshampa leaders. It starts with Thimphu's version of how "anti-national" activities began in the schools and colleges of southern Bhutan and describes King Jigme's magnanimity in granting amnesty based on "his strong faith in the people," and the treachery of Tek Nath Rizal, once "an ordinary bulldozer driver" who was "sent to Australia by His Majesty so that he could learn English and broaden his outlook."

The text goes on to discuss the betrayal of trust by the faculty and students of the National Institute of Education, the Sherbutse College and the Royal Bhutan Polytechnic; defends the need for the 1988 census as "past records were totally unreliable and extremely inaccurate"; defends the mandatory wearing of the gho and kira underlining the "unavoidable necessity for a small country like Bhutan to have an easily recognisable type of dress"; justifies the promotion of Dzongkha as the national language; maintains that the South has received more than a fair share of the development budget; and on human rights states that, "Every Bhutanese citizen is completely equal before the law irrespective of whether they are Royal Family members, Government officials, businessmen or simple farmers."

The booklet does not have a date on it, but the copy Himal received has a penned note on the cover saying that it was "received from His Majesty the King, on Monday, dated 26 February 1990 at Samchi. Attended the meeting for six hours."

Anti-National Activities in Southern Bhutan: A Terrorist Movement

(Department of Information, Thimphu, September 1991). After defending the policy of national cultural integration and describing development efforts in southern Bhutan and the availability of education and health facilities, the book focuses on the "terrorist acts that have been perpetrated by the anti-nationals" since mid-1989. The text speaks of extortion, dacoity, sabotage, hijacking, kidnapping, murder, brutal torture, mutilation and decapitations, and as its centerpiece provides colour close-ups of the same.

The militancy that has taken place along the southern border appears to be of great propaganda value to the Bhutanese Government. The Embassy in New Delhi distributes stacks of colour pictures to inquiring journalists, showing in colour burnt schoolhouses, blown up electricity pylons and explicit views of mutilated bodies. The majority of these pictures, most of which are included in the booklet, are from 1990 and the latest one is dated 9 September1991.

There is also a picture —widely reproduced in Indian newspapers — of "a contingent of antinational terrorists" under custody. Refugee leaders claim these are prisoners of the September 1990 rally forcibly made to pose in camouflage fatigues. Another shows "arms recovered from anti-national terrorists," the majority of them muzzle-loaders, which the refugees claim are actually licensed arms deposited with the Government under orders.

The Bhutan Tragedy: When Will it End?

(INSEC, Kathmandu and the International Centre for Law in Development, New York, 1992). Subtitled the "First Report of the SAARC Jurists Mission on Bhutan", this report was prepared by a team of South Asian jurists: Justices Krishna Iyer of India, K.M. Subhan of Bangladesh and P.B. Singh of Nepal, as well as lawyer and human rights activist Clarence Dias. The facilitator was Prakash Kaphley of INSEC, who died in the Thai Airways jet disaster on 31 July 1992 while returning from Colombo, where the book was launched. Incidentally, two jurists were unable to visit Thimphu for the purpose of compiling the report because Druk Air in Kathmandu refused to accept their confirmed tickets.

The report contains much information that is valuable for those following events in Druk Yul. Two criticisms are that the tone is too strident and polemical for a jurists' report, which needlessly undermines its strength, and that the use of the term "SAARC Jurists" implies the mission had the official sanction of the SAARC organisation, which clearly was not the case.

The jurists, in their "unanimous findings", state that the enactment of a number of discriminatory law and policies in the mid-1980s has triggered serious human rights violations in south Bhutan. These laws are being implemented in an arbitrary, discriminatory and "intimidatory" manner; there has been "systemic and manifold discrimination" against the Lhotshampas; the discrimination has been "conscious and directed" by sections of the ruling authorities; citizenship rights of a majority of southern Bhutanese have been illegally confiscated; there have been attempts at forced national integration; there have been widespread violations in the south of the rights to education, health and basic goods and services; there has been massive suppression of the right to dissent, associate and assemble; access to human rights organisations has been denied; and "there have been instances of ethnocide."

The report provides a review of Bhutan's laws, stating that "the 1985 Citizenship Law virtually confiscates citizenship rights by the ingenious device of changing the definition of citizenship." It also challenges Government claim that a small country like Bhutan cannot afford the luxury of diversity, stating that no Government document has shown "that ethnic diversity has in fact impeded the growth of social harmony and unity." The book's appendix provides much additional material, including relevant Bhutanese laws and Tshongdu resolutions, Government notifications and reports, petitions to the King, statements made by refugees ("Voices of Pain"), "victim's documents", and a BPP-produced chronology of events.

Bhutan: An Iron Path to Democracy

(INHURED, Kathmandu, 1992). Written by S.K. Pradhan, General Secretary of the BPP, this publication briefly reviews Bhutanese history and legal system, and then homes in on "denial of the right to nationality." It describes the process of granting citizenship and provides a comparison of citizenship laws of 1958, 1977 and 1985. The text expresses indignation that "the 1985 act was given retrospective implementation from 1958, superseding all previous laws and bylaws on citizenship before 1985."

The booklet also contains sections on Drig Lam Namzha, the "peace protests" of the fall of 1990, and provides separate lists of the unlawfully detained, killed and injured, the houses demolished and burned, abduction, disappearance and rape.

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