Villagers hoodwinked

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 June, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 June, 1995, 12:00am

I REFER to the article which appeared on page three of Agenda, in the Sunday Morning Post, on May 28, headlined, 'Nightmare in the Himalayas', which I believe was inaccurate.

The so-called 'pro-democracy movement' in Bhutan of September, 1990, was a cunningly-organised but ultimately futile effort by persons illegally or illicitly settled in Bhutan since 1958, to bypass detection and inevitable expulsion.

In that month, villagers were hoodwinked or cajoled into joining demonstration marches on district offices in southern Bhutan.

The 'movement' was (and continues to be) solely an ethnic Nepalese political tactic.

Some 40,000 illegal Nepalese immigrants were evicted from Bhutan from February 1988.

Militants gathered these people into camps in eastern Nepal.

After 1990 other (legal) villagers left southern Bhutan - many voluntarily renouncing citizenship rights - in response to pressures from Nepali activists, and were transported to the camps.

The 'anti-nationals' seek to return the illegals, plus 60,000 or more other Nepalese, to settle on Bhutanese territory as if they were full Bhutanese citizens. Meanwhile, many loyal Bhutanese villagers of Nepali origin remain in the south despite regular threats and actual violence against their property and lives.

My on-the-spot research in the Samtse and Gomtu areas confirms that the 'shooting of 300' in September 1990 is untrue.

The alleged 'demolition' of 'several hundred thousand . . . houses, shops or places of worship' is also untrue.

Bhutan is a very small country, with a very small population.

I visited many 'working' Hindu temples in southern Bhutan in the winter of 1993. Bhutan's royal family has for many years displayed respect for Hinduism.

Bhutan's 1989 dress code, requiring formal national dress for formal occasions, was adopted following extensive discussions throughout the country and was agreed to by several representative meetings of all southern village heads.

Tek Nath Rizal's so-called 'campaign for human rights' from 1989 onwards was a plan for the wresting of political power from the throne and assembly in Thimphu. Rizal was tried and sentenced in 1994 to life imprisonment for treason, with an extensive reasoned judgment by Bhutan's High Court.

King Jigme Wangchuck granted him a full reprieve, effective from the time of settlement of Nepal-Bhutan differences over the people in the Nepal camps.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention under the UN Commission on Human Rights visited Bhutan in 1994, and reported to the UN Commission on Human Rights (51st session, Geneva, March 1995) that: 'The detention of Tek Nath Rizal is not held to be in contravention of Articles 9, 10 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 9, 14 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and is therefore declared not to be arbitrary.' At the invitation of the Bhutan Government, the International Committee of the Red Cross since January, 1991, has regularly (most recently last month) sent inspection teams to review detention conditions and to speak with detainees, including Tek Nath Rizal. Bhutan does not have the capacity to hold 'close to 10,000 activists'. There are few jails in Bhutan.

The purpose-built facility at Chemgang houses less than 200 'anti-national' detainees charged with criminal offences. Nearly 2,000 southern detainees have been amnestied since September, 1990, and most flee the country on release. There is neither a policy nor practice of eviction of citizens. Penalties for unofficial actions resulting in such forced evictions were reaffirmed in January, 1993.

If legitimate citizens prove they were forced to leave, the door to redress remains open.

At Bhutan's initiative, the Nepal and Bhutan governments have been meeting since July 1993, to settle the question of precisely who in the camps are Bhutanese citizens. Nepal's newly-elected Marxist-Leninist government asserted (at the March, 1995 meeting of the joint committee) that all the people in the camps should be settled in Bhutan. This rhetorical view, reverting to the initial position of the former Nepal government, is both unacceptable to Bhutan and at variance with documentary evidence.

Nevertheless, its repeated public assertion may prelude a privately more rational analysis.

Your correspondent asserts that 'Nepal officials [and others] believe that Indian government intervention is necessary to solve the problem'.

The Indian Government can speak for itself, but it fully supports Bhutan.

Both Bhutan and India are committed to the settlement of the issues between Nepal and Bhutan as a strictly bilateral issue. Only Nepal wants to involve India.

Dr BRIAN C. SHAW Honorary Research Fellow Centre of Asian Studies University of Hong Kong