The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001.  Please see www.state.gov for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date.  This site is not updated so external links may no longer function.  Contact us with any questions about finding information.

NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

Department Seal

flag
bar


TITLE: BHUTAN HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE: FEBRUARY 1995




                            BHUTAN*


The Wangchuck dynasty of hereditary monarchs has ruled Bhutan 
since 1907.  Located in the Himalayas between India and Tibet, 
the small Kingdom has been able to escape domination by any 
external power since the 10th century.  There is no written 
constitution or bill of rights.  King Jigme Sinhye Wangchuck, 
on the throne since 1972, has continued some efforts toward 
social and political modernization begun by his father.  
However, in the past half-decade government efforts to repress 
ethnic Nepalese has sidetracked further progress.  Buddhist 
citizens fear for the survival of their culture and identity 
because of the rapid growth of the Nepalese segment of the 
population.  Buddhists constitute one-half to two-thirds of the 
population and generally inhabit the northern areas of the 
Kingdom.  About one-third of the population, living mostly in 
the southern districts, is Hindu of Nepalese origin.

The Royal Bhutan Police, a force of about 5,000, assisted by 
the Royal Bhutan Army, with approximately 7,000 lightly armed 
men, and a militia of about 10,000, maintains internal 
security.  These forces have committed gross human rights 
abuses against ethnic Nepalese in the past, and the Government 
has failed to prosecute those responsible.

An estimated 90 percent of Bhutan's 600,000 population live in 
rural areas on subsistence agriculture in a mainly barter 
economy and are largely illiterate.  India is Bhutan's main 
trading partner and principal source of foreign exchange.

The human rights situation improved slightly, but many basic 
rights remain restricted.  There was insufficient information 
to determine if the Government continued to sanction the 
expulsion of ethnic Nepalese.  These people continued to arrive 
in refugee camps in eastern Nepal, although in much lower 
numbers than in the past few years.  Some refugees claim that 
they were evicted by security forces.  From 1989 to 1992, 
Bhutanese authorities forcibly expelled tens of thousands of 
people declared to be illegal immigrants under the 1985 
Citizenship Act.  Other rights are also restricted.  The 
citizens do not have the right to change their government, and 
there are significant limitations on the right to a fair trial, 
peaceful association and assembly, and on worker rights.  
Traditional cultural practices discriminate against women.

                    
*The United States does not have an embassy in Bhutan.  
Information on the human rights situation is therefore limited.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no independent confirmations of political or 
extrajudicial killings.  However, the government-controlled 
weekly newspaper continued to describe dozens of incidents in 
which unidentified men staged hit-and-run attacks on civilians 
living in the south, resulting in some deaths.  Many attacks, 
described by the Government as political terrorism, appear to 
have been the work of criminal gangs taking advantage of 
unsettled conditions on the border with India.

     b.  Disappearance

From 1989-92, police and army forces arrested thousands of 
ethnic Nepalese suspected of supporting the dissident 
movement.  Some have been held in incommunicado detention; 
others have disappeared.  The Government has denied 
responsibility for any disappearances.  In the past few years, 
the Government released from detention at least 1,666 ethnic 
Nepalese under official amnesties, including 23 on February 
22.  Among those amnestied in February was Deo Dutta Sharma, a 
student leader who says he was abducted by the Royal Bhutan 
Police from the Indian state of West Bengal in December 1989.  
After his release, Sharma claimed he was held in solitary 
confinement for the first 3 years of his detention.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

According to local human rights groups, allegations of torture 
and rape in southern Bhutan decreased at the end of 1993.  
However, there was little evidence of that the Government 
investigated or punished security force officials implicated in 
the widespread abuses reported during 1989-1992.  Government 
forces committed these abuses in southern Bhutan as part of an 
effort to reduce the presence of ethnic Nepalese (see Section 
5).  This policy created a climate of impunity in which the 
Government tacitly condoned the physical abuse of ethnic 
Nepalese.

The Human Rights Organization of Bhutan (HUROB), the People's 
Forum for Human Rights, Bhutan (PFHRB), and the South Asia 
Human Rights Documentation Center (SAHRDC) published dozens of 
affidavits from victims of rape and torture who fled to refugee 
camps in Nepal.  Several nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) 
in Nepal are providing rehabilitation services to victims of 
torture among those refugees.

Following the 1990 disturbances and mass arrests, prison 
conditions had been poor, with inadequate sanitation, unhealthy 
food, and endemic overcrowding which reportedly resulted in the 
deaths of detainees.  Responding to urging from Amnesty 
International (AI), the Government ended the use of shackles in 
1992.  Representatives from the International Committee of the 
Red Cross (ICRC) began visiting prisons in 1993.  The opening 
of a new prison camp in Chemgang and the release of more than 
1,600 detainees contributed to some improvement in conditions 
of detention.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Arbitrary arrest and detention remain a problem but are not 
routinely used as a form of harassment.  The law does not 
provide for protection against arbitrary arrest.  There are few 
established procedures for processing detainees.  These 
shortcomings in the criminal justice system leave the 
authorities ample room for abuse.  The authorities may arrest 
persons without warrants and detain them for weeks before they 
are brought before a judicial officer.  Delay in informing 
family members of an arrest is commonplace.  Incommunicado 
detention was a serious problem in 1991 and 1992, but the 
initiation of ICRC prison visits and establishment of an ICRC 
mail service between detainees and family members has helped to 
allay this problem.

"Terrorists" caught by village volunteers are generally held in 
detention camps in southern Bhutan before they are transferred 
to prison facilities near the capital.  In many cases, the 
detention of accused "antinationals," a term the Government 
uses to describe some ethnic Nepalese dissidents, is 
arbitrarily prolonged.  At mid-year, the authorities detained 
some 165 detainees on charges related to political unrest in 
southern Bhutan.  Many have been awaiting trial for nearly 4 
years.

Although the Government does not formally use exile a form of 
punishment, many of the accused "antinationals" freed under 
government amnesties say they were released on the condition 
that they depart the country.  Several of them subsequently 
registered at camps in Nepal funded by the United Nations High 
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system consists of district courts and a High 
Court in Thimpu with judges appointed by the Royal Civil 
Service Commission.  Minor offenses and administrative matters 
are adjudicated by village headmen.  Criminal cases and a 
variety of civil matters are adjudicated under a 17th century 
legal code, revised in 1965, which applies to all citizens 
regardless of ethnic origin.  Judges are accountable to the 
King are responsible for all aspects of a case, including 
investigation, filing of charges, prosecution, and judgment.

Defendants have the right to appeal to the High Court, and may 
make a final appeal to the King, who traditionally delegates 
the decision to the Royal Advisory Council.  The legal system 
does not provide for jury trials or the right to a 
court-appointed defense attorney, although it does allow for 
the appointment of a "jambi," a person trained in the law, if 
the defendant so desires.  Defendants are not presented with 
written charges; instead they answer to accusations made orally.

Questions of family law, such as marriage, divorce, and 
adoption are resolved according to a citizen's religion:  
Buddhist law for the majority Buddist population; and Hindu 
law, which predominates in areas inhabited by ethnic Nepalese.

The Government tried and convicted about 40 people over the 
past 2 years on charges of treason and other "antinational" 
activities related to ethnic Nepalese resistance to the 1985 
Citizenship Act and its enforcement by the Government.  In 
addition, some or all of the 129 persons detained in Chemgang 
Prison in connection with anti-national activities may be 
political prisoners.  Tek Nath Rizal, an ethnic Nepalese and 
internationally recognized political prisoner, remained in 
prison following his 1993 conviction under the National 
Security Act.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
         Correspondence

There are no laws providing for these rights, but cultural 
traditions are highly respectful of personal privacy.  However, 
the Government has undermined these traditions by its emphasis 
on promoting national integration.  For example, a royal decree 
issued in 1989 made Drukpa national dress compulsory for all 
citizens.  Anyone found violating the decree may be fined or 
sentenced to jail for a week.  Although observance of the 
decree is lax, there are occasional drives to stiffen 
enforcement, which exposes ethnic Nepalese to intimidation.  
According to human rights groups, police regularly conduct 
house-to-house searches for suspected dissidents without 
explanation or legal justification.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

With an adult literacy rate around 30 percent, Bhutan's 
population is relatively uninfluenced by the print media.  
Kuensel, the Government's weekly newspaper, with a circulation 
of 10,000, is the country's only regular publication.  The 
authorities allow indirect criticism of the King in the 
National Assembly and Kuensel sometimes covers such criticism.  
Indian and other foreign newspapers are available, but 
authorities confiscate and censor editions carrying articles 
critical of the royal family or government policies.

Bhutan has no television broadcast service.  In 1989 the 
Government ordered the dismantlement of all private television 
antennas and satellite receiving dishes.

The government radio station broadcasts each day in the four 
major national languages (Dzongkha, the language of the western 
highlands; Nepali, English; and Sharchop).

At the end of 1990, the Government banned the Nepali language 
as a medium of instruction in Bhutanese schools.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

These freedoms are restricted.  Citizens may engage in peaceful 
assembly and association only for purposes approved by the 
Government.  Although the Government allows civic and business 
organizations, there are no political parties.  The Government 
regards two parties organized by ethnic Nepalese exiles--the 
the BPP and BNDP--as "terrorist and antinational" organizations 
and has declared them illegal.  The parties do not conduct 
activities inside the country.  The BNDP advocates a 
constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy.  The 
BPP seeks an ethnic Nepalese government.

A third exile-based opposition party, the Druk National 
Congress, was launched in mid-1994 by reform-minded persons of 
the Drukpa elite.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

Buddhism is the state religion.  The Government subsidizes 
monasteries and shrines and provides aid to about a third of 
the Kingdom's 12,000 monks.  The monastic establishment enjoys 
statutory representation in the National Assembly and Royal 
Advisory Council and is an influential voice on public policy.  
Citizens of other faiths, mostly Hindus, enjoy freedom of 
worship but may not proselytize.  Under the law, conversions 
are illegal.  The King has declared major Hindu festivals to be 
national holidays, and the royal family participates in them.  
Foreign missionaries are not permitted to proselytize, but 
international Christian relief organizations and Jesuit priests 
are active in education and humanitarian activities.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Some citizens enjoy considerable freedom of movement, but many 
reports indicate that ethnic Nepalese face travel restrictions 
within Bhutan.  The southern border with India is open, and 
people residing in the immediate vicinity cross it freely.  The 
Government has informally limited the admission of tourists to 
4,000 a year, a limit which includes Indians who enter the 
country by airplane or stay in hotels.  There were 2,985 such 
arrivals in 1993.  By treaty, citizens may reside and work in 
India.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Citizens do not have the right to change their government.  
Bhutan is an absolute monarchy, with sovereign power vested in 
the King.  The Government has resisted democratic changes.

Decisionmaking is centered in the royal palace and involves 
only a small number of officials in the civil and religious 
establishment.  Although the present King and his father have 
made some attempts to integrate women and ethnic Nepalese into 
the body politic, the system is still dominated by the male 
members of an aristocracy of Mahayana Buddhist ancestry.

Political parties do not legally exist, and their formation is 
discouraged by the Government.  The Government prohibits two 
parties established by abroad by ethnic Nepalese (see Section 
2.b.).

The National Assembly, established in 1953, is composed of 105 
members elected by limited franchise:  by village headmen in 
Buddhist areas and heads of families in Hindu areas.  Twelve 
members of the Assembly are elected by monastic establishments 
and 33 members are high-level government officials appointed by 
the King.  The Assembly enacts laws, approves senior government 
appointments, and advises the King on matters of national 
importance.  Voting is by secret ballot, with a simple majority 
needed to pass a measure.  The King may not formally veto 
legislation, but may return bills for further consideration.  
The Assembly occasionally rejects the King's recommendations or 
delays implementing them, but in general, the King has enough 
influence to persuade the Assembly to approve legislation he 
considers essential or to withdraw proposals he opposes.  The 
Assembly may question government officials and force them to 
resign by a two-thirds vote of no confidence.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

The Government does not allow local human rights groups.  At 
least three groups established by ethnic Nepalese exiles, 
HUROB, PFHRB, and the Association of Human Rights 
Activists-Bhutan (AHURA), operate abroad and take depositions 
from ethnic Nepalese refugees arriving in Nepal (see Section 
1.c.).  The Government accuses these groups of working for the 
opposition and does not permit them in Bhutan.  These groups 
also conduct international campaigns to put pressure on the 
government and provide human rights education in the refugee 
camps.  However, they rarely report violations committed by 
dissident political groups.

The Government continued to cooperate with humanitarian 
groups.  ICRC representatives continued their periodic prison 
visits, and the Government for the first time allowed them 
access to temporary detention facilities in the south, an area 
inhabited by ethnic Nepalese.  The Government also allowed a 
visit by a team from Refugees International, which traveled 
widely in the south.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

     Women

Bhutan has not developed a rigid caste system or customs that 
sequester or disenfranchise women.  Family land is divided 
equally between sons and daughters, and dowry is not practiced, 
even among ethnic Nepalese Hindus.  A study by the United 
Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) found that boys and girls 
receive equal treatment regarding nutrition and health care.  
This equality is reflected in data showing little difference in 
child mortality rates between the sexes.  UNICEF found that 
among Among urban dwellers, girls are given "equal or nearly 
equal opportunities" to pursue education.  However, government 
data indicate that girls account for only about 40 percent of 
the school population nationwide.  Although traditional 
cultural patterns place girls in a lower status than boys, 
girls are still cherished, as women generally care for parents 
in old age.

The sexes mix freely, and polygyny is sanctioned as long as the 
first wife gives her permission.  Marriages may be arranged by 
partners themselves as well as by their parents.  Divorce is 
common.  Recent legislation requires that all marriages must be 
registered and favors women in matters of alimony.  About 10 
percent of government employees are women.  Women in unskilled 
jobs are generally paid less than men.

Rape was made a criminal offense in 1953, but that law had weak 
penalties and was poorly enforced.  In 1993 the National 
Assembly adopted a revised Rape Act with clear definitions of 
criminal sexual assault and stronger penalties.  In cases of 
rape involving minors, reportedly a growing problem, sentences 
range from 5 to 17 years.  In extreme cases, a rapist may be 
imprisoned for life.

     Children

Children enjoy a privileged position in society and benefit 
from international development programs focused on maternal and 
child welfare.  There is no known pattern of societal abuse 
against children.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Nepalese arrived in Bhutan in large numbers at the turn 
of the century.  The Citizenship Law of 1958 granted 
citizenship to all ethnic Nepalese adults who owned land and 
had lived in Bhutan for at least 10 years (also see Section 
2.d.).  However, the Government maintains that large-scale 
illegal immigration continued and was not detected until the 
1988 census.  The discovery that ethnic Nepalese were close to 
becoming a majority prompted the Government to launch an 
aggressive campaign to reassert Bhutanese, or Drukpa, culture, 
restrict immigration, and expel many ethnic Nepalese.  The 
ruling elite feared that Bhutan's Buddhist society would be 
overwhelmed by the Hindu ethnic Nepalese--as happened in 
neighboring Sikkim, which was annexed by India in 1974.

Early efforts at halting the unfavorable demographic trends 
focused on limiting immigration and attempting to assimilate 
the existing ethnic Nepalese.  Attempts at assimilation 
included financial incentives for intermarriage, education for 
some students in regions other than their own, and direction of 
economic development funds to the south.  By 1989 assimilation 
gave way to policies aimed at "Bhutanization."  Measures 
intended to preserve a national identity required the wearing 
of Bhutanese dress, made the teaching of Dzongkha compulsory, 
and banned instruction in Nepali.

Beginning in early 1988, the Government sought to reduce the 
ethnic Nepalese population by enforcing a 1985 law that 
significantly tightened the requirements for citizenship.  
Until 1985, citizenship was confered upon children if their 
father was a citizen under the 1958 Nationality Law.  However, 
the 1985 act raised this standard by requiring that both 
parents must be citizens to confer citizenship on their 
children.  The Government declared as illegal immigrants all 
residents who could not meet the new requirement.

Residents who lost their citizenship under the 1985 act may 
apply for naturalization, but only after satisfying a rigorous 
set of standards that include proficiency in the Dzongkha 
language and proof of residence during the previous 15 years.

Exile political groups complain the law makes unfair demands 
for documentation on largely illiterate people in a country 
that has only recently adopted basic administrative 
procedures.  They claim many ethnic Nepalese whose families 
have been in Bhutan for generations were expelled because they 
were unable to document their claims to residence.  The 
Government denies this and asserts that the word of village 
leaders is an acceptable substitute for written documentation.  
Refugee groups claim that village elders are not present when 
citizenship interviews are carried out.

The 1985 Citizenship Act also stipulates the revocation of 
citizenship of any naturalized citizen who "has shown by act or 
speech to be disloyal in any manner whatsoever to the King, 
country and people of Bhutan."  The Home Ministry, in a 
circular notification in 1990, advised that "any Bhutanese 
national leaving the country to assist and help the 
antinationals shall no longer be considered as a Bhutanese 
citizen ... such people's family members living under the same 
household will also be held fully responsible and forfeit their 
citizenship."  Human rights groups charge this provision was 
widely used to revoke the citizenship of ethnic Nepalese who 
were subsequently exiled from southern Bhutan.

Arrivals of refugees in the eight camps run by the UNHCR and 
its cooperating agencies in Nepal peaked during 1992.  By 
mid-1994, arrivals had fallen to slightly more than 60 per 
month, reflecting a significant decrease in the number of 
families emigrating from Bhutan.  Independent NGO's reported 
that many of the refugees arriving in Nepal in 1994 had 
unquestioned Bhutanese citizenship and made no claims of 
political persecution in Bhutan.  Most of the arrivals reported 
that they departed Bhutan because of the depopulation in the 
southern districts, a heightened sense of apprehension and 
insecurity, and the desire to be reunited with family members 
already in Nepal.  A group of 284 who arrived in April was 
reportedly composed of bona fide Bhutanese citizens who left 
because of a land dispute.

By May 83,817 refugees were registered in the UNHCR camps, of 
whom about 66,000 arrived in 1992.  Between 5,000 and 15,000 
other refugees are believed to have settled with family members 
in India.  The total outflow of approximately 100,000 people in 
2 years is equal to about 15 percent of Bhutan's population.

The Government maintains that those who have been expelled are 
Nepalese or Indian citizens who arrived in Bhutan after the 
enactment of the 1958 Nationality Law.  It also claims the 
majority of those in Nepal departed Bhutan voluntarily after 
selling their land and property.  Nonetheless, there are 
credible reports that these "voluntary" emigrants were 
compelled to sign away their property by government officials.  
A Nepal-Bhutan joint ministerial committee met in February, 
April, and June to discuss ways to determine which refugees 
might be entitled to return to Bhutan.  These discussions 
achieved little progress.

As concern spread about the growing refugee population in 
Nepal, international pressure mounted on the Government.  In 
response, the Government tried to reduce the outflow of 
migrants from southern Bhutan.  The Government issued a royal 
decree which made the forcible eviction of a citizen a criminal 
offense.  Three government officials were convicted on charges 
of intimidating ethnic Nepalese.  The decree also exempted 
ethnic Nepalese from paying rural taxes and contributing labor 
for development projects in 1992.  However, the exodus had 
gained momentum and by early 1994 visitors reported that much 
of southern Bhutan had become depopulated (see Section 2.d.)

By law southerners may own land and establish business in the 
north, and northerners have the same right in the south.  
Nonetheless, it is reportedly still difficult for ethnic 
Nepalese, except government officials, to buy property in 
Buddhist areas.

Residents are required to provide certificates issued by the 
police for admission to school and government jobs.  For 
example, a February 16 advertisement in the national newspaper 
required a police certificate from students seeking to enter a 
government-supported training course.  Human rights groups 
claim these certificates are used to prevent ethnic Nepalese 
citizens from taking jobs or educational slots in many 
districts of Bhutan.

Exiles student groups accuse the Government of revoking the 
scholarships of ethnic Nepalese students who were accused of 
supporting the dissident movement.  Government critics claimed 
families with ties to the palace and senior levels of the 
Government are strongly favored in their access to government 
employment and state scholarships for foreign education.  The 
Government contends it has made a serious effort to send 
qualified minority candidates for education overseas.

     People with Disabilities

There is no evidence of official discrimination toward people 
with disabilities but the Government has not passed legislation 
mandating accessibility for the disabled.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Trade unionism is not permitted, there are no labor unions, 
workers do not have the right to strike, and the Government is 
not a member of the International Labor Organization.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There is no collective bargaining or labor legislation 
pertaining to industry, which accounts for about 25 percent of 
the gross domestic product but only a minute fraction of the 
total work force.  The Government affects wages in the 
manufacturing sector through it control over parastatal wages.  
There are no export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Government uses a system of compulsory labor taxes to 
compensate for its low financial tax base.  Under various rural 
development schemes, a typical family of 8.5 persons may be 
required to provide up to 40 worker-days each year.  There is 
no evidence to suggests that domestics or children are subject 
to coerced or bonded labor.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

There are no laws governing the employment of children.  
Children are not employed in the industrial sector but many 
assist their families in the traditional economy.  In 
road-building, eligibility for employment determined by ther 
applicant's height, not age.  Although most workers are at 
least 15, a UNICEF study suggested that children as young as 11 
are sometimes employed with road-building teams.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

As noted above, there is no labor legislation, no legislated 
minimum wage, standard workweek, or health and safety 
standards.  Labor markets are highly segmented by region, and 
monitoring wage developments is inhibited by the preponderance 
of subsistence agriculture and the practice of barter.  The 
largest salaried labor market is the government service, which 
has an administered wage structure last revised in 1988.  Only 
about 18 industrial plants employ more than 50 workers.  Apart 
from a few of these larger plants, the entire industrial sector 
consists of home-based handicrafts and some 60 privately owned 
small- or medium-scale factories producing consumer goods.  
Bhutan's rugged geography and land laws that prohibit a farmer 
from selling his last five acres result in a predominantly 
self-employed agricultural labor force.
(###)


[end of document]

flag
bar

Department Seal

Return to 1994 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.