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Title:  Bhutan Human Rights Practices, 1995 
Author:  U.S. Department of State  
Date:  March 1996  


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

The Wangchuk 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 l0th 
century.  There is no written constitution or bill of rights.  King 
Jigme Singhye Wangchuk, on the throne since 1972, has continued efforts 
toward social and political modernization begun by his father.

Three quarters of the population of 600,000 is composed of Buddhists 
with cultural traditions akin to those of Tibet.  The remaining quarter 
of the population are mostly Hindus of Nepalese origin inhabiting the 
country's southern districts.  The rapid growth of this ethnic Nepalese 
segment of the population and the Buddhist majority's fear for the 
survival of their culture led to ethnic conflict and repression of 
ethnic Nepalese in southern districts during the late 1980s and early 
1990s.  Tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalese left Bhutan, many forcibly 
expelled.  Approximately 90,000 remain in refugee camps in Nepal and 
upwards of 15,000 reside in the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal.

The Royal Bhutan Police, assisted by the Royal Bhutan Army, including 
those assigned to the Royal Body Guard, and a national militia, 
maintains internal security.  Some members of these forces committed 
human rights abuses against ethnic Nepalese in the past.

The economy is based on agriculture and forestry, which provide the main 
livelihood for 90 percent of the population and account for about half 
of the GDP.  Agriculture consists largely of subsistence farming and 
animal husbandry.  Cardamon, citrus fruit, and spices are the leading 
agricultural exports.  Cement and electricity are the other important 
exports.  Strong trade and monetary links align the economy closely to 
that of India.  Hydroelectric power production potential and tourism are 
key resources, although the Government limits foreign tourist arrivals 
by means of pricing policies.  The gross national product per capita is 
estimated to be $700.

The Government significantly restricts the rights of the Kingdom's 
citizens.  The King exercises strong and active, although indirect, 
influence over the Government.  The Government discourages political 
parties and none operate legally.  Judicial processes remain rooted in 
practices hundreds of years old.  Written criminal and civil procedure 
codes are lacking, although programs to build a body of law and train 
lawyers are underway.  There are significant limitations on the right to 
a fair trial, assembly, association, privacy, and workers' rights.  All 
private television reception has been banned since 1989.  The Government 
has failed to reach agreement with the Government of Nepal on procedures 
for screening and repatriation of the refugees.  The Government has done 
little to investigate and prosecute security force officials responsible 
for torture and other abuses committed against ethnic Nepalese 


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

   a.   Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

   b.   Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

From 1989 to 1992, many of the thousands of ethnic Nepalese detained on 
suspicion of supporting a dissident movement were held in incommunicado 
detention.  The Government has denied responsibility for any 

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

There were no reliable reports of torture or of rape by security forces 
in 1995.  However, new and credible evidence continues to emerge among 
recent arrivals in refugee camps in southern Nepal that persons detained 
as suspected dissidents in the early 1990's were tortured during 
confinement.  Security forces committed these abuses in southern Bhutan 
as a part of the Government's efforts to reduce the presence of ethnic 
Nepalese.  This policy created a climate of impunity in which the 
Government tacitly condoned the physical abuse of ethnic Nepalese.  
There is little indication that the Government has adequately 
investigated or punished any security force officials involved in the 
widespread abuses of 1989-92.

Prison conditions are below international standards, but have been 
described by international monitors as adequate if austere.  A prison 
visit program begun in 1993 by the International Committee of the Red 
Cross (ICRC) and opening of a new prison in Chemgang in 1994 contributed 
to substantial improvement in conditions of detention over the primitive 
conditions that existed until a few years ago.

   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under the Police Act of 1979, police may not arrest a person without a 
warrant and must produce an arrested person before a court within 24 
hours of arrest, exclusive of travel time from the place of arrest.  
Legal protections are incomplete, however, due to the lack of a fully 
elaborated criminal procedure code and deficiencies in police training 
and practice.  Arbitrary arrest and detention remain a problem but are 
not routinely used as a form of harassment.  There may be delays in 
informing family members of an arrest.  Incommunicado detention of 
suspected militants 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 allay this 
problem.  The authorities continued to hold 129 persons on charges 
associated with political dissidence in southern Bhutan.  Of these, 49 
were serving sentences following conviction and 79 were still being 
tried 5 years after their alleged offenses were committed.

Although the Government does not formally use exile as a form of 
punishment, many accused political dissidents freed under government 
amnesties say they were released on the condition that they depart the 
country.  Many of them subsequently registered at refugee camps in 

   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial

There is no constitution and the judiciary is not independent of the 

The judicial system consists of district courts and a High Court in 
Thimphu, with judges appointed by the King on the recommendation of the 
Chief Justice.  Minor offenses and administrative matters are 
adjudicated by village headmen.

Criminal cases and a variety of civil matters are adjudicated under a 
legal code established in the 17th century and revised in 1965.  For 
offenses against the State, state-appointed prosecutors file charges and 
prosecute cases.  In other cases, the relevant organizations and 
departments of government file charges and conduct the prosecution.  
Defendants are supposed to be presented with written charges in 
languages they understand and are given time to prepare their own 
defense.  This practice is not always followed, however, according to 
some ethnic Nepalese refugees.  In cases where defendants cannot write 
their own defense, courts assign judicial officers to assist defendants.  
There are no lawyers.  A legal education program is gradually building a 
body of persons who have received formal training in the law.

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.  Trials are supposed to be conducted in open 
and public hearings, however in practice this is not always the case 
according to reports from ethnic Nepalese refugees. 

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

Some or all of the 129 prisoners accused of antinational activity 
serving sentences or under trial for offenses related to political 
dissidence primarily among ethnic Nepalese during 1991-92 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 for writing and distributing political 
pamphlets and attending political meetings.  Nevertheless, a United 
Nations Human Rights Commission working group on arbitrary detention 
which visited Bhutan in 1994 at the Government's invitation determined 
that Rizal had received a fair trial and declared his detention  "not to 
be arbitrary."  

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

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.  The wearing of national dress, for example, is required 
when visiting Buddhist religious buildings, monasteries and government 
offices, in schools and when attending official functions and public 
ceremonies.  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

The Government restricts freedom of speech and press.  The country's 
only regular publication is Kuensel, a government weekly newspaper, with 
a circulation of 10,000.  Kuensel sometimes reports criticism of the 
King and government policies in the National Assembly.  Indian and other 
foreign newspapers are available.  

The Government bans all private television reception in the country.  
Since 1989 all television antennas and satellite receiving dishes have 
been ordered dismantled.

The Government radio station broadcasts each day in the four major 
languages (Dzongkha, Nepali, English and Sharchop).

English is the medium of instruction in schools and the national 
language, Dzongkha, is taught as second language.  The teaching of 
Nepali as a second language was discontinued in 1990. 

   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 
legal political parties.  The Government regards parties organized by 
ethnic Nepalese exiles--the Bhutan People's Party (BPP), the Bhutan 
National Democratic Party (BNDP), and the Druk National Congress (DNC)--
as "terrorist and anti-national" organizations and has declared them 
illegal.  These parties are not known to conduct activities inside the 
country.  Their announced goals are the repatriation of refugees and 
democratic reform.  

   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

Bhutanese travelling in border regions are required to show their 
citizenship identity cards at immigration check points, which in some 
cases are located at a considerable distance from what is in effect an 
open border with India.  By treaty, citizens may reside and work in 

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

Citizens do not have the rights to change their government.  Bhutan is a 
monarchy with sovereign power vested in the King.  There are, however, 
elected or partially elected assemblies at the local, district and 
national levels, and the Government purports to encourage 
decentralization and citizen participation.  Since 1969 the National 
Assembly has had the power to remove ministers, who are appointed by the 
King, but has never done so.  Political authority resides ultimately in 
the King, and decision making involves only small number of officials.

Political parties do not legally exist, and their formation is 
discouraged by the Government as unnecessarily divisive.  The Government 
prohibits parties established abroad by ethnic Nepalese (see Section 

The National Assembly, established in 1953, is composed of 150 members.  
Of these, 105 are elected by the people and 10 by religious bodies.  The 
remaining 35 represent the Government and are 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.

As a result of efforts to integrate ethnic Nepalese and women into the 
Government, ethnic Nepalese account for 28 percent of the civil service 
at all ranks up to minister, according to the Government.  Women have 
made smaller but visible gains.

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

There are no legal human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) in 
Bhutan.  The Government regards human rights groups established by 
ethnic Nepalese exiles--the Human Rights Organization of Bhutan (HUROB), 
the People's Forum for Human Rights in Bhutan (PFHRB), and the 
Association of Human Rights Activists - Bhutan (AHURA)--as political 
organizations and does not permit them to operate openly in Bhutan.  

ICRC representatives continue their periodic prison visits, and the 
Government has allowed them access to detention facilities, including 
those in southern districts inhabited by ethnic Nepalese.  The United 
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees visited Bhutan in July 1994.  The 
chairman and members of the United Nations Human Rights Commission 
working group on arbitrary detention visited in October 1994.

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

Government efforts to cultivate a national identity rooted in the 
language, religion, and culture of the Drukpa ethnic group constrain 
cultural expression by other ethnic groups.  Concern over rapid 
population growth and political agitation among ethnic Nepalese has 
resulted in policies and abusive practices that led to the expulsion of 
tens of thousands of members of this group.  The Government disputes 
claims by exile groups that ethnic or gender discrimination in 
employment is a problem.  Women are accorded respect in the traditions 
of most ethnic groups.  Persistence of traditional gender roles 
apparently accounts for a low proportion of women in government 


There is no evidence of an extensive pattern of rape or spousal abuse.  
Six cases of rape or attempted rape were registered during 1995 in the 
capital city, which has a population 20,000.  Criminal gangs operating 
in southern border districts continued to commit rape in addition to 
robbery.  On May 4, one such gang raped seven women, including two 
girls.  Security forces reportedly used rape in efforts to force 
emigration of ethnic Nepalese from southern Bhutan during 1991 and 1992.

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, 
sentences range from 5 to 17 years.  In extreme cases, a rapist may be 
imprisoned for life.

Bhutan has not developed a rigid caste system or customs that sequester 
women.  Women comprise 48 percent of the population.  Forty-three 
percent of enrollment in schools is female, and women account for 16 
percent of civil service employment.  Inheritance practices vary among 
ethnic groups, but generally divide family land equally among sons and 
daughters, and dowry is not practiced, even among ethnic Nepalese 
Hindus.  Inheritance practices favoring daughters among some groups are 
said to account for large numbers of women among owners of shops and 
businesses and an accompanying tendency of women to drop out of higher 
education to go into business.

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.  
Women in unskilled jobs are generally paid less than men.


The Government has demonstrated its commitment to child welfare by its 
rapid expansion of primary schools, health-care facilities, and 
immunization programs.  The mortality rates for both infants and under-
five-year-olds have dropped dramatically since 1989.  Children enjoy a 
privileged position in society and benefit from international 
development programs focused on maternal and child welfare.  There is no 
pattern of societal abuse against children.

A study by the United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF) 
found that boys and girls receive equal treatment regarding nutrition 
and health care and that there is little difference in child mortality 
rates between the sexes.  UNICEF found that, among urban dwellers, girls 
are given "equal or near equal opportunities" to pursue education.

   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.

   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.  However, the Government maintains that large-scale illegal 
immigration occurred and was not detected until the 1988 census.  The 
increase of population prompted the Government to launch an aggressive 
campaign to reassert Drukpa culture, restrict immigration, and expel 
ethnic Nepalese.  Members of the Buddhist majority, including many 
members of the National Assembly, expressed fears that Bhutan's Buddhist 
society would be overwhelmed by the Hindu ethnic Nepalese--as happened 
in neighboring Sikkim, which was incorporated into India in 1974.

Early efforts at halting the demographic trend focused on limiting 
immigration and attempting to assimilate the existing ethnic Nepalese.  
Measures to promote 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 promote a national identity required the wearing of national 
dress for official occasions, the teaching of Dzongkha as a second 
language in all schools, and discontinued  instruction of Nepali as a 
second language.  (English is the language of instruction in all 

Beginning in 1988, the Government expelled limited numbers of ethnic 
Nepalese through enforcement of a law that significantly tightened the 
requirements for citizenship.  Until 1985 citizenship was conferred upon 
children if their father was a citizen under the 1958 Nationality Law.  
However, the 1985 Citizenship Act raised this standard by requiring that 
both parents 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 must prove residence 
during the previous 15 years.

Exile political groups complain that the law makes unfair demands for 
documentation on largely illiterate people in a country that has only 
recently adopted basic administrative procedures.  They claim that 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 a three-member village 
committee--typically ethnic Nepalese in southern Bhutan--certifies in 
writing that a resident is a Bhutanese citizen in cases where documents 
cannot be produced.

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 that this provision was widely used to revoke the 
citizenship of ethnic Nepalese who were subsequently expelled or 
otherwise departed from southern Bhutan.

A large-scale flow of people from southern Bhutan began in 1991, 
resulting from a Government policy of discrimination against ethnic 
Nepalese.  Tens of thousands of them were expelled  between 1989-92.  
The Government asserts that claims of widespread abuses were fabricated 
and that civilian and security officials have been punished for a few 
instances of misuse of authority.  

When the UNHCR began providing food and shelter in September 1991, there 
were only 304 persons claiming to be Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.  By 
year end, there were 6,000.  The refugee flow peaked in 1992, when 
66,000 refugees arrived in southern Nepal.  At year's end, approximately 
90,000 refugees were registered in UNHCR camps in Nepal.  Upwards of 
15,000 other refugees are believed to have settled with family members 
in India.  By 1994 the flow into the refugee camps had slowed to 
slightly more than 60 persons a month and has further declined since 
then.  Many recent arrivals report 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.

The Government maintains that the numbers of persons who departed 
southern Bhutan during those years was substantially smaller than the 
number in the refugee camps, that many of those who left were Nepalese 
or Indian citizens who arrived in Bhutan after the enactment of the 1958 
Nationality Law, and that many of the persons registered in the camps as 
refugees have no claim to Bhutanese citizenship and may never have 
resided in Bhutan.  The UNHCR reports that the overwhelming majority of 
refugees who have entered the camps have been able to show documentary 
proof of Bhutanese nationality since screening began in June 1992, and 
random checks of camp residents bear this out.

A Nepal-Bhutan ministerial committee met six times in 1994-95 to discuss 
ways to determine which refugees might be entitled to return to Bhutan.  
These discussions achieved little progress and as of the end of the 
year, no date for another round had been set. 

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 in 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 its control over wages in state-controlled firms.

There are no export processing zones.

   c.   Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Government abolished its system of compulsory labor taxes in 
December.  Laborers in rural development schemes previously paid through 
this system will now be paid regular wages.  There is no evidence to 
suggest that domestics or children are subject to coerced or bonded 

   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law set the minimum age for employment at 18 years for citizens and 
20 years for non-citizens.  A UNICEF study suggested that children as 
young as 11 years are sometimes employed with road building teams.

   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work

A circular effective February 1, 1994 established wage rates, rules and 
regulations for labor recruiting agencies, and regulations for payment 
of workmen's compensation.  Wage rates range from $.75 (roughly 25 
ngultrums) to $2 (roughly 70 ngultrums) per day for unskilled and 
skilled laborers, with various allowances paid in cash or kind in 
addition.  The work day was defined as 8 hours with a 1 hour lunch 
break.  Work in excess of this must be paid at one and a half times 
normal rates.  Workers paid on a monthly basis are entitled to 1 day's 
paid leave for 6 days of work and 15 days of leave annually.  The 
largest salaried work force is the government service, which has an 
administered wage structure last revised in 1988 but supplemented by a 
special allowance in July 1994.  Only about 31 industrial plants employ 
more than 50 workers.  Smaller industrial units include 69 plants of 
medium size, 197 small units, 692 "mini" units and 651 cottage industry 
units.  Bhutan's rugged geography and land laws that prohibit a farmer 
from selling his last five acres result in a predominantly self-employed 
agricultural work force.


[end of document]


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