Friday, February 16, 2007

Census, Citizenship and Statelessness in Bhutan

Human Rights Organization of Bhutan (HUROB)

After the Nation wide census enumeration, which supposed to be the first of its kind in Bhutan funded by International agencies in May 2005 to determine the exact population, which hitherto remained guarded figure of the country, now another census in the southern districts is going on. The census this time is for issuing new citizenship card with more security measures making difficult for any duplication and invalidating the oldone. However, there are other ostensible motives behind the new citizenshipcard especially for the southern Bhutanese. There are reports that the new citizenship cards are not issued to the people of Category F5-F7 (F5-Bhutanese woman with non-Bhutanese husband, F6- Adoption and F 7-Non-Bhutanese). Moreover, the centre of census work is located at convenience of the department officials at the district head quarters and not in a place convenient to the public. Therefore, besides depriving ofcitizenship cards, people are being harassed, as many families in hordes have to walk two to three days with all necessary provisions to the headquarters. The whole family members have to stay and wait for turns several days and at the end some get it and others do not. There is strict scrutiny and if it is found that someone's relatives are livingin the refugee camps in Nepal or any adverse record of some family members orrelatives taking part in peaceful demonstration in 1990, they are not issued thecard. In addition, any mistakes in name and spellings that even would have been the mistakes of the government is denied correction and kept pending thus depriving citizenship card. Of course, unlike in the past census in 1989, no one is asked to leave the country immediately but definitely creating many stateless people and detection of them while on physical verification later will be evicted. According to our estimation suchpeople will constitue about 50000 that concurs with figure of non-Bhutanesedeclared by the government after the nation wide census and perhaps also is a pre-empted figure of southern Bhutanese to be evicted as the Bhutan government has plan just to keep about 28% of the total population. Other implication of the citizenship cards is that many of the southern Bhutanese will not get a chance to exercise their franchise in the coming first ever-democratic election in 2008. Not only that they will be further deprived of government opportunities as they already are, as they cannot produce No Objection Certificate (NOC), which is mandatory, and without citizenship card and adverse record they will not get it. The citizenship card is required even for admission of children in school. After the completion of census exercise and issuing of the cards, it is most thatevery one has to show the card while leaving the country and coming in addition to produce in the police and immigration check post within the country. This rule no doubt is to check the infiltration of outsiders but at the same time making freedom of movement difficult to Bhutanese who have no citizenship card. One should think what happens to their future generations. Bhutan is always on the prowl of reducing the southern hutanese though living in Bhutan for generations and contributing equally with other northern Bhutanese in nation building besides taking the responsibility of protecting the southern border as entrusted by the national assembly of 1958. The population of Bhutanwhile joining the UN in 1971 was projected as 1.4 million and that figure remained officially till the southern Bhutanese problem started in 1990. In early 1990's the figure suddenly came down to 600000. Now after the 2005 nation wide census the population is about 553000. Where the rest of the people in 35 years of time had vanished? Still there is an effort to reduce the figures. UNHCR and other agencies should be ready to receive these refugees in the future.

1 comment:

awake said...

I came here after watching youtube videos on Bhutan. I am wondering what outside agencies funded the census and categories or have influence on Bhutanese elite, including the King?

It is nice to see that the king is willing to share power with the people, yet there seems to be external money and influence to already dictate the shape of that power. And a divide and rule strategy seem to be incipient. Just a thought...