Monday, June 18, 2007

SAFHR's Appeal to the Bhutanese Refugees and the International Community

(In the recent times, Bhutanese refugees have become the object of violence again. While constantly the right to return is being debated amongst the organisations / countries working on refugee rights we are yet to see any concrete action. Bhutanese refugees have been living a life of exile for 17 long years. The Royal Government of Bhutan resorted to nothing but ethnic cleansing in the way it evicted citizens of Nepali origin. In its appeal to the international community SAFHR condemns the violence, and urges the international fraternity to intervene.)

An Appeal to agitating Bhutanese Refugees to shun violence and urging the International community to immediately intervene to secure the Bhutanese Refugees their Rights under the UN Convention Concerning Refugees and the UDHR

South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR) condemns the violence and the attacks on refugees living in the camps in Jhapa, particularly in Beldangi II, by a section of the refugee youth reportedly belonging to the Revolutionary Youth Organisation and the Revolutionary Students Organisation affiliated to Bhutan Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist). It seems that the rampaging mob of youth were also encouraged by some 'leaders' of the National Front for Democracy in Bhutan in exile. These persons were opposed to the proposal of settling the Bhutanese refugees in a third country. They want all the Bhutanese to return to Bhutan.

SAFHR also expresses deep regret at the tragic death of two refugee youth in the recent violence in Beldangi camp I and II. We are saddened by the report of the death of another Bhutanese youth in Mechi where they were confronting Indian security forces in their attempt to enter India. We extend our condolences to their families.

SAFHR has been closely associated with the various groups in the seven camps in East Nepal. We believe that every refugee has a right to return to his/her own country. At the same time, we are committed to provide to every refugee the opportunity to freely examine all the three options available to him or her under the UN Convention concerning Refugees and decide about his or her future in an atmosphere of freedom. We have always opposed any attempt to force the refugees to accept a particular option/solution though any kind of force whether reduction of relief supplies, closure of camps and intimidation. We have also opposed the use of the refugee camps for any kind of militant activities by sections of the refugees themselves.

The refugees from Bhutan have been living in exile in Nepal for nearly 17 years. It was not their choice to become refugees. They were forced to becoming refugees when the Royal Government of Bhutan threw them out of the country. Bhutan's eviction of a section of its citizens of Nepalese ethnicity was a blatant act of ethnic cleansing. It is sad that the international community has so far done little to force Bhuatn to take back these hapless people.

While we welcome the kind offer by the government of the United States of America, Canada, Denmark and countries to resettle a large number of the Bhutanese refugees in their countries, we urge all these governments to engage in serious dialogue on this issue and make Bhutan realise that they can not just brutally uproot people from their homes and throw them out into the wilderness.

SAFHR also strongly condemns the violent action taken by the Indian security forces against a group of people whose only wish is to peacefully march back to their own country. In no words has this group ever indicated that they wish to create any problems on Indian soil. Bhutan and India have a special agreement that allows their people to travel back and forth between the two countries without visa requirements, therefore it is totally unacceptable that the Indian government bar these people from entering India. Bhutan is separated from Nepal by a strip of Indian territory. Therefore, there is no other passage overland into Bhutan from Nepal, unless one passes through India.

Clearly, a section of the refugees, however wrong they might have been in the choice of the manner of expressing their frustration and anger, at the total denial of their right to return to their homeland, have most vividly expressed their rejection of the option of settlement in a third country. Also, they were justifiably unhappy at the international community's tacit approval of the exercise of sham democracy initiated in Bhutan by the ruling Wangcuk dynasty and their cohorts. Understandably the holding of the so-called 'mock election exercise' in Bhutan, at this time, added fuel to the fire.

SAFHR appeals to the Government of India to uphold the democratic values it claims to espouse and to stop using force in obstructing the group of refugees from Bhutan from exercising their democratic rights and freedoms. We also urge the international community to respect the sentiment of those refugees who want to return to their homeland, which is just and fair right.

We also call upon the agitating refugee youth and their leaders to immediately desist from use of all forms of violence which they have been directing against a section of their compatriots who wanted to explore the option of settlement in a third country.

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