U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Bhutan
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Bhutan, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa2024.html [accessed 19 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
BHUTANBhutan is a monarchy without a constitution or a bill of rights. The Wangchuk Dynasty of hereditary monarchs has ruled the country since 1907. King Jigme Singhye Wangchuk, on the throne since 1972, has continued efforts toward social and political modernization begun by his father. In recent years, there has been rapid progress in education, health, sanitation, and communications, and an increase in elected representatives and their role in decisionmaking. The judiciary is not independent of the King. Approximately two-thirds of the government-declared population of 600,000 is composed of Buddhists with cultural traditions akin to those of Tibet. The Buddhist majority comprises two principal ethnic and linguistic groups: the Ngalops of western Bhutan and the Sharchops of eastern Bhutan. The remaining third of the population are mostly Hindus of Nepalese origin inhabiting the country's southern districts. Bhutanese dissident groups claim that the actual population is between 650,000 and 700,000 and that the Government underreports the number of ethnic Nepalese living in the country. The rapid growth of this ethnic Nepalese segment of the population led the Buddhist majority to fear for the survival of their culture. Government efforts to tighten citizenship requirements and control illegal immigration resulted in political protests and led to ethnic conflict and repression of ethnic Nepalese in southern districts during the late 1980's and early 1990's. Tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalese left Bhutan in 1991-92, many forcibly expelled. Approximately 91,000 ethnic Nepalese remain in refugee camps in Nepal and upwards of 15,000 reside outside the camps in the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal. The Government maintains that some of those in the camps were never residents of Bhutan, therefore, have no right to return. The Royal Bhutan Police, assisted by the Royal Bhutan Army, including those assigned to the Royal Body Guard, and a national militia, maintain internal security. Some members of these forces committed human rights abuses against ethnic Nepalese. 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 gross domestic product. 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 $470. Bhutan remains among the poorest and least developed countries in the world. The Government significantly restricts the rights of the Kingdom's citizens. The King exercises strong, active, and direct power over the Government. Citizens do not have the right to change their government. The Government discourages political parties, and none operates legally. Judges serve at the King's pleasure. Criminal cases and a variety of civil matters are adjudicated under a legal code established in the 17th century and revised in 1965. Programs to build a body of written law and train lawyers are progressing. For example, the Government has recently sent 15 to 20 students to India and other countries for legal training. The Government restricts freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, and worker rights. There are significant limitations on the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, and citizens' privacy. 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 ethnic Nepalese in refugee camps. The Government claims that it has prosecuted government personnel for unspecified abuses committed in the early 1990's; however, public indications are that it has done little to investigate and prosecute security force officials responsible for torture and other abuses committed against ethnic Nepalese residents. A resolution adopted by the National Assembly in July prohibits the still-resident family members of ethnic Nepalese refugees from holding jobs with the Government or in the armed forces, although it was not enforced during the year.