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Amnesty International Report 2003 - Bhutan

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 28 May 2003
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2003 - Bhutan , 28 May 2003, available at: [accessed 23 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis 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.

Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state: King Jigme Singye Wangchuck
Head of government: Kinzang Dorji (replaced Khandu Wangchuk in August)
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
International Criminal Court: not signed

There was no progress in the talks between the governments of Bhutan and Nepal over the future of tens of thousands of Nepali-speaking refugees from southern Bhutan living in seven refugee camps in Jhapa district, eastern Nepal. An estimated 60 political prisoners from southern and eastern Bhutan continued to serve long prison sentences. Four people were sentenced to long periods of imprisonment after unfair trials in Samdrup Jongkhar district.


The Minister of Agriculture, Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji, took over as Chairman of the Council of Ministers in August. The National Assembly introduced a new system of local and district government in which members of the local administration, and their chairpersons, would be elected in a secret ballot. Several changes were also introduced to the functioning of the district administration, limiting the powers of the dzongda (district administrator).

A Committee appointed in 2001 to write a Constitution handed over its first draft to King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in December.

Members of several armed political groups from northeast India continued to live in camps in the east and south of Bhutan. These groups included the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and the Kamtapuri Liberation Organization. The National Assembly supported a government proposal to hold talks with the leadership of ULFA on the removal of the ULFA headquarters from Bhutan. If ULFA refused, the government would resort to military action.

There was increased tension in refugee camps in eastern Nepal among young Bhutanese refugees attracted to political groups in exile and armed opposition groups operating in the area, including the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) (Maoist).

Nepali-speaking refugees

A decade after tens of thousands of people from the ethnic Nepali community in southern Bhutan were forced to flee the country, a solution to their plight remained distant.

In 1993 Nepal and Bhutan agreed a process to "verify" the refugees by interviewing them. The outcome of the verification of 12,000 people living in Khudunabari refugee camp in Jhapa district, Nepal, completed in December 2001, was not made public. No progress was made in categorizing and repatriating the verified refugees. The verification of refugees living in six other refugee camps had not started by the end of 2002. A ministerial-level meeting to discuss the categorization of verified refugees and what would happen to the people in each of four agreed categories had not been convened by the end of 2002.

Children's rights

There were allegations that data from the verification of refugees in one camp in Nepal had been used by the Bhutanese government to discriminate against relatives of refugees still living in Bhutan, in particular by denying them access to education for their children. It was reported that families had been asked to produce a certificate, issued by the police after clearance from the Home Ministry, before their children could sit for exams. Failure to produce the certificate had reportedly resulted in children being suspended from school.

Possible prisoners of conscience

Two prisoners from eastern Bhutan – Taw Tshering and Tsampa Wangchuck – were released in February on completion of their sentences. Eleven other possible prisoners of conscience from eastern Bhutan continued to serve prison sentences ranging from four to over 13 years. In addition an estimated 50 political prisoners from southern Bhutan remained in prison. None had been given leave to appeal.

  • Siddha Bahadur Bista, a refugee from Beldangi II refugee camp in Jhapa District, Nepal, was arrested by Indian army personnel in northeast India on 12 January and handed over to the Bhutanese authorities. He was released later in the year. Dalman Magar, from the same refugee camp, was arrested in southern Bhutan on 22 September. He was allegedly tortured in police custody.
Unfair trials

Two government employees were reportedly sentenced after unfair trials by the Samdrup Jonkhar district court to life imprisonment for suspected links with ULFA. Two other people were reportedly sentenced by the same court to five years' imprisonment for a similar offence.
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