Amnesty International Report 2002 - Bhutan

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 28 May 2002
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2002 - Bhutan , 28 May 2002, available at: [accessed 16 December 2018]
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 2001

Kingdom of Bhutan
Head of state: King Jigme Singye Wangchuck
Head of government: Khandu Wangchuk (replaced Yeshey Zimba in August)
Capital: Thimphu
Population: 0.6 million
Official language: Dzongkha
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice

A team of Bhutanese and Nepalese officials began verifying the status of the almost 100,000 Nepali-speaking people from southern Bhutan living in refugee camps in eastern Nepal. It was intended that the process would identify those eligible for return to Bhutan, nearly 10 years after most had left or been forced to leave. A possible prisoner of conscience was arrested and at least 65 political prisoners from southern and eastern Bhutan continued to serve long prison sentences.


The Trade and Industry Minister, Khandu Wangchuk, took office as Chairman of the Council of Ministers in August. The National Assembly of Bhutan passed the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code. The codification was part of an ongoing process to strengthen the rule of law. In December, a committee was appointed to draft a Constitution for Bhutan.

There was tension in the refugee camps in Jhapa and Morang districts, in eastern Nepal, attributed to the slow progress of the verification process and the killing in September of the leader of a political party in exile, the Bhutan People's Party. The Bhutan Independent Students' Revolutionary Army, a previously unknown group, claimed responsibility for the killing.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child considered the report submitted by Bhutan in June and expressed concern about the impact on children of reported discrimination against the Nepali-speaking community in the south. It also recommended the government consider the establishment of an independent national human rights institution.

Nepali-speaking refugees

On 26 March a joint verification team, comprising officials from the governments of Bhutan and Nepal, began interviewing 12,500 Nepali-speaking people living in Khudunabari, one of seven refugee camps run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in eastern Nepal. This followed an agreement between the two governments which had been reached at the meeting of the Ministerial Joint Committee (MJC) in December 2000. Each family head was required to complete a form giving details of the family, thus "validating" relationships. There was concern about the slow progress of the verification. The verification process in Khudunabari camp was completed on 12 December, representing approximately 12.5 per cent of the total refugee population.

Although at the August meeting of the MJC in Thimphu both governments agreed to accelerate the verification process, by the end of the year the team had not been increased as proposed, and the number of those interviewed had not increased substantially. No agreement was reached during talks on 6 November between the Foreign Secretaries of both countries on the categorization of the people in the refugee camps. The government of Bhutan rejected Nepal's proposal that the four categories agreed in 1993 should be reduced to two (Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese).

International non-governmental organizations expressed concern that no efforts had been made to establish an independent monitoring or referral body for cases in dispute, and no third party, such as the UNHCR, had been given an active role in monitoring and facilitating the process.

There were continuing reports of the resettlement of northern and eastern Bhutanese people on land formerly belonging to Nepali-speaking southern Bhutanese people now living in the refugee camps. Discrimination was alleged against Nepali-speaking Bhutanese when seeking work, business licences or permission to travel abroad.

Detention of possible prisoners of conscience

  • Damber Pulami, a refugee living in Timai refugee camp in Jhapa district, Nepal, was arrested and detained by police on 26 May at Kamikhola, Sarbhang district. Damber Pulami was believed to be a member of the youth wing of the Bhutan People's Party. He had reportedly gone to Bhutan to monitor resettlement in the district.
Fifteen political prisoners, including possible prisoners of conscience, arrested during demonstrations in eastern Bhutan in 1997, continued to serve long prison sentences. In addition, an estimated 50 prisoners arrested around 1990 in southern Bhutan remained in prison. None had been given permission to appeal against their sentences.

Religious intolerance

In April, several members of the small Christian community were reportedly harassed and warned against practising their faith in public.
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