December 28, 2000
BHUTAN-NEPAL TALKS HOPES AND FEARS
Bhutanese Refugees have for the first time felt a certain degree of seriousness on the part of the Bhutanese government towards facilitating an environment for their return to their cherished homes and hearth in Bhutan. The knot of disgust and frustrations that had remained with them due to unprogressive past bilateral talks have begun to loosen by the progress made during the tenth round of talks that concluded in Kathmandu yesterday. AHURA Bhutan, on behalf of the Bhutanese refugees, expresses its appreciation at this positive outcome of the talks. However, the association feels the need to caution that there remains a number of unanswered questions which must be addressed for the achievement of a solution acceptable to the refugees.
It is a welcome development that Nepal and Bhutan have finally agreed to begin field verification of the refugees and that the problem of unit of verification have long remained a bottleneck in the process have been resolved. Thanks to the proposal made by the UNHCR and reinforced by the United States. Also another significant outcome has been Bhutan's acceptance of all documentary evidence in possession of the Bhutanese refugees in the process of verification. If this agreement is to be abided by in the actual process of verification there is little doubt that any Bhutanese citizens would be disqualified as had been amply revealed by the Digitalised Database of Bhutanese Refugees. The database of fifty-one percent of the refugee population, produced by AHURA Bhutan last April shows that 99.8% of the Bhutanese refugees have documentary evidence to prove their Bhutanese origin and nationality. But the first skepticism on the justifiable verification begins here because the past tactics of Bhutan government in fabricating one reason to another on the genuineness of Bhutanese nationality of Bhutanese refugees prevails. This compels the refugees to believe that the Bhutanese government could invent complications in determining Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese as it will be clear as to what documentary evidences will be accepted only when the actual verification begins.
The second complication that is seen to crop up is during the process of categorization of those found to be Bhutanese into the categories as 'voluntary emigrants', and 'people who committed criminal acts'. Bhutan's real commitment to take back its citizens will only become clear if it takes a logical and flexible stand at this stage. If it continues with its obsolete stand of applying its retroactive and racially discriminative 1985 Citizenship Act, a significant majority of the people will be rendered as stateless persons.
Therefore, the representation of the refugees and the involvement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the process of negotiation, verification and repatriation is imperative if the Bhutanese refugees are to be dispensed justice. Through this press statement, AHURA Bhutan reiterates its call to the governments of Bhutan and Nepal to seriously consider this genuine concern of the refugees. While thanking the international community for the expression of their concerns for the early resolution of the problem, AHURA Bhutan likes to appeal for their continued support and solidarity such that these refugees are not condemned to life as stateless persons.