Bhutanese Refugees and the United Nations

After a repeated attempts at the UN meetings at Geneva, Switzerland since 1991 the plight of the 100, 000 Bhutanese refugees stranded in eastern Nepal received some attention at the 50th session of the United Nations Human Rights Sub-Commission on the Prevention and Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities held in August this year (1998).

The human rights experts presiding over this year's Sub-Commission meeting finally discussed the serious human rights implications of the Bhutan refugees living in the UNHCR administered camps in Nepal and also about the failure so far of the ongoing bilateral negotiation between Bhutan and Nepal. The meeting felt   that the Human Rights commission ought to intervene on behalf of the Bhutanese refugees. Initially a draft country resolution was tabled by 5 of the 26 experts for discussion and adoption by the Sub-Commission. This position of the Sub-Commission was followed by an intense lobby and counter lobby which culminated into a situation when the Bhutanese delegation were understandably forced to urge the Sub-Commission experts not to put the resolution for discussion and adoption and that its government would take serious and all necessary steps to solve this long drawn refugee problem through existing bilateral channels with the Nepalese government. Although the Bhutanese expressed that it was unneccessary for the Sub-Commission to take any measures on behalf of the refugees in eastern Nepal they eventually could not avert the Sub-Commission strong belief that the resolution should be replaced by a Chairman's Statement to give Bhutan an opportunity to demonstrate their will. The Sub-Commission, through the Chairman's statement has urged the Governments concerned, particularly the Bhutanese,   to negotiate in good faith towards a peaceful solution to the problem which is consistent with international human rights standards.

Bhutan and Nepal also presented their statements where Bhutan stressed for the continuation of bilateral talks and denied outside intervention. "Bhutan believes that a just, comprehensive and a lasting solution of the problem can be achieved through bilateral dialogue with Nepal" the statement reads. But seven rounds of bilateral talks between the governments of Bhutan and Nepal in the past yielded no fruit. Bhutan is rigid on its position of dividing the refugees in to four categories. The delegation of Nepal in their statement has referred the statement of the delegation of Bhutan to "Bhutan happens to be a favoured destination for many Nepalese economic migrants " as not founded on fact. Nepal presented " Bhutanese people in the camps were granted refugees status on the basis of the universally accepted standards used by the UNHCR. Most of the refugees in the camps are in possession of copies of Bhutanese citizenship or receipts of payment of land taxes in Bhutan. According to Bhutan law citizenship is mandatory for land ownership''.

Ratan Gazmere, Secretary General of Appeal Movement Coordinating Council (AMCC) representing the Bhutanese refugee groups; Elizabeth Janz - Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS); Peter Prove - Lutheran World Federation (LWF); and Milan Kothari - Habitat International Coalition (HIC) lobbied on behalf of Bhutanese refugees.