Efforts towards solution

Nepal Bhutan Bilateral Talks

Of the estimated 130,000 southern Bhutanese who lost their homes, lands, livelihoods and country between 1990 and 1993, not a single person has yet been allowed home. Although the Bhutanese government coerced thousands into signing what it claims were 'voluntary migration forms,' it does admit tacitly that the camps contain bona-fide citizens who were ejected from Bhutan against their will. The governments of Nepal and Bhutan have met seven times at ministerial level to try to resolve the problem that is souring relations between their two countries. All attempts to move towards a joint survey of the camp population that would establish how many have right to repatriation have so far failed.

First Talk : Kathmandu, October 1993 - The Bhutan Nepal Ministerial Level Committee (JMLC) agreed to classify Bhutanese refugees into four categories as follow :

1. Bona-fide Bhutanese refugees if they have been forcefully evicted.
2. Bhutanese who emigrated.
3. Non-Bhutanese.
4. Bhutanese who have committed criminal acts.

Second Talk : Thimphu, February 1994 -Nepal pressed for the involvement of a third party.

Third Talk : Kathmandu, April, 1994 - The JMLC agreed to constitute five members each from both Bhutan and Nepal in the refugee verification team.

Fourth Talk : Thimphu, June, 1994 - Disagreement between Bhutan and Nepal on their positions regarding four categories.

Fifth Talk : Kathmandu, Feb-March, 1995 - the JMLC held extensive discussion on their positions regarding the four categories.

Sixth Talk : Thimphu, April 1995 - The JMLC held discussions to harmonize the positions of the two governments regarding the four categories. It exchanged the names of five members of the joint verification team. But the talk failed as a whole. The Nepalese Home Minister K. P. Oli told the press that "the Bhutanese side showed no real interest towards solving the refugee problem. They do not want to move ahead."

Seventh Talk : Deadlock on category II

Kathmandu, April- 1996 - The seventh round of bilateral talk ended in deadlock on category II. About 90% of the refugees in the camps and outside fall in this category.

Bhutan maintains that the refugees under Category II are not eligible to return Bhutan as they have signed the "voluntary migration forms" and have emigrated from Bhutan. Nepal maintains that such a large number of population would not at a time migrate under normal situation and there is no record in history so far. It is the case of intimidation. The refugees under Category II are the real Bhutanese citizens and almost all posses documentary evidences such as citizenship identity cards, land tax receipts and other documentary evidences to support their claim. The sample survey conducted by the Home Ministry of Nepal in February 1995 showed that of the (approximate) 12,500 heads of family in the refugee camps, 85% posses citizenship identity cards, 10% have land tax receipts, and 3% school certificates or other official documents. Only 2% have no certification, and many of these claim it was confiscated by the authorities before leaving Bhutan.

After the seventh round of talks the Nepalese counterpart, Foreign Minister Dr. Prakash Chandra Lohani has explicitly declared Nepal's position in the following words. " If they (Bhutan) can apply Bhutanese law, then Nepal too can apply its own laws which does not provide Nepali citizenship to refugees. By law then, these refugees are stateless people. In essence, what this means is that if Bhutan refuses to take back all the refugees, then there will be thousands of stateless people, which is a violation of UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our position is that the whole idea of voluntary immigration does not make sense. They were Bhutanese citizens before coming to the camps in Nepal and they should turn back home."

Position of Bhutan, Nepal and India  |  Peace March    |   United Front for Democracy (UFD)  |  International Initiatives