PUCL Bulletin, September 2001

Bhutan Govt. Trying to Block NGO Participation in International Conferences

The government of Bhutan is trying to block the participation of Bhutanese human rights NGOs in International Human Rights or other conferences, since the days of the World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna, June 1993, and World Conference on Women, Beijing, 1995. But despite Bhutan government's efforts, the Bhutanese human rights activists managed to participate in the above World Conferences and many others.

Now we understand the government of Bhutan is trying to block Bhutanese NGOs from attending the LDCs III meet in Brussels, May 2001. They are also trying to block our participation in the World Conference on Racism taking place in South Africa in August this year. We urge the international community that it is wrong to accept the argument of the Bhutanese government that the NGO in question is not from Bhutan, as NGOs remain banned in Bhutan. The few NGOs that exist are forced to operate from exile. It would also be wrong to exclude the Bhutanese NGOs from the participation on the ground of the autocratic regime of Bhutan objecting it. It would undermine the very principles for which the United Nations stands. It would also imply supporting Bhutan's undemocratic and despotic regime by a UN or International organisation and not standing by the human rights principles of the United Nations and those fighting for it.

The government of Bhutan wants to ensure that its human rights record is not challenged in the international forums and that the issue of refugees and democracy is not brought to the attention of the world community. But it is very important that we attend the meeting and raise these issues. We need the support and solidarity of the NGO community and not simply bogged down or be threatened by what the Bhutanese authorities have to say. The question of nationality is the core issue of the Bhutanese problem and the government continues to deny citizenship rights to a large section of the Bhutanese society based on its racially, ethnically and politically repressive citizenship law.

The over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal and India are the victims of deprivation of citizenship rights by the Bhutanese government. And so there should be no surprise if any Bhutanese activist is made the target. Some of the Bhutanese activists have been singled out because of their extensive work on human rights in Bhutan and their continued international campaign and criticism against human rights situation in Bhutan. But simply because Bhutan treats some one as non-citizen does not and should not prevent the person from attending the conference as it goes against the spirit and message of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that recognises rights of every individual person in the world irrespective of his or her citizenship status.

Therefore, we sincerely request the international community, Indian NGOs (INGOs), and the concerned UN agencies organizing international seminars and conferences not to accept Bhutan government's objection and allow the Bhutanese NGOs to participate in the international conferences.

-- RAKESH CHHETRI, Executive Director, Centre for Protection of Minorities and Against Racism and Discrimination in Bhutan

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