‘Bhutan restricting refugees’ rights’

Kathmandu, March 12:

US State Department’s ‘Bhutan Country report on Human Rights Practices’

has alleged Bhutan is restricting its citizens’ rights to freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation in context of the over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees living in several camps in eastern Nepal.

Pointing out some provisions in Bhutanese Law, which have been used for revoking the citizenship of Bhutanese people of ethnic Nepalese origin, the report said: “The law provides for these rights, but the (Bhutanese) government placed limits on them in practice.”

“Human rights groups alleged that these provisions were used widely to revoke the citizenship of ethnic Nepalese who subsequently were expelled from or otherwise departed the country,” stated the country report which blamed the Bhutanese government for restricting emigration and prohibiting the return of citizens who left the country.

“The country’s citizenship laws state that persons who have left the country of their own accord, without the knowledge of the government, or whose names are not recorded in the citizenship register maintained in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), will not be considered citizens of the country,” stated the report.

Citing some dissidents’ claim, the report claimed that the “Bhutanese law was created specifically to deny citizenship to ethnic Nepalese Bhutanese. Over the years, local government offices gave many such persons identity cards without registering them with the central offices of the MHA.”

“Citizenship requirements resulted in the de-naturalization of many ethnic Nepalese residents. Those who lost citizenship under the 1985 law were permitted to apply for naturalization only if they were able to prove 15 years of residence prior to 1985. Those who could not meet the new citizenship requirements were deemed to be illegal immigrants,” said the report.

It also said that the citizens, who had voluntarily emigrated, without government approval, lost their citizenship. “Large numbers of ethnic Nepalese were expelled under the new citizenship law. Many ethnic Nepalese went to camps in Nepal where they remained,” it added.

The Citizenship Act of Bhutan, according to the report, provides for the revocation of the citizenship of any naturalized citizen who “has shown by act or speech to be disloyal in any manner whatsoever to the king, country, and people of Bhutan.” An undetermined number of Nepal-based refugees who attempted to return to the country were turned over to Indian authorities and returned to camps in Nepal.

“Issuance of security clearances for ethnic Nepalese was often based on the status

of their relatives, and clearances were frequently denied to family members of ethnic Nepalese currently living in refugee camps in Nepal,” stated the report. It also said that many ethnic Nepalese to have claimed that they were frequently denied government security clearances, a prerequisite for obtaining a passport.