Human Rights Violations
Rights of the child
With its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on May 23, 1990, and its signing of the declaration adopted by the World Summit for Children in 1990, the Royal Government of Bhutan committed itself to fulfilling the rights of all children under its jurisdiction, regardless of their or their families’ ethnicity, language, religion, or culture.
Yet, from one year later, one-sixth of the Bhutanese population was being expelled from the country. Up to half of the estimated 120,000 Lhotshampas fleeing Bhutan were children under 18 years. The rights of these refugee children continue to be violated by the Bhutanese government, particularly their right to a nationality. There is also serious concern about continuing discrimination against Lhotshampa children still living in Bhutan.
In its 2000 report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Royal Government of Bhutan stated:
“The development philosophy adopted by Bhutan, increasingly referred to as Gross National Happiness, emphasises the well-being of individuals over the importance of material gain and is also very relevant to the rights and needs of all children.”
However, in its treatment of the Lhotshampas, official government practice has been in conflict with the provisions of the CRC, and with the government’s declared commitment to promoting ‘Gross National Happiness’.
In 2001 the Committee on the Rights of the Child considered Bhutan’s compliance with the CRC. Its concluding observations are cited below:
The right to non-discrimination (Article 2)
This article states that measures should be taken to ensure that children are protected from all forms of discrimination on the basis of their race, language, culture or religion or on the basis of the status, activities, or opinions of their parents or family members.
Lhotshampa families, including their children, suffered serious and sustained discrimination leading to the mass exodus in the early 1990s. However, discrimination against this ethnic group continues for those remaining within Bhutan. The Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that it:
“is concerned about the impact on children of reports of discrimination of individuals belonging to the Lhotshampas. In particular:
- reports that these children face de facto discrimination in access to education and other services;
- and alleged discriminatory practices of children on the basis of status, activities, or opinions of their parents, or relatives.”
Lhotshampa children are required to show ‘Security Clearance Certificates’ to be admitted to school. Their parents also require these certificates to hold a government job, gain a business license and access government services. Many parents struggle to provide for their children, since such certificates are often denied, on an arbitrary basis or if the family has relatives in the refugee camps deemed to be ‘anti-nationals’.
The right to nationality and preservation of identity (Articles 7 and 8)
The State of the World's Refugees 1997 report, from The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), states that Bhutan's new citizenship laws "effectively denationalised large numbers of ethnic Nepalis". The report concludes:
"The right to nationality or citizenship was once described by a member of the US Supreme Court as 'the right to have rights'. As this comment suggests, citizenship provides the legal connection between individuals and the state, and thus serves as the basis for the realisation and enjoyment of all other rights."
In 2001 the Committee on the Rights of the Child remarked:
“While noting that the verification process of refugees in Nepal has commenced, the Committee is nevertheless concerned at the slow rate of this process, and the serious and negative impact this has on the rights of children residing in these camps, particularly given that repatriation will begin only once all refugees have been verified.”
The Committee recommended the government of Bhutan to:
- “make greater efforts to expedite the verification process, and consider the possibility of repatriating individuals within a reasonable time following individual verification;
- consider a mechanism to allow individuals to appeal against decisions;
- ensure that repatriation and resettlement of returnees are carried out in safety and dignity, to their place of origin or choice;
- consider acceding to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and the Conventions on statelessness; and
- in the best interests of the children, consider seeking assistance from UNHCR.”
These recommendations were made in 2001. The bilateral process between Nepal and Bhutan stalled in 2003. The Bhutanese refugee children are still waiting for a just solution meeting their rights to a nationality and all other rights. This includes those children born to Bhutanese parents while in exile.
Bhutan's Second Periodic Report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 2007
In 2007, Bhutan submitted its Second Periodic Report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The second report outlines efforts made to carry out the 2001 recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
There is no reference whatsoever to any development in relation to safeguarding the right to non-discrimination under article 2, and the right to a name and nationality, and to preservation of identity under articles 7 and 8 for refugee children and large numbers of Lhotshampa children in Bhutan.
In these two crucial areas, Bhutan has ignored the recommendations made by the Committee in 2001.
The Committee will meet with representatives from the Royal Government of Bhutan early in 2008, and thereafter will make a new set of recommendations.
Since the Bhutanese government’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, decisions have been made and implemented which are contrary to the provisions of the Convention, and which have adversely affected tens of thousands of children. While violations have taken place for which the victims can never be adequately compensated, the overall situation is redeemable.
Until a just and durable solution is achieved, in fulfilment of the rights of the refugee children and their families, it is vital that the levels of support and protection afforded to the refugee population in the camps are maintained.
For more information on Bhutan’s record on child rights, read the NGO Response to Bhutan’s Report on the CRC