By Sudarshan Pyakurel
Bhutanese American non-profit organizations, businesses, youths, and leaders from across the US have called for justice and recognition for the human rights abuses they endured in Bhutan during the late 1980s and 1990s.
The recent effort led by the Peace Initiative Bhutan, a nonprofit advocacy group in coalition with the Bhutanese Community of Central Ohio is calling for support in their quest for justice.
They are grateful to Senior US Senator Brown for sponsoring and introducing S.RES 108 in the US Senate, which acknowledges the Kingdom of Bhutan’s responsibility for the forced eviction and oppression of over 100,000 Bhutanese citizens based on their identity, culture, language, religion, and political opinions.
Ohio has become home to over 50,000 Bhutanese Americans, making it the largest Bhutanese population outside Bhutan. These New Americans were resettled as refugees after living in eight different refugee camps in Nepal for over two decades. During the early 1990s, they faced human rights abuses and were forced to flee their homes due to discriminatory policies and subsequent prosecution.
The Nepali-speaking minority in Bhutan called Lhotshampas, were stripped of their citizenship despite having lived in Bhutan for generations. The Ngalong, people of Tibetan origin with absolute power, felt “threatened” to their dominant Buddhist culture as they call it.
They created a solution to a problem that did not exist in first palace. The solution was a series of policies that stripped the Lhotshampas of their citizenship and resulted in forced evictions, oppression, and violence.
The premeditated persecution targeted the individual who had held on to their identity, culture, language, religion, and political opinions. That forced expulsion of families led to many deaths and left many more missing. Consequently, hundreds and thousands of Bhutanese American families are separated. These families are unable to celebrate festivals, meet their loved ones, and even perform the last rituals together after 35 years of separation.
The resettled Bhutanese Americans have no rights to visit their county. Bhutan profiles them and denies visas even when they apply as tourists. This has caused them unbearable pain and suffering. They have the highest mental health and the suicide rate among resettled refugees in the United States.
The Bhutanese American community expressed their gratitude to Senior US Senator Brown for sponsoring and introducing S.RES 108 in the US Senate. The resolution acknowledges the Kingdom of Bhutan’s responsibility for the oppression and forced eviction of over 100,000 Bhutanese citizens based on their identity, culture, language, religion, and political opinions. Congressman Ro Khanna also sponsored and introduced the same resolution in the House.
The resolution calls for the Royal Government of Bhutan to release all political prisoners rapidly and unconditionally, whose only crime was demanding democracy and human rights, with due restitution and reparations. According to Amnesty International’s recent report, 37 political prisoners remain in Bhutanese prisons, most of whom were given life sentences without proper legal representation.
The resolution also calls for the Bhutanese government to respect human rights and democratic principles and investigate any human rights abuses in the past by establishing an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission and following through on the recommendations.
Nanda Sharma (change name), now a current Columbus resident, and his son Ganga Sharma (Name change for protection of identity) were in refugees camp in Nepal, hoping to resettle in the United States soon in 2008. Ganga returned to Bhutan for a brief visit to say goodbye to his loved ones. However, during his visit, he was arrested and falsely accused of being a “terrorist” and imprisoned without any legal representation. Despite his innocence, Ganga was sentenced to life imprisonment, leaving his father Nanda heartbroken and helpless.
Another resident of Columbus, Ohio, Kamal Dhimal, was only five when his father was arbitrarily arrested by the Bhutan Army in 1991. He was imprisoned for several months, physically tortured, and ultimately murdered in prison. Kamal’s tragic story is just one of many that underscore the importance of addressing human rights abuses in Bhutan. As the president of the Global Bhutanese Hindu Organization, Kamal is grateful for Senator Brown’s efforts to recognize and address the ongoing suffering of Ohioans affected by these injustices.
The stories of Nanda Sharma and Kamal Dhimal are powerful reminders of the devastating impact of human rights abuses. It is crucial that the United States recognizes and takes action to address these issues, not only for the sake of those directly affected but for the broader cause of justice and human dignity.
The Bhutanese American community’s struggle for justice highlights the need for international attention to human rights abuses and the importance of holding governments accountable for their actions. This resolution serves as a reminder that individuals and communities can come together and demand accountability from their governments, regardless of their size or power.
The Bhutanese American community’s demand for justice and recognition for the human rights abuses they endured in Bhutan is a powerful reminder of the importance of promoting and protecting human rights worldwide.
The US Senate’s acknowledgment of Bhutan’s responsibility for the forced evictions and oppression of over 100,000 Bhutanese citizens and their call for the release of political prisoners, establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and reunification of separated families is a significant step towards promoting peace, justice, and democracy. Let us all join hands and support the Bhutanese American community’s pursuit of justice and stand for human rights and social justice for all.
(Sudarshan Pyakurel MSW MA, is the Executive Director of Bhutanese Community of Central Ohio; Cofounder of Peace Initiative Bhutan and member of New American Advisory Member (Governor Ohio), Honorary Member Refugee Congress, and a Meatal Health Researcher and Advocate)
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