In a last CALL FOR ACTION the Headwind production team is working together with the new eu1.tv pan European tv channel (available on cable and internet) by Ziggo and UPC. In the coming week both the new trailer as a new way of crowdfunding will be published on the eu1.tv website. To support that effort we will distribute flyers on the Movies That Matter film festival starting off in The Hague on March 22 at the Filmhuis.
Today the short trailer of Headwind is released with a call for support and funding.
More information about the film can be found at http://www.headwindfilm.com.
The trailer will be published on http://www.eu1.tv too later today.
We still need substantial funding for the completion of this film.
Today I have send the following email to the Fulbright Program. In astounishment after reading an article of some time ago that was published in an American newspaper about a scholar who was granted a scholarship to go studying Gross National Happiness in Bhutan.
I have personally spend six months in 2011 in Nepal to work on the first feature length documentary about the Bhutanese exile and the third country resettlement project of the UNHCR and it’s effects. So I know very well the reality of Bhutan. By experience.
It is totally flabagasting to see a US government funded organization to spend a load of money on a scholarship for studying the myth of Gross National Happiness in a country that is in reality percentagewise the largest ethnic cleansing country in recent history. Especially since it is the same US government that has started the resettlement effort on request of the UNHCR and is actually welcoming over 60,000 Bhutanese refugees to become US citizens.
This scholarship is a disgrace, as is this study that Mrs. Lechler is undertaking. There is no way that Gross National Happiness can be objectively studied without extensive visiting of the Bhutanese refugee camps and realizing that a large portion of the Bhutanese people is all but happy.
I sincerely request your organization to think again because by this scholarship Fulbright is actually passively supporting human rights violations. And preferably, to request Mrs. Lechler to study GNH in the Bhutanese community in exile. To do that she doesn’t even have to leave the US. If needed I can provide all relevent contacts for that and am more than willing to assist in any possible way.
A couple of days ago I wrote an article on this website to advocate the role of journalism for the Bhutanese community in exile. I did that after a fire incident hit the Beldangi 2 refugee camp near Damak in the Jhapa district of Nepal. The whole situation concerning information flow of the events proved the importance of adequate and independent journalism in the region.
Yesterday I received further information on the challenging situation the free journalists focussing on the Bhutanese refugees / exiles are. For many years now they have been covering the situation and major events for this large group of people with almost no financial means. On their own pockets and with little support from abroad. And because these journalists are refugees themselves they have to be careful as they are not issued formal journalists status in Nepal. Refugees are not allowed to do paid work outside the refugee camps.
Their challenges are not only financial. Due to the nature of long term refuge in camps (more than 20 years now) it is only logical that tensions rise frequently inside the refugee community inside the camps and the Nepalese communities around these camps and in nearby villages. Working as a journalist coming from the refugee community means that one has to toe the line quite often. Some of these men (unfortunately only men are doing this work) are threatened or even abused. The work can easily become from relaxed to difficult to dangerous. Only their perseverance and conviction that free journalism is the essence of a free peoples has been and still is keeping them active.
Bhutan is not a free country and threats are often coming from Bhutan to the more active refugees in the community who inevitable critisize the government of their country that has exiled them. Nepal is not a completely democratic and liberal country although much progress has been made in the past six years after the revolution that abolished the monarchy. In present day Nepal there still is an instable government and freedom of press is not something that can be taken for granted. The number of attacked journalists is unfortunately impressive. This poses an extra danger to the work of the Bhutanese journalists in exile.
Lastly there is the massive UN guided resettlement going on. This means that some of the group of active young journalists are leaving the area to be resettled in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmakr, the UK or the Netherlands. So continuous refreshment of resources is essential to keep proper journalistic work alive and news regarding the situation in the refugee camps flowing. It is therefore that a lot of things are needed. Equipment, training and good connections with the journalistic community in Nepal and abroad.
Much of what is needed is still there but to be honest journalism is endangered strongly. These journalists need support. Urgently. Their running cost mounts to some 535 dollars per month to keep the websites online and the journalists at work. That amount of money is needed for transport and media access and normal running costs. Thankfully there is a free news agency setup some years ago. The Bhutan News Service. They as a group are connected with a community aid group the Bhutan Media Society and they keep the websites www.bhutannewsservice.com, www.apfanews.com and www.radiobhutanonline.com alive and kicking.
And now they are about to go down. The funds are exhausted, there are no reserves available and support is low. The exiled community globally is not economically alive to the level that it can be expected that they on their own will be able to cater for the cost.
I myself have been working with these journalists extensively in the past one and a half year. I know their qualities and their sacrifices. I know what they can do and I know that if they can no longer work that the effect will destroy one of the last remains of freedom for the Bhutanese living in the camps in Nepal.
CALL FOR ACTION
If you want to help them, please contact me through email at email@example.com. I would like to work with anyone who understands the importance of free journalism in refugees communities and am able to channel support to the right people and organizations. Any media organization, Journalistic educational facility or individual journalist is kindly requisted to contact me and step in to build a proper financial backing for these young and strong journalists and to facilitate training facilities for the upcoming generation of free Bhutanese journalists.
A couple of days ago a fire ravished a part of the Beldangi 2 Bhutanese refugee camp in the southeast of Nepal near the little town of Damak. I know that camp well as I have spend there a lot of time filming my upcoming documentary ‘Headwind’. There were no fatalities or severe injuries and that of course is both a good thing and a miracle. Knowing the situation in the camp and knowing where in the camp that fire was I can safely state that swift action of the inhabitants of Beldangi 2 who demolished some 35 huts to prevent the fire spreading has saved them from a disaster like the one that took place on March 22 2011 in the Goldhap camp which was almost completely incinerated. This time ‘only’ some 250 people have lost their huts, their homes.
During the hours of the fire incident and in the wee hours of yesterdays morning I reported on the incident on my website mirroring and analyzing the information given to me through different channels I have with people in Nepal and outside of Nepal and who had direct access to witnesses at the scene. That has made it possible to be clear on the status of the incident and be clear on the fact that no casualties were to be counted, a thing that is of great importance to all Bhutanese who have family and friends living in that camp. I tried to be as objective as possible and continued checking facts and figures by referencing the information coming at me. Hopefully I did that well enough to serve the community. Looking at the statistics of my website it is obvious that the news regarding the fire was well read by many people in a very short span of time. I am pretty sure that a lot of Bhutanese have read the information I gave.
One thing that has become very clear is the fact that it is totally impossible to have any news concerning incidents like this spread to the global community (and international media if needed) without the presence of journalists in the area. Most of the people I connect with are young journalists who are taking their voluntary task as a non profit journalist very serious and they have once again proven to be the backbone of news and information gathering and publishing for the Bhutanese community.
But their work is under grave threats. Let me explain.
First of all none of them are regarded as professional journalists because they are refugees themselves and therefore not allowed to work as a journalist. This means they have no press cards and no legal protection like other journalists do have.
Secondly, a lot of them are themselves being resettled and the more experienced in that group of very motivated young people are quite indispensable for free journalism in and around the refugee camps.
Thirdly, they are lacking professional equipment and good connections for swift response even though some equipment was brought to them recently.
And besides all that they have only limited support for their work.
Still, there are some media initiatives that have proven to be of great value and some of them have been working in this area for years. Websites like Bhutan News Service , Media Network Bhutan and the newly instated e-paper The Refugee Herald are well managed regarding the circumstances they have to work under. These guys need support, continuously. Support from international media and support from the global Bhutanese community. Their work is of increasing importance now that the resettlement of the refugees is going fast. Within a couple of years most of the refugees will have been resettled, but not all of them will leave. Many (some think maybe up to 15,000) will stay in the camps after resettlement closes in 2015 as the UNHCR has hinted. Who will tell their stories if local journalism has gone? Who will keep relatives and friends informed of their situation from a journalistic angle.
This observation should lead to a call for action. A call fo action to the international journalistic community for support and a call for action to the global Bhutanese community to not let these guys down and support them in supporting the Bhutanese living in the camps and living in diaspora.
For me this means that I will continue reporting and traveling to the region in the coming years and do whatever is in my ability to help out.
It’s another day like that… life swinging from sad to happy to sad to happy…
Today I learned that my income has decreased to an unmanageable level. Ruining many of the plans I have or at least making my life much more difficult. That, of course makes me sad. The good thing being that it also makes me angry about the dire situation I have been driven into. Well, I have a roof over my head and food to eat for most of the days. But that’s it. Still, it’s good enough for now.
The good news of today came from the government. The government? Yes! The government.
After many years of hardship the government decided to finalize the draft of the gender recognition act and have it send to the State Council for evaluation. When they agree, and let’s hope and pray they do so, a new law will finally replace the current law that is breaching a number of articles of the international Human Rights. The new law brings these changes once agreed by the parliament (let’s hope this time the government doesn’t fall before the law is brought to parliament):
a person can change legal gender without surgery (not applicable for me)
a person does not have to be sterilized as an effect of fore mentioned surgery (an old inhumane demand)
a person does not need to go to court to get that done. And experts statement suffices (I have that of course)
a person can just go to the municipality to have the changes made (which is a lot more affordable)
These four changes take away the barrier for me to get my legal status changed. I have been refusing that change because of the existence of that law and the effect of that on people like me. That law has ruined lives and part of my life. It is still an inhumane law that should never have existed and although it seems that it is being abolished at last it is a bloody disgrace that it has existed and politics has allowed it to exist for so long.
Anyway, in spite of the personal hardship I have to go through these days, this is great news. I have no idea how long the procedure at the State Council will take and how long it will take to push this law through parliament but I welcome the progress, I do not however expect that this will come in effect before 2013 due to normal legislative procedures in the Netherlands. Especially as the government seems to have listened to the arguments of organizations and people like me who responded to their call for feedback some time ago. The greatest disadvantages of the proposal that was at hand at that time have been jotted out. A good thing and worth a compliment.
So, and this is quite a unique thing for me to do, I call for a big hand of well meant applause for Minister Teeven and his people who are changing the world for transgenders in the Netherlands and for me personally for the better!
Here’s the Dutch language press statement from the government:
Kabinet wil meer erkenning voor transgenders
Persbericht | 02-03-2012
Mensen die transgender zijn, kunnen gemakkelijker de vermelding van het geslacht op hun geboorteakte laten wijzigen.
Zij hoeven niet langer eerst een operatie of een behandeling met hormonen te ondergaan om hun lichaam aan te passen aan het geslacht dat zij wensen. Ook vervalt de zogenoemde sterilisatie-eis. Die bepaalt dat transgenders onvruchtbaar moeten zijn, voordat de geboorteakte kan veranderen. Dit staat in een wetsvoorstel van staatssecretaris Teeven van Veiligheid en Justitie waarmee de ministerraad heeft ingestemd.
In de toekomst is het voldoende als een deskundige vaststelt dat de overtuiging van een transgender persoon blijvend van aard is. Met die verklaring kan de ambtenaar van de burgerlijke stand de vermelding van het geslacht in de akte van de geboorte wijzigen. Voor mensen die lichamelijk man of vrouw zijn, maar die er diep naar verlangen een persoon van het andere geslacht te zijn, betekent het schrappen van de vereisten van onvruchtbaarheid en van fysieke aanpassing aan het verlangde geslacht een ruimere erkenning van hun genderidentiteit. Verandering van het geslacht in de geboorteakte werkt door in allerlei overheidsadministraties, zoals het GBA. Dat heeft gevolgen voor het paspoort, andere reisdocumenten en school- en universiteitsdiploma’s.
Het kabinet verwacht dat transgender mensen beter in de samenleving zullen functioneren omdat belemmeringen worden weggenomen. Daarnaast hebben verschillende instanties als Human Rights Watch, het Comité van Ministers van de Raad van Europa en de Mensenrechtencommissaris van de Raad van Europa voor de aanpassing geijverd. Internationaal is steeds meer het inzicht gegroeid dat wettelijke erkenning van de genderidentiteit van een persoon niet afhankelijk moet zijn van eisen als geslachtsoperaties of hormonale behandeling. Nederland sluit zich daarbij aan.
De ministerraad heeft ermee ingestemd het wetsvoorstel voor advies aan de Raad van State te zenden. De tekst van het wetsvoorstel en van het advies van de Raad van State worden openbaar bij indiening bij de Tweede Kamer.
UPDATE: The ‘Partij voor Geluk‘ has removed their link to Bhutan as a guiding country for Gross National Happiness in response to the comments made by me. Which is a good thing and I welcome that! I wish this new party all the best in their endeavors. Obviously it is important that the myth of Bhutan as a hallmark for happiness is dismantled and the human rights violations by Bhutan are recognized and acknowledged.
A new political party is coming to the Dutch politcal arena. As a counter movement to the current development of Dutch (or even western) society. The Party for Happiness, in Dutch ‘Partij voor Geluk’ (www.partijvoorgeluk.nl). How nice.
A Party for Happiness, what a great initiative don’t you think? Because, to be honest, everything in this world is judged in financial economical terms like Gross National Product (GNP) meaning money, the filth of the earth. And there is another option like the one that this PvG suggest. Just look at Bhutan they say. Bhutan the buddhist Himalayan kingdom where Gross National Happiness is the measure for government success, Bhutan where the people are happy and Bhutan where according to it’s prime minister Mr. Thinley ‘even the dogs smile’…
But is that true? How are things concerning Gross National Happiness in Bhutan really? Is Bhutan really that happy conutry and does the United Nations indeed push them forward as an example, as a guiding nation for the world?
The answer my friend, is blowing in the Himalayan wind. And it simply says: no. Not at all. Bhutan is not an overly happy country and although the dogs might smile, many of it’s people certainly don’t. Bhutan is the only 100% Bhuddist ruled country in the world. A country that in the years 1990 – 1992 exiled some 120,000 of it’s citizens to India and in the end to refugee camps in Nepal where they have lived ever since. Almost 20% of the Bhutanese population now live outside the country in global diaspora since the United Nations started mass third country resettlement in 2007 shifting almost all of these refugees to countries like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, the UK and the Netherlands. Bhutan as a nation is responsible for the percentagewise largest ethnic and cultural cleansing since world war two. Hardly a nation to set an example to the world.
Gross National Happiness in Bhutan is according to the latest results certainly not all over. Things like health care and education are experienced as factors making the mostly rural population less than happy. According to Bhutan’s own annual GNH report that was recently published. Bhutan does not have freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of travel, freedom to speak Nepali, freedom to dress to your own desire, freedom to smoke a cigarette… Bhutan does however have over 400 political prisoners (according to sources like Human Rights Watch), it throws monks in jail for carrying 30 grams of tobacco on them and has been denying international requests to repatriate it’s own people to the south and east of the country. Bhutan sabotaged 19 years of talks with the Nepalese government for repatriation, lies structurally to the refugees, the international community and the press about their willingness to take their people back and Bhutan remains a country as closed to the outside world as North Korea. If you live in Bhutan and oppose the government you can be thrown into jail, be tortured (Bhutan has the doubtful reputation of a great inventor of torture methods), thrown into exile or even get killed.
Over the past decades the Human Rights Evaluations by the United Nations on Bhutan have repeatedly shown many comments from countries like the US, Canada, UK, Netherlands and others on the situation concerning the exiled population now living in the refugee camps in Nepal with already half of them resettled in the largest third country resettlement project of the UNHCR ever. Continuous reporting by organizations like Human Rights Watch and Global Human Rights Defence have made clear that Bhutan is not a country of Gross National Happiness but a country of Gross Human Rights Violations.
It’s sad to see that western society has a very biased and uninformed view of the Bhutanese reality. Bhutan has been able (and has been given ample space to do so) to build an effective reality distortion field around it’s atrocities. That reality distortion field has a name: Gross National Happiness. As a concept welcomed by Buddhists and politicians globally. It is because of that western urge to be inspired by something nice as ‘happiness’ that helps Bhutan in covering up the reality and trying to change history. Using that concept is very much like taking king Herod’s approach to an unwelcome reality: washing hands in innocence while allowing human rights violations to continue.
Not quite a good start for a political party I suppose.
As you all know I am pretty much involved with the fate of the Bhutanese exiles and especially with ones who have been resettled to my country and the ones who are left behind in the refugee camps in Nepal.
Today I read the following on Bhutan News Service, the webzine that is the only viable news source from the global Bhutanese community with good access to the refugee camps and the communities in the resettlement countries. They have become a trusted and all important news agency for te Bhutanese people focussing on Bhutanese in exile. No matter what the Bhutanese government is saying by the way. Anyway, this is what was written:
The initial camp population of 113, 486 has come down to 54,652 as 58,834 individuals have left for various western countries by January 19 this year, according to the UNHCR.
In total, 49,396 exiled refugees have left for the US, 4,213 for Canada, 3,217 for Australia, 589 for New Zealand, 612 for Denmark, 372 for Norway, 324 for the Netherlands, and 111 for the United Kingdom.
Of the remaining residents, at least 42,873 individuals have declared an interest in resettlement. Once this figure leaves for resettlement, the camp population will come down to 11,779.
The information is – as always – pretty reliable. But honestly, it’s also incomplete. Because the figures do not take into account the reality completely. Thing is, in the refugee camps live another over 3,500 refugees who have for various reasons not been registered as refugee by the Nepal government and therefore do not show up in the UN based statistics. So, if policy doesn’t change and there poor people are not counted and their situation managed properly the real figure of the population in the camps (by 2014 probably only the Beldangi camp will be left) will be closer to 15.000.
Giving a Journalism Training in Beldangi 2 camp, Summer 2011
And that is not all. Not all refugees live in the camps. Some (and their number really is unknown) live outside the camps in Nepal. Often in dire straits as they have no civil rights. And many live in India in Sikkim, Assam and elsewhere. Still they too are refugees, the ones in India obviously not acknowledged as such because there is the 1948 treaty between Bhutan and India stating that Bhutanese are allowed to travel, live and work in India. But these are the ones that can not return to Bhutan. They are just as well refugees and their figure is unknown. Only estimates exist that run upto 20.000.
So the worst case scenario of the number of remaining Bhutanese refugees in the Himalayan region really should be close to 35.000 and not less than 12.000 in 2014.
It is the way figures like these 11,779 in 2014 are communicated by the UN and the international community that assist in the cover up of reality. So the UNHCR statement that the resettlement is a success is based on the reality of the statistics simply not true. Of course it’s also not a failure, but a success is really sometinhg else.
The other thing that’s against the PR from the international community is the thoughts that resettlement is a good solution to the problem. Well, honestly is many cases of young people it certainly is for them. But many resettlers are older than 35. Which means that it is not certain they will be able to adjust to western society and for the elderly it is pretty clear that they never will. The social issues in the resettled communities are diverse and form a heavy burden. Issues like lack of possibilities to exercise religion, home sickness, loss of culture, conflicts in families because age differences and adjustment problems to western society, broken friendships and continuing long distance family ties that are increasingly difficult to handle are but a few of the issues burdening resettled refugees. Life is often a struggle that is not always lessened by resettlement. Because:
Imagine being in 40 years old.
Imagine that in the past you were driven into exile and ended up without any hope for a decent future in a refugee camp.
Imagine living under bamboo roofs and simple soil for most of your life. Next to the river where the dead are being cremated.
Imagine loosing sight of friends and family who have been resettled from your daily existence.
Imagine that one day you might very well resettle to a far away country with a culture that is completely different from your own.
Imagine you have children whom you want to have a better life.
Imagine that in reality you long to return to the country you were born.
Imagine there is no mandir to go to.
Imagine not to be able to eat the food you are used too… because it’s nowhere to be found.
Imagine living a town or village and being the only one from your people, being the alien in the minds of your neighbours and anyone else.
Imagine having to learn another very complicated language in a few years to be able to have some sort of life, and if you don’t succeed you’ll get a penalty or will not ever get a passport meaning you will never really be free.
Imagine all that…
Would that be seen as a success? Western society does a lot for refugees who have been resettled but still it starts of as a completely alien place to live. Surviving there is not easy at all and while in the end most will find their way through perseverence it is never an easy path to go. And western society is not becoming nicer to immigrants. So, where UNHCR speaks of a success it should also push the governments of the resettlement countries to really take their responsibilities and support the immigrants and their communities to find some sort of new life that is acceptable. These responsibilities are certainly not always met because much support is being broken down as an effect of the global financial crisis leaving imigrants more on their own and with less support than is reasonable. And don’t forget, once resettled there is no way back. Ever.
It is for all this that I will have to continue writing, filming an photographing the reality of the Bhutanese resettlement. Because in my country, in the west, most people simply have no idea.
If you feel that you might be able to support me, the Headwind team and the Empowerment Foundation, please make that decision and do so. It’s easy. Buy a Headwind production share or become donor. Help us finishing the documentary that will dive into the issue of the Bhutanese in exile and resettlement. The first feature length film that covers it all and will be screened globally. We need your support and we need it now! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or goto to the Headwind website and check the crowdfunding page!
In the past year the Headwind Project has broadened from making a documentary to much, much more. At this stage the project is in fact a more than full time job for the Headwind Production team. The following graph shows what is done and what is coming in the (near) future:
Attached here is a newsitem as published on the Bhutan News Service, the information regarding the handover of donation funds for food and first needs support from the Dutch Nepal Foundation (Vereniging Nederland Nepal) by the Empowerment Foundation’s Headwind Nepal Production Team in co-operation with BRAIN (Bhutanese Refugees Association of Intellectual Novas) on Janury 3, 2012 in the Beldangi 2 refugee camp in Nepal to the ex hunger strikers.
Please read and support the Bhutanese refugees, the making of the Headwind documentary and the Empowerment Foundation for making this charity work possible.
Within a few days it will be Saturday December the tenth. Traditionally that’s Human Rights Day. Promoted by the United Nations Human Rights Day is intended to let people think – if not more often than at least for that single day – about human rights issues. About how their governments work for human rights. Or how they do not.
This year the kickoff was given by Hillary Clinton at the United Nations in Geneva yesterday. A magnificent speech about LGBT (gay, bisexual and transgender) rights across the globe. It was a memorable and forceful speech in which she underlined the US devotion to human rights.
Of course she didn’t talk about the prisoners as Guantanamo Bay.
Tomorrow the European Committee in Brussels organizes a special day on human rights in South Asia. And I will participate although it’s only one day before my departure to Nepal, India and the Bhutanese refugee camps. Tomorrow I will listen to a speech by Miss Anuradha Koirala, an amazing women from Nepal who started the Maiti Nepal organization battling the trafficking of children and women from Nepal to India. She is very special, CNN hero of the year and an inspiration for me.
But I will not travel alone. There’s a whole group leaving from The Hague to Brussels. Including a committee from the Bhutanese community with the purpose of advocating the case of the Bhutanese exiles. I will join in, film the day and hopefully get the opportunity to advocate for setting up an international monitoring team in Nepal to report on problems, issues and progress of both the registration and resettlement processes of the Bhutanese refuges. I hope that this will prove to be another step to true advocacy for these people.
Mrs. Hillary Clinton gave an already historical speech at the United Nations in Geneva in the week running up to International Human rights Day on December 10. This is the video and the transcript of the speech. Read it, spread the word, advocate for LGBT rights!
The following is a transcript of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Human Rights Day speech, delivered today in Geneva. Text posted with permission from the White House Office of Communications:
Good evening, and let me express my deep honor and pleasure at being here. I want to thank Director General Tokayev and Ms. Wyden along with other ministers, ambassadors, excellencies, and UN partners. This weekend, we will celebrate Human Rights Day, the anniversary of one of the great accomplishments of the last century.
Beginning in 1947, delegates from six continents devoted themselves to drafting a declaration that would enshrine the fundamental rights and freedoms of people everywhere. In the aftermath of World War II, many nations pressed for a statement of this kind to help ensure that we would prevent future atrocities and protect the inherent humanity and dignity of all people. And so the delegates went to work. They discussed, they wrote, they revisited, revised, rewrote, for thousands of hours. And they incorporated suggestions and revisions from governments, organizations, and individuals around the world.
At three o’clock in the morning on December 10th, 1948, after nearly two years of drafting and one last long night of debate, the president of the UN General Assembly called for a vote on the final text. Forty-eight nations voted in favor; eight abstained; none dissented. And the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. It proclaims a simple, powerful idea: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. And with the declaration, it was made clear that rights are not conferred by government; they are the birthright of all people. It does not matter what country we live in, who our leaders are, or even who we are. Because we are human, we therefore have rights. And because we have rights, governments are bound to protect them.
In the 63 years since the declaration was adopted, many nations have made great progress in making human rights a human reality. Step by step, barriers that once prevented people from enjoying the full measure of liberty, the full experience of dignity, and the full benefits of humanity have fallen away. In many places, racist laws have been repealed, legal and social practices that relegated women to second-class status have been abolished, the ability of religious minorities to practice their faith freely has been secured.
In most cases, this progress was not easily won. People fought and organized and campaigned in public squares and private spaces to change not only laws, but hearts and minds. And thanks to that work of generations, for millions of individuals whose lives were once narrowed by injustice, they are now able to live more freely and to participate more fully in the political, economic, and social lives of their communities.
Now, there is still, as you all know, much more to be done to secure that commitment, that reality, and progress for all people. Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm.
I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time. I speak about this subject knowing that my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect. Until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country. Many LGBT Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences. So we, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home.
Now, raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs. So I come here before you with respect, understanding, and humility. Even though progress on this front is not easy, we cannot delay acting. So in that spirit, I want to talk about the difficult and important issues we must address together to reach a global consensus that recognizes the human rights of LGBT citizens everywhere.
The first issue goes to the heart of the matter. Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They also weren’t thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity.
This recognition did not occur all at once. It evolved over time. And as it did, we understood that we were honoring rights that people always had, rather than creating new or special rights for them. Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.
It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives. And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.
The second issue is a question of whether homosexuality arises from a particular part of the world. Some seem to believe it is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors.
Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The Government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.
Now, some worry that protecting the human rights of the LGBT community is a luxury that only wealthy nations can afford. But in fact, in all countries, there are costs to not protecting these rights, in both gay and straight lives lost to disease and violence, and the silencing of voices and views that would strengthen communities, in ideas never pursued by entrepreneurs who happen to be gay. Costs are incurred whenever any group is treated as lesser or the other, whether they are women, racial, or religious minorities, or the LGBT. Former President Mogae of Botswana pointed out recently that for as long as LGBT people are kept in the shadows, there cannot be an effective public health program to tackle HIV and AIDS. Well, that holds true for other challenges as well.
The third, and perhaps most challenging, issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.
In each of these cases, we came to learn that no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us. And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing.
Of course, it bears noting that rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights. Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. It was not only those who’ve justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it. And let us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source. For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people. And likewise, for most of us, the bonds of love and family that we forge are also vital sources of meaning and identity. And caring for others is an expression of what it means to be fully human. It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures.
The fourth issue is what history teaches us about how we make progress towards rights for all. Progress starts with honest discussion. Now, there are some who say and believe that all gay people are pedophiles, that homosexuality is a disease that can be caught or cured, or that gays recruit others to become gay. Well, these notions are simply not true. They are also unlikely to disappear if those who promote or accept them are dismissed out of hand rather than invited to share their fears and concerns. No one has ever abandoned a belief because he was forced to do so.
Universal human rights include freedom of expression and freedom of belief, even if our words or beliefs denigrate the humanity of others. Yet, while we are each free to believe whatever we choose, we cannot do whatever we choose, not in a world where we protect the human rights of all.
Reaching understanding of these issues takes more than speech. It does take a conversation. In fact, it takes a constellation of conversations in places big and small. And it takes a willingness to see stark differences in belief as a reason to begin the conversation, not to avoid it.
But progress comes from changes in laws. In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate.
Many in my country thought that President Truman was making a grave error when he ordered the racial desegregation of our military. They argued that it would undermine unit cohesion. And it wasn’t until he went ahead and did it that we saw how it strengthened our social fabric in ways even the supporters of the policy could not foresee. Likewise, some worried in my country that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have a negative effect on our armed forces. Now, the Marine Corps Commandant, who was one of the strongest voices against the repeal, says that his concerns were unfounded and that the Marines have embraced the change.
Finally, progress comes from being willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. We need to ask ourselves, “How would it feel if it were a crime to love the person I love? How would it feel to be discriminated against for something about myself that I cannot change?” This challenge applies to all of us as we reflect upon deeply held beliefs, as we work to embrace tolerance and respect for the dignity of all persons, and as we engage humbly with those with whom we disagree in the hope of creating greater understanding.
A fifth and final question is how we do our part to bring the world to embrace human rights for all people including LGBT people. Yes, LGBT people must help lead this effort, as so many of you are. Their knowledge and experiences are invaluable and their courage inspirational. We know the names of brave LGBT activists who have literally given their lives for this cause, and there are many more whose names we will never know. But often those who are denied rights are least empowered to bring about the changes they seek. Acting alone, minorities can never achieve the majorities necessary for political change.
So when any part of humanity is sidelined, the rest of us cannot sit on the sidelines. Every time a barrier to progress has fallen, it has taken a cooperative effort from those on both sides of the barrier. In the fight for women’s rights, the support of men remains crucial. The fight for racial equality has relied on contributions from people of all races. Combating Islamaphobia or anti-Semitism is a task for people of all faiths. And the same is true with this struggle for equality.
Conversely, when we see denials and abuses of human rights and fail to act, that sends the message to those deniers and abusers that they won’t suffer any consequences for their actions, and so they carry on. But when we do act, we send a powerful moral message. Right here in Geneva, the international community acted this year to strengthen a global consensus around the human rights of LGBT people. At the Human Rights Council in March, 85 countries from all regions supported a statement calling for an end to criminalization and violence against people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
At the following session of the Council in June, South Africa took the lead on a resolution about violence against LGBT people. The delegation from South Africa spoke eloquently about their own experience and struggle for human equality and its indivisibility. When the measure passed, it became the first-ever UN resolution recognizing the human rights of gay people worldwide. In the Organization of American States this year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights created a unit on the rights of LGBT people, a step toward what we hope will be the creation of a special rapporteur.
Now, we must go further and work here and in every region of the world to galvanize more support for the human rights of the LGBT community. To the leaders of those countries where people are jailed, beaten, or executed for being gay, I ask you to consider this: Leadership, by definition, means being out in front of your people when it is called for. It means standing up for the dignity of all your citizens and persuading your people to do the same. It also means ensuring that all citizens are treated as equals under your laws, because let me be clear – I am not saying that gay people can’t or don’t commit crimes. They can and they do, just like straight people. And when they do, they should be held accountable, but it should never be a crime to be gay.
And to people of all nations, I say supporting human rights is your responsibility too. The lives of gay people are shaped not only by laws, but by the treatment they receive every day from their families, from their neighbors. Eleanor Roosevelt, who did so much to advance human rights worldwide, said that these rights begin in the small places close to home – the streets where people live, the schools they attend, the factories, farms, and offices where they work. These places are your domain. The actions you take, the ideals that you advocate, can determine whether human rights flourish where you are.
And finally, to LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face. That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.
The Obama Administration defends the human rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy. In our embassies, our diplomats are raising concerns about specific cases and laws, and working with a range of partners to strengthen human rights protections for all. In Washington, we have created a task force at the State Department to support and coordinate this work. And in the coming months, we will provide every embassy with a toolkit to help improve their efforts. And we have created a program that offers emergency support to defenders of human rights for LGBT people.
This morning, back in Washington, President Obama put into place the first U.S. Government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad. Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President has directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons.
I am also pleased to announce that we are launching a new Global Equality Fund that will support the work of civil society organizations working on these issues around the world. This fund will help them record facts so they can target their advocacy, learn how to use the law as a tool, manage their budgets, train their staffs, and forge partnerships with women’s organizations and other human rights groups. We have committed more than $3 million to start this fund, and we have hope that others will join us in supporting it.
The women and men who advocate for human rights for the LGBT community in hostile places, some of whom are here today with us, are brave and dedicated, and deserve all the help we can give them. We know the road ahead will not be easy. A great deal of work lies before us. But many of us have seen firsthand how quickly change can come. In our lifetimes, attitudes toward gay people in many places have been transformed. Many people, including myself, have experienced a deepening of our own convictions on this topic over the years, as we have devoted more thought to it, engaged in dialogues and debates, and established personal and professional relationships with people who are gay.
This evolution is evident in many places. To highlight one example, the Delhi High Court decriminalized homosexuality in India two years ago, writing, and I quote, “If there is one tenet that can be said to be an underlying theme of the Indian constitution, it is inclusiveness.” There is little doubt in my mind that support for LGBT human rights will continue to climb. Because for many young people, this is simple: All people deserve to be treated with dignity and have their human rights respected, no matter who they are or whom they love.
There is a phrase that people in the United States invoke when urging others to support human rights: “Be on the right side of history.” The story of the United States is the story of a nation that has repeatedly grappled with intolerance and inequality. We fought a brutal civil war over slavery. People from coast to coast joined in campaigns to recognize the rights of women, indigenous peoples, racial minorities, children, people with disabilities, immigrants, workers, and on and on. And the march toward equality and justice has continued. Those who advocate for expanding the circle of human rights were and are on the right side of history, and history honors them. Those who tried to constrict human rights were wrong, and history reflects that as well.
I know that the thoughts I’ve shared today involve questions on which opinions are still evolving. As it has happened so many times before, opinion will converge once again with the truth, the immutable truth, that all persons are created free and equal in dignity and rights. We are called once more to make real the words of the Universal Declaration. Let us answer that call. Let us be on the right side of history, for our people, our nations, and future generations, whose lives will be shaped by the work we do today. I come before you with great hope and confidence that no matter how long the road ahead, we will travel it successfully together. Thank you very much.
the (unedited) story below was penned down and published on an independent news website. It’s an untold story like many stories from the southern Bhutanese. It tells about the gross human rights violations that happened in the early nineties of the last century in Bhutan. The problem with stories like these is the absence of physical evidence so people can only base opinions on oral reporting of the events. In Europe over the years projects were started to re-tell the stories of the people who have been oppressed and dislocated during the second world war. These project collected these stories and the basis was always recording first hand experiences told by the people themselves. It’s project like those that are continuously raising awareness of what happened and the threat of such situations in society.
Until now, the stories from the southern (and eastern) Bhutanese, have not been captured and saved for history.
But I am sure that just like the story below they have a function in society. They remind everyone of what has happened and might in the end even proof to be of great importance to find justice for the people who became victims of a derailed regime. It is therefore that I republish this, and it is therefore that I seek confirmation of this story. So, can anyone confirm this specific story. First hand? And has anyone stories like these? If so, please let me know because I would like to collect them, list them and republish them on a dedicated website so that history will not be forgotten and not be deformed by propaganda.
This idea for document unwritten history came to me because of the problems concerning registration of refugees in the camps and the hunger strike of the past few weeks by a brave group of women in the Beldangi camp. It occurred to me that if stories untold become stories unwritten history will become blurred and truth fades away.
Dorona is the most remote and backward ‘Gewog’ (block) of all the inhabited area of Dagapela that can be logically argued through the availability of goods and services both in terms of forward and backward linkages. It had a dispensary in a two roomed single floor house at Nimtoladara with the staffing of a compounder and local peon and other was the Extended Classroom (ECR) of Powgang Primary School at Tharphu with the provision of one full time teaching staff and a local temporary teacher. The ECR was three roomed shed with wild bamboo messed walls and the double-pitched roof freely standing at the mud floor.
None of the houses were ever served with the public utilities and other infrastructure services for public goods. Furthermore, the most embarrassing situation was that due to the lack of any public built spaces; the ‘Gup’(Mandal –popularly elected block representative) had to run the office from their respective private houses. And till 1992, none of the Gups had the formal education, and this was not the qualifying criterion for that representation. The central had looked this area with least priority both in terms of capacity building and infrastructure development. May be with this reason, people used an idiomatic way of rating the civil officers as ‘am not afraid of such a high profile chaprasis (forest guards) and why should I fear of Dzongda’(Chief District Officer). Such was the exposure of the people from this block who couldn’t distinguish the comparative level of a Dzongda to a forester.
Some Phenomenal Incidences
Firstly, the officiating Gup left the country to join the antinational movements on September 1990 thereby creating a type of void between the grassroots people and the administrative authority for the proper and accurate communication. Taking the advantage of vulnerability of people, the remoteness and guardian-less condition, some 4 unidentified men took control of then on duty compounder at the midnight of September 29th, 1990. The staff didn’t surrender them but was helpless. The outfits then set the dispensary on fire where the inferno destroyed everything, the facility and the structure to ashes. On the same night they abducted the health staff leaving his wife and children there at miserable condition hardly anyone there to take care of them. This was all the movement of Dorona block.
Later when the country’s situation was normalize after a month or so the authority accused the local inhabitants not only of Nimtola village but for every household of the gewog for their involvement and not acting as a true citizen of Pelden Drukpa. People tried their best to convince their innocence, the authority turned their deaf ears and ultimately compelled everyone to leave the country.
The then Dzongda Hisey Dorji of Dagana District called a meeting for the people of Dorona block on April 4th, 1991 to convey the message of HM to the people of the block and also to review some of the occurrences that took place during the southern uprisings. The meet was conducted to find out the peoples’ involvement in the uprising that was against the prevailing regulations and give the clean sheets to the people. The meeting was scheduled to start at 9.00 am but due to commuting problems it actually began at 10.00am.
The general public were asked to sit at the ground like an amphitheatre stage, the performers at the front and the audiences facing towards the authorities that comprised of the Dzongda, the security chief Maj. Chachu with his armed military team and other local government staff. Dzongda was the all in all speaker to address the meeting. He began using really harsh language to scold the people and at times using bad mouthing. He took out a typed letter from his gho pouch and showed to the people mentioning that the very letter has been sent by the king. He didn’t read the letter but referring the document began saying that king isn’t happy with the people of south and got really infuriated with the type of situation prevailing in this region. He told that the king was caring the southern people more and had undertaken many physical development to facelift this area in spite of many developmental challenges. But he began losing faith and trust towards you all. You all used a plate to eat the food and used that same tool to pass the excreta. He questioned to the people whether or not the royal family would ever use the facilities of the local area.
There was a pin drop silence; no one had the courage to break such timing due to two reasons, first- all the participants were 100% illiterate comprising of shepherds, cattle herders and mere farmers to understand and explain the authority and second the people from the gewog never committed such act and lacked the background knowledge and factual information. Then it was dzongda himself to break the ice and said that you people pretend. Again he asked the mass to provide with the names of people who were involved at torching the dispensary building. Again no one uttered a word.
He took out another hand written paper that contained the names of all the people of the Gewog and began to read the names and segregate the people into two groups; one group was the clean sheet category and other the black list, people who had hands for the physical destruction a type of indirect challenge to the king and country. There were just two people on the clean sheet category namely the man who provided the list and second was his father in law family where as rest of the people were totally grouped under black list. The list was secretly prepared by the ‘Gup’ through the help from the local clandestine individual, a kind of espionage and was based on the personal relation of such providers.
Again referring to the letter send by HM, he began briefing that king has opened three options to the black listed people and told that it was mandatory to choose the best options for each family and told that early the better. The options opened were:-
Leave the country immediately with no conditions.
Serve the compulsory detention term of 13.5 years.
Face the extermination of public shooting at Capital’s national stadium.
Each family from my ‘Geog’ (block) had to choose the best among the above three alternatives provided by the state administration through the local bodies. Each option were detailed and explained to make it clear so that the ordinary layman can understand and reach at decision.
For the 2nd options, it was mandatory for each and every individual who were black listed by the government and were over 18 years to serve the prescribed period. Had the people been interrogated and had chance to express their involvement or prove their innocence, it would have been fair to enlist but how rationale was it to rubberstamp the list provided by such miscreants.
Extermination threat was made more convincing through the justification of numbers of bullets per individual southern population and public announcement was made that RGOB had bought 10 bullets equivalent to each southern person very recently from India’s goodwill. And some examples relevant to such practice were highlighted naming Chabda, Mahasur and others and there could be similar fate for everyone and the people were threatened to take the matter seriously and give the prompt response.
For the first option, if people were interested to opt then government would immediately make the sufficient arrangement at the earliest possible. What people have to do was just submit in writing that the person would be leaving the country at own will. People also had to mention that they were not forced by any law enforcing authorities and need to sign it that would automatically convert into the legal documents.
People watched the government’s move for about one complete year with a hope that government will be little flexible and considerate enough on these options but the situation further ruined. There were no any indications of improvements and at each and every step there came a barrier at every mode of activity. Within the extremism there reached a critical stage where people began saying that it is worth to be sanity than to end the life. People can tolerate to certain degree and when the level crosses the bearing limit then it’s obvious to shift the position in regards to uncertainty. Sadly, at the end people were compelled to sign the eviction form preferring madness than facing unnatural human disaster. When the autocrats think in an ethnic superiority conditions with total dominating and hate feelings towards minority population then there could be chances that such exterminations would prevail in the broad daylight where history has shown many such lessons.
During the process of eviction, people need to submit and surrender all the testimonies in regards to Bhutanese identity, be it citizenship card, tax receipt or property registration certificate. It’s those documents that show the proof as Bhutanese and once such documents are seized then it is obvious to brand the people into different categories, call it by illegal immigrants, economic emigrants, homeless dwellers or people of nowhere.
Now can we term this entire phenomenal move to be at people own will or some externality compelled to leave from the place of birth and citizenry?
Aimed at supporting 12 women including breast-feeding mothers, who fasted-to-death for 12 days, and nine children associated with them, the Bhutan Media Society has launched an online donation drive, involving the resettled communities of various eight countries and their well-wishers, Monday.
At least 12 women, who were forcefully evicted from Bhutan fasted-to-death for 12 days demanding “refugee status” and facilities from the Nepal government and aid agencies. The Government of Nepal finally acknowledged their demands and committed to fulfill them within the next five months. Women, who have lost their health and even developed various side effects due to long fasting, were admitted in the AMDA Hospital in Damak for treatment. However, they were released in a couple of days.
The Bhutan Media Society has been following their situations from the very start of the protest. Now, these women need diatary supports to regain their lost health. Some of them are breast-feeding mothers, and there are nine children below the age of 10 associated with these women. In our observation, these women are unable to work to earn their daily bread for at least a week or two.
This is what one of the women told us:
We would be greatful if the resettled community could help us. I have a child but no ration. My husband remained busy in escorting patients during the hunger strike. My baby was helpess during that period, without any fixed timing for food. We still don’t have food to eat.
My chest and throat ache. I have a problem in my kidneys. I am very week.
Most of us are mothers with small children. We are not in a position to earn the daily bread for our children. We feel that the support from resettled community would help us to feed our children until we become able to do so again.
For supporting the women to recover their lost health and their children with food, the Bhutan Media Society has launched a donation drive. The donations that we receive from our esteemed donors will be mobilised to assist the women with dietary supports, and ensure foods for their children at least for a week.
Based on the their request, the Society has decided to garner some supports from the resettled Bhutanese community, their organizations and well-wishers of exiled Bhutanese, added Mishra.
The Society and its associates have appealed every Bhutanese to support the initiative on humanitarian grounds. According to Mishra, the official website of Bhutan News Service will publish details of all donations made on regular basis, like in various donations drives conducted by the Society.
The donation drive lasts until mid-night of December 5, 2011, Nepal Standard Time. Please distribute this video at will in support of our campaign. We are committed towards transparancy of all transactions made through our initiatives.
The hunger strike of the women in the Beldangi refugee camp has ended early Saturday morning. The government of Nepal has given written statement that they will resume registration of all yet unregistered refugees in the camps. This statement was presented to the women in the presence of local journalists, human rights workers and the organizations present in the camps.
All the women are still doubtful of the intentions of the government and will judge on the real actions following this statement but they decided to end their hunger strike and ordeal.
Obviously they are all in very bad shape so they were moved to the local AMDA hospital in Damak for treatment and recovery. They will need special care to overcome the physical impact of 11 days hunger strike.
Their action, bravery and determination deserves all respect. I am very relieved to hear this has ended.
Detailed information can be found at Bhutan News Service. This photo shows the actual signed agreement:
I never had the intention to become another human rights advocate. And over the past year I have tried not to become one. To stay ‘objective’. Because that is what a documentary maker is supposed to stay. But in the end it proved impossible. The breaking point was reached when I got the news about the women on hunger strike in the refugee camp that I have been able to visit frequently earlier this year.
I still think that I am objective on the issues regarding the exiles (refugees is not a very good word because of the passiveness that it pushes upon the people) from Bhutan who have been living in these horrendous camps in the south east Terai in Nepal. Sure, these camps are in some ways not worse than poor rural communities in Nepal but it is the lack of freedom, the barbed wire and Armed Police Forces presence, food rationing and impossibility of integration with the surrounding Nepali society that is so connected through historical ties that bothers me. Visiting a refugee camp in Nepal is an experience unforgettable in a persons life. And for some a life changing event.
My life has changed in the last year. I set out to write a book and became a film maker. And even that might very well prove to be just another stop along the road. Because when I realized that people who are not only an exile but also are being disregarded by the government of the country they fled to and by the international community which is present at the scene by the UNHCR representative I also realized that for me it is impossible to be a bystander. Hence, there is no way not be some sort of activist.
My activism is not translated into street protests or other types of public protest. I choose to be the artist activist who uses art to convey a message. Mostly to the general public but sometimes dedicated to politicians, human rights organizations or other NGO’s. I prefer to keep communicating on the personal level. This website is my main channel for that but there are many more ways to advocate human rights. My film Headwind and the connected photo exhibitions, my novels and opportunities for presentations and lectures are all ways for me to advocate the rights of the people I am concerned with. It is a task that I’ve taken on only because I could not prevent myself to do so. Simply because I would not like to look into the mirror and see the face of someone who bailed out when things became complicated or intense.
Does that make me a good person? I don’t think so. I prefer to understand that it makes me a human being. Because in the process of becoming more and more activist in my work I had to let go of those things that are in my views dehumanizing most other people. Things like wealth and possessions, things like status in society and other crap that consumes people attention. They are all preventing us to live for real. So I guess that deciding to take the activist route as a writer / film maker is in essence selfish.
What does this all mean? Well first of all shifting priorities. Shifting in a sense that surviving western culture which is now some sort of daily struggle is only instrumental to be able to do what really matters to me. It means that I obviously need to travel a lot in the coming years so getting attached to a domicile is not smart. So I won’t do that. It also means living a rather minimal life in terms of things and stuff. So I reduced that. It also means that having good equipment available is key to my work. And good equipment means good computers and cameras. Computers for the writing, photo and film production and managing my work. A good digital photo camera but also a good analogue camera to make more artistically challenging photos and above all a great videocam for shooting good quality footage. It took me a few years to obtain all that an get my travel kit in order. The last one in the oldest also: a great analogue camera with a 4.5×6 large film format.
On a different level a choice like this means that friendships get to another level. I can only work with others if there is a friendship bond and I am so lucky in that. My best friends know me and I suppose they understand me. They are not average, they are special to me. Even more now since there might be longer times that we can’t see each other. It doesn’t make them less important for me but rather more important. Doing what I do and living the life I do means that true friends are key. They are the ones that keep me on my feet when times are hard and morale low. They inspire me.
Alls of this also means that I am slowly getting the understanding that doing what I do means running it all like it is a business. With planning, much and sometimes complicated communication, risks and risk mitigation and a lot of seemingly unrelated activities that are in the end important to get the results I want to get. It forces me to become more and more a world citizen and less a Dutch citizen. Because my playfield has expanded outside that small country in Europe. My work brings me everywhere on the globe if necessary. It is a way of living that I am learning that. And the more I dive into it without hesitation, the better is gets. I know that it makes me politically vulnarable and mediawise visible. Well, so be it. And as of today, there is this bag standing in my room. Packed with the essentials because I am ready to go.
Last night in the wee hours of the morning I received this letter from a dear friend. It explains why for some reason the hunger striking women in the Beldangi 2 camp are left on their own to die. It was send to a close friend of mine, me and one of the Bhutanese support foundations. I can only republish it so the world knows.
Dear Ram Daju and Others,
I am extremely sorry to inform you that condition of hunger strikers is getting pathetic day by day. Today is the 8th day ! They are struggling at the end of their lives, for which every Bhutanese needs to be sympathetic. Still, I am sad to read some emails from the seniors stating that it is baseless to express solidarity to them since most of them are Nepalese !!. I think, our objective should be to save their souls, and this is not the time to question if they are Bhutanese. The refugee community in camp expects a lot from the resettled folks, and such emails will create a different kind of scenario, and this must be seriously considered. The Government of Nepal and the UNHCR will decide who they are.
When we are taking about vulnerable children and their mothers, we need to have different kind of consideration. In my observation, if there are any Nepalis, they are women married to refugees. And, those who missed their registration are mostly the victims of Khosi disaster, which obstructed them to attend their given date of registration when the East-West Highway remained blocked for over four months. So, I feel we are not the authority to judge who they are. Personally, I have my brother, his Nepalese wife and two children, who have been living in camp since 1992. So, when we question of Bhutanese identity of remaining asylum seekers, we need to be careful. The resettlement has not end everything, the community should not be divided. When I am a genuine Bhutanese, so is my brother. And, marrying a Nepali wife at no ground should curtail my brother from getting his refugee status. I am sure, you will also support this explanation.
I have attached the details of the women in fast-unto-death and I am sure this document will explain to a greater extend if they are real Bhutanese or not. These people fulfill enough criteria to qualify them to stay in camps, managed and monitored by the GoN/UNHCR, and this is why they regard they must be given their refugee status, which a must to qualify for resettlement or repatriation. Otherwise, non-Bhutanese are never allowed to make their living inside the camps.
Ram daju, I received an email from the Punya Foundation that it has already initiated a signature campaign to press the authority to bring the hunger strike to an end logically, and basically to save the lives of agitating women. There are questions that the Foundation has taken the step beyond its capacity and reach. However, I feel every Bhutanese and his organization is morally bound to speak on behalf of fellow-citizens. Thus, the initiative should be considered positively. Or, can we bring any other organization in the front to speak on behalf of these people, who have decided to sacrifice their lives unless their demands are met?
Dear seniors and friends, there are many things that we can do to save the lives of these women. We can jointly write a petition to Nepali Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai. We can also write to all members of the core-group and resettling countries so that they can press, through their respective embassies, the Nepali Ministry of Home Affairs to address the issue on time. We can lobby with the UNHCR’s Geneva-based HQ to grant ration and medical facilities to all asylum seekers on temporary basis (We should not forget that the UNHCR was distributing ration to everyone prior to the official census conducted between 2006-2008). Thus, there are many options that we can opt at this time, instead of blaming these helpless people. If we have supporting documents that majority of asylum seekers are Nepalese or Indians, I am sure we can ask the GoN/UNHCR to remove these people from the camp. I am sure that you must be aware that there are even new arrivals from Bhutan’s prison. Their wives and families have already been resettled. These people are alone in the camp, now. So, are they Bhutanese or Nepali?
And, the last option could also to start an initiative to fill the hungry stomachs. It is said, the number of pending asylum seekers are 3,700. Of this figure, some 1,600 have obtained their refugee ID cards. Thus, if we can feed remaining 2100 individuals for a month or two, the GoN/UNHCR will find ample time to exercise on their demands. This will be a small support and for short period but will definitely break the ongoing hunger strike.
Namaskar and regards,
Cell : 985-111-6975
Skype : vidhyapati
At this moment, the world shows no interest! Politicians and human rights advocates in the west do not respond to direct emails with only very few exceptions. Even the communities of refugees living in the western countries are to this day silent and do not take a public effort in building pressure to their governments or to Nepal and the UNHCR to end it all. At this moment the world is standing by and fifteen women are dying. In the following table details about these women is made available including reasons for not giving them refugee status:
I am sick of it all. Sick because of the way people are treated in this world and sick of the way the world just looks and stays silent and simply doesn’t seem to care.
Today, November 21 I received information that 4 woman are currently being treated in the Damak AMDA hospital for low blood sugar. This is an indication of the rapidly deteriorating medical condition of them.
Also information was released that yesterday officials from human rights organizations and Nepal government visited the hunger strikers to persuade an end of the hunger strike. The women refused and told that they are still determined to continue their now over 150 hours long hunger strike, if necessary until death when their demands for granting them refugee status by the Nepalese government are not met.
Also today detailed information became available proving the unclear reasons for not granting a formal refugee status underlining the just cause the hunger strikers are fighting for. This information will be released if needed and is available at the Bhutan News Service and me.
Currently attempts are being made to gain further interest from the global Bhutanese community, human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, politicians, NGO’s, press and others through internet communication on Facebook and direct email.
The situation of the hunger strikers is worsening. Currently most of them are in bad physical condition, five of them have been hospitalized in the Beldangi 2 Health Care Center for observation. In the meanwhile there is no progress known concerning their legal status from the side of the Nepal government.
When the situation does not change we have to fear that this hunger strike is going to end in a tragedy.
If you want to support the hunger strikers in their effort to get refugee status (and thereby the rights of the other refugees from Bhutan like health care, education, food and the possibility for third country resettlement), please write and email or letter to your member of parliament, the Nepal ambassador or consul or the Nepal government. Addresses are to be found through Google.
If you want to follow the developments in the Beldangi 2 camp hunger strike, visit www.bhutannewsservice.com. The following is a republication of their latest newsitem:
The Human Rights Organization of Bhutan (HUROB) has expressed worry over the deteriorating heath conditions of exiled Bhutanese women, who have been undergoing fast-unto-death since Tuesday. Issuing a press statement on Saturday, HUROB Chairperson S.B.Subba requested the Government of Nepal and UNHCR to consider the case and meet their demands at least on humanitarian ground once for all.
“It may be over stepping of the policy, the kind humanitarian gesture would be highly appreciated and the refugees will remain ever grateful,” said he.
According to the HUROB, such kindness from the concerned authority would relieve the non-registered Bhutanese refugees forever from their daily trepidation and psychological fear of insecurity of the future of their children and means of survival. Subba has warmed that if the problem is left unaddressed, there is fear of 3,749 refugees becoming stateless, and that will become a concern for the international community.
Meanwhile, the Bhutanese Refugee Representative Repatriation Committee (BRRRC) has asked the Government of Nepal to end the ongoing hunger strike by fulfilling their demands on moral grounds. Issuing a press statement on Sunday, BRRRC Chair Dr Bhampa Rai said, demands put forwarded by hunger strikers must be immediately addressed considering the worsening health conditions.
Meanwhile, a group of rights defenders on Saturday requested protesting women to bring their hunger strike to an end. However, protestors said, they have decided to sacrifice their lives unless their demands are met.
For anyone who doubts the seriousness of the issue that these women and many local human rights workers raise, just look at this table from the UNHCR Nepal website. The table lists all Bhutanese refugees as being taken care for. Which is in reality something that is and should be challenged.
UPDATE: According to my friend and colleague of Bhutan News Service Vidhyapati Mishra who is monitoring the situation in the Beldangi II camp 10 out of 15 hunger strikers have fallen ill. AMDA doctors were present to examine them and a government official (assistant Chief District Officer of the Jhapa District) visited the hunger strikers yesterday urging them to end the strike and stating the government was not given an ultimatum to correct the registration problem. As this is the second time a hunger strike is happening after a full year without progress this last statement is doubtful to say the least. As the living conditions in the refugee camps are not good and the general health situation is problematic it is obvious that this hunger strike has a high risk and urgent action is needed. Further decline of the medical situation of the hunger strikers is imminent.
photo courtesy of Bhutan News Service / Vidhyapati Mishra / Situation on November 17
Today (November 16) I have been filming the arrival of a Bhutanese exiled family in their new home in the small city of Harderwijk in the Netherlands. For most of them a new future in a new world is within their grasp. For some of them it is just another strange place in the line of strange places in their life. Like the old lady of 84 who, again, has to try to enjoy life in a new and completely alien society.
Today I spoke to one of my Bhutanese friends who I met while filming. Het told me the latest news from the Beldangi II refugee camp in Nepal which is so familiar to me. And I was shocked.
Today there was a demonstration with a hungerstrike in my hometown The Hague. By Tibetan refugees protesting against the atrocities of the Chinese occupying power in their homeland Tibet. And out of solidarity with the suicides attempts by self-burning that a long list of Tibetan monks and nuns do. A tragedy that gains international media attention easily.
photo courtesy of Bhutan News Service / Vidhyapati Mishra / Start of hunger strike on November 15
This group of fifteen brave women in the Beldangi camp do not get international attention. They have no cameras registering teir ordeal and no means of spreading their story globally. They are not seen and not heard. As if they don’t exist from an international perspective. They are stateless, powerless and without rights. Their situation offends me as a human being, as a sister. It’s important that the world gets to know the downside of the resettlement program that the international community is executing through the UNHCR and a number of countries who, like my own, invite Bhutanese refugees to come over and build a new life, a new future. For humanitarian reasons. The fifteen women from Beldangi do not have a refugee status and there are a number of reasons possible why that is so. One of them is that they might very well have arrived as a refugee in the refugee-camp they live in too late. Because once the resettlement program from the UNHCR started in 2007 they blocked the entry of newly arrived refugees in the camps. Resettling exiles is done with the condition that there will be no more influx of refugees in the camps.
The registration of refugees in the camps is a debatable issue. Because of identity and resettlement fraud the criteria for receiving a refugeestatus in the camps has become more complicated and strict. Unclarity of ones past situation and family relations now means that one might not get such status, with the above consequences. The worst one being the fact that one in essence is told not to exist. To be stateless while not being a refugee and because of that having even less rights than a refugee.
From a more fundamental perspective it is this policy that degrades people to a less than human level. With no rights to housing, education, health care, food, work and basically without a right to exist. This in essence is a gross human rights tragedy and a gross violation of the most basic human rights. Currently UNHCR holds a large number of files of refugees whose identity is either not completely clear or for a number of other reasons. As long as these files are held by the UNHCR and not transferred to the IOM (International Organization for Migration) these files will not be processed further and thereby the resettling of these people is halted. And as stated people without refugee status are denied the rights other refugees have making life almost unbearable. For sometimes very unclear reasons the verification of ones refugee status sometimes takes an extremely long time at the UNHCR resulting in major problems for the ones it concerns. This includes effectively halting the resettlement of some who have opted for resettlement for unclear reasons and preventing others to opt for resettlement because they’ve not been granted refugee status rendering resettlement impossible.
I can and will not except that reality for a fact. I challenge the policymakers, the politicians, the international community to end this inhumane policy. As a citizen of this earth I urge the world to open the eyes and set itself behind those women, to tell their stories, to support them and to save them. Because they have every right for an acceptable quality of life, just like anyone else, just like you and me. Because they are just like you and me human beings.
If you feel that this situation should end, please write a letter or an email in support of these women to your member of parliament, government or Nepal ambassador or consul. To seek justice for these women.