Herinneringen aan Simon Smit, fotograaf (1914-2012)

Simon Smit is overleden. Simon Engelbertes Smit om precies te zijn. Achtennegentig is hij geworden en geen mens zal ooit weten hoeveel foto’s hij maakte. Ergens in mijn jeugdherinneringen zit de man opgeborgen op een mooie plek.

simon smit

Het is zomer 1970 en ik ben acht jaar. Het jaar ervoor had mijn vader mij midden in de nacht mijn bed uit gehaald om op de zwartwit Metz televisie te kijken naar de eerste maandlanding. Bij de NTS en gepresenteerd door Henk Terlingen. Maar in 1970 kwam die wonderlijke NASA naar Den Haag. Op het dak van het Congresgebouw (nu World Forum en lang niet zo mooi als toen) was een grote tentoonstelling ingericht. Een droom voor een kind van acht. Er stond een capsule van een Gemini raket en wat dingen van de Apollo 8 en allerlei ander spul. Ik kwam er weg met een tas vol NASA promotiemateriaal gericht op kinderen. Raketten van karton en kaarten waarop je een mannetje kon aankleden in laagjes tot op zijn maanpak en nog veel meer. Ik heb het jaren bewaard maar geen idee waar het gebleven is. Verloren in de tijd.

Met mijn vader, moeder en zus liepen we op de tentoonstelling en blijkbaar waren we in de ogen van ‘Smitje’ zoals de fotograaf genoemd werd geschikt om op de gevoelige plaat vast te leggen. Voor in Het Binnenhof, het kleine zusje van de Haagsche Courant. Smit sprak mijn  ouders aan en we werden naar een tafel getroond waar zakjes met ruimtevoedsel op lagen uitgestald. Een belangrijke meneer legede uit wat het was en natuurlijk wilde ik het eigenlijk proeven. Dat was niet de bedoeling dus we moesten het laten bij het poseren als standaard papa, mama, dochtertje, zoontje gezin. De foto is vast nog ergens in het persarchief van Sijthoff te vinden en misschien heb ik hem nog wel ergens in één van de albums die ik nog heb uit mijn vroege jeugd.

Smit, zo herinnerde ik me, was een innemende meneer met een knoepert van een camera op zijn buik en zo’n flitser die tot parabool uitgevouwen werd en voorzien van blauwe flitslampjes, zijn bril droeg hij op het voorhoofd en niet op zijn neus. O ja, zijn jasje wat geruit en hij was een wat vierkante gedrongen man toen. Ik weet nog dat hij de tijd nam en het leuk vond hoe wonderlijk wij alles vonden. Het was ook een mooie foto die hij maakte.

Vandaag kwam dus het bericht dat deze prachtfotograaf van het leven er niet meer is. Het was zijn tijd. Waar hij bekend werd van de Juliana-Bernhard-tandem foto, herinner ik mij van die zomerdag op het dak van het Congresgebouw bij een grote witte tafel met zakjes ‘ruimte eten’. Dat is op zich een prachtige herinnering die ik koester.

© 2012 Alice Anna Verheij

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Is UNHCR creating malnutrition in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal?

A few days ago a letter was written by important members of the Bhutanese refugee community in Nepal to the UNHCR in that country. The letter is a request to discuss maltreatment by the UNHCR regarding the refugees they are supposed to take care of.

What is happening?

Since the early 1990’s the UNHCR has managed and maintained a number of refugee camps in the southeast of Nepal (more exact, in the Jhapa and Morang districts). At its height there were over 107.000 refugees listed in those camps. Since 2008 the UNHCR has started the by far largest third country resettlement program ever aiming at completely solving the decades long refugee crisis of the Bhutanese who exiled from their Shangri-La like country in the Himalayas.

unhcr

The UNHCR has done a tremendous job in guarding peace in those camps while at the same time bringing essential humanitarian aid the the inhabitants. Nepal (just like India and Bhutan) never signed the UN refugee treaty so the UNHCR has been working there on a UN mandate. They have been partnering with AMDA (Asian Medical Doctors Association) for health care, Caritas for education, Lutheran World Federation for camp management and monitoring and the WFP World Food Program for food distribution to the camp communities that have no other means of existence.

But things have changed. The aim of the UNHCR in Nepal seems to have shifted in the past few years from caring for the refugees who livin in limbo in the camps to bringing a durable solution to their situation by third country resettlement. According to the international morale of refugees the people should repatriate but that has obviously proven to be an impossible dream as Bhutan, the country of Gross National Happiness, has been frustrating talks and efforts for that ever since the crisis started in 1991. Assimilation in the Nepalese and Indian society is also a no go as Nepal and India do not accept that (the lack the resources to do that on a humanitarian responsible manner), hence the durable solution of the UNHCR: resettling to the west.

This resettlement project is well underway with almost two thirds of the refugees already resettled to mainly the US and countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway Denmark, Netherlands and the UK. But there are fears that not all refugees will resettle. After all it is an opt-in project and not all refugees desire a life in a completely alien western society ultimately losing their history, religion and way of life in due time. Some 10,000 refugees have not opterd for resettlement. Let alone the other more than 4,000* refugees that have not been registered as refugees for a variety of reasons. They do however live in those camps without food, healthcare and proper housing. (* The number is based on a headcount by camp management in 2011 and has decreased to a yet unknown figure.)

So something needs to happen. Recently the UNHCR has announced that they can no longer provide vegetables to the refugees, taking out an important element in their diet which is by no means extensive. The effects of not supplying vegetables as of January 2013 will no doubt be deteriorating health of the camps population in the coming years. The reason the UNHCR has given is that they lack a proper budget for this essential food. Which is very strange as the European Union has provided for a over 3 Million Euro budget for the UNHCR for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, continuing the financing of the UNHCR’s operation in regard to those camps. So what is happening?

According to the Beldangi camp secretary, Dhan Bir Subba, (Beldangi is the largest of the two remaining camps) the UN has informed them that the budget is redistributed by the UNHCR to other refugee crisis areas in the world. Basically stating that they simply do no longer see a priority in maintaining proper support to the Bhutanese refugees still living in the camps in Nepal. Which of course is an extra push to get the refugees to the point that they will opt for resettlement. So is this argument used by the UNHCR just a trick to reach a ‘durable solution’ by increasing pressure on the refugee community to resettle completely? And if so, is that ethical?

According to Subba the UNHCR has declared that they have no other option than to decrease the available budget for the Bhutanese exiles in the camps, a ‘Hopson’s choice’ so to speak. The UNHCR has also declared that they will distribute vegetable seeds as an alternative, but as the remaining camps are heavily populated, the availability of enough land to grow crops is a question that remains. The UNHCR seems to have suggested to use the empty huts of resettlers for that purpose.

The chairman of the Bhutanese Refugee Representative Repatriation Committee, Dr Bhampa Rai, who I have het the privilige to interview a number of times concerning the situation of the refugees, has condemned the UNHCR decision. And by all means, the timeline between announcing and stopping vegetable distribution is just over a month, making it impossible for the refugees to grow enough crops for a healthy nutrition, seems irresponsible.

“The decision has created doubts on UNHCR’s intention towards refugees. How can those who themselves survive on delicious vegetables on daily basis decide to stop the supply of the same items for us,” Dr Rai said according to the Bhutan News Service.

The question that this raises is wether the UNHCR is now going to a stage in promoting resettlement to the refugees by disregarding basic human rights like proper nutrition. And that is not all. The Bhutanese refugees feel that they are pressurized by the UNHCR to resettle, which means that they doubt wether they really have a free choince NOT to resettle but continue hoping for repatriation to their motherland.

Apart from the other issues mentioned in the request written by major community leaders to the UNHCR (see the attached letter), the nutrition issue is a very serious decline in the basic care for the refugees and frustrates the mandate of the UNHCR itself. The monthly supply of (only) 500 grams of season vegetables is ending this month. The diet of refugees in the camps will lack one of its important components and is for health reasons undesireable.

It is worrying that the UNHCR is also forbidding the refugee leaders to bring their complaints to the VIP’s who visit the camps. From personal experience working as a journalist in the camps I do know that some issues (like the large numner of unregistered refugees, the deteriorating education in the camps and the mounting crime like identity fraud and even institutionalized fraud) are being kept under the radar. Freedom of press and freedom of speech are just as much at stake as the basic human rights of the camp population. ‘Thou shalt not report negative’ is an adagium in this unmonitored situation.

LETTER-TO-UNHCR

It seems that the UNHCR is building pressure to end the Bhutanese refugee crisis and is not stepping away from methods that should be doubted and discussed on an international level and especially at the European Union, being the main financier of the UNHCR in Nepal.

In the meanwhile malnutrition is something that the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal should fear. The reality of life in the UNHCR managed refugee camps in Nepal is that things are not at all nice and dandy and in fact seem to become worse. But will the international community respond to that?

© 2012 Alice Anna Verheij

Boeddhisme in Nederland: zweefteven, roddel en achterklap.

Even vooraf: ik ben geen Boeddhist. Het Nepalese grapje ‘Do you know the Buddha? He was a great businessman’ is aan mij niet zo besteed en enig belang ontbreekt mij om te doen waar ik al een hele tijd zin in heb:

Een aantal zogenaamd journalistieke boeddhisten met de koppen tegen elkaar rammen.

Dat is inderdaad weinig Boeddhistisch maar o zo Hollands nuchter. Want wat is er aan de hand in Holland-Boeddhistenland?

Enige tijd geleden benaderde een nieuw online medium me naar aanleiding van mijn kritiek op het mensenrechtenbeleid, of eigenlijk de onderstreping van het wanbeleid op dat gebied, van het petieterig kleine koninkrijkje Bhutan in de Himalayas. Een landje dat het presteerde om zowat 20% van de eigen bevolking in ballingschap te sturen en daarin persisteert.

En zodoende sprak ik met twee ambitieuze heren die een journalistiek platform wilden maken om in Nederland het Boeddhisme, wat ze zelf aangaven te belijden, kritisch doch met journalistiek verantwoorde blik te beschouwen. De noodzaak daartoe vonden ze in de weigering van organisaties als de Boeddhistische Omroep die betaald wordt met geld van de publieke omroep, uw en mijn geld dus, om ook maar één kritisch bericht over het Boeddhisme te laten zien of horen. ‘Open Boeddhisme‘ was geboren. Een beetje rare naam overigens want de tegenstrijdigheid is nogal groot in die naam gegeven het toch vrij extreem gesloten karakter van het Boeddhisme. Het is overigens een dappere poging.

De mannen hadden wel een beetje gelijk natuurlijk want inderdaad, ook ik was daar tegenaan gelopen in het kader van de kritische documentaire die ik maak. Overigens neem ik daarin geen stelling tegen het Boeddhisme op zich want dat doe ik nergens simpelweg omdat ik een aantal aspecten van het Boeddhisme begrijp èn omarm (zonder me Boeddhist te noemen) en het onderwerp van mijn film er in directe zin niet zo bar veel mee te maken heeft. Wel stel ik vast dat het Boeddhisme zeker niet gespeend is van gewelddadigheid, genderongelijkheid, homo- en transfobie en rascisme. En daar sta ik niet alleen in maar weet ik me in die vaststelling gesteund door de nodige kenners, de geschiedenis en het besef dat het Boeddhisme zich gewoon in het gezelschap bevindt van alle andere religies waar dogmatiek nu eenmaal impliciet is.

Edoch, de website van Open Boeddhisme een tijdje volgend vallen een paar zaken direct op. Zo is er een onjournalistieke fixatie op slechts drie onderwerpen en is daardoor alle andere informatie rond het Boeddhisme in Nederland gemarginaliseerd, letterlijk verstopt in submenutjes terwijl de redactioneeltjes te frequent eendimensionaal zijn. De website lijkt een soort kruistocht te voeren tegen de BOS (Boeddhistische Omroep Stichting), BUN (Boeddhistische Unie Nederland) en BZI (Boeddhistische Zendende Instantie). Er is een overmaat van artikelen over belangenverstrengeling (die er vast en zeker is in een dergelijke kleine gemeenschap), het falen in het Nederlandse gevangeniswezen door de BZI als het om geestelijke ondersteuning gaat en de bizarre verbindingen tussen de genoemde drieletter woordige clubjes. Er deugd in ieder geval heel erg weinig van de elkaar financieel overind houdende organisaties, het extreme gebrek aan transparantie en de vage bestuursstructuren die eerder aan politbureaus doen denken dan aan netjes georganiseerde organisaties.

Weinig verlicht in dat wereldje allemaal, zal ik maar zeggen.

De reacties van die drieletter clubjes op de website van Open Boeddhisme liegen er niet om. Roddel en achterklap is hun deel en het Boeddhistisch Dagblad (een in ieder geval inhoudelijk diverser medium waarin overigens ook enige zelfkritiek op het Boeddhisme zorgvuldig wordt vermeden) is volgens de heren overgegaan tot censuur ten opzichte van mensen die reageren en Open Boeddhisme als bron vermelden.

De BOS, ach de BOS, de BOS dus, weigert de Open Boeddhisten de mogelijkheid in beeld of op de radio te komen en de BUN en BZI voeren zo lijkt het een loopgravenoorlog met de mannen. Natuurlijk blijft het Boeddhistische wereldje in Nederland zich vooral uiten in zweefteverigheid als het gaat over het geluk van de mens in hun bruto nationaal gelukkige wereld. Maar van een afstandje is vast te stellen dat het eigenlijk een vrij donker wereldje geworden is binnen het formele segment van het polder-, tulpen- of klei Boeddhisme. Een wereldje van roddel, achterklap, beschimping, verdachtmakingen, ruzie, en vampirisme (want het lijkt er ernstig op dat een aantal mensen elkaars bloed wel kunnen drinken inmiddels).

In die donkerte is enige verlichting bepaald nuttig maar lijkt ook uitgesloten te zijn binnen deze impliciet gesloten gemeenschap. Het beeld dat ontstaat als de spade een stukje dieper in de Boeddhistische klei wordt gestoken is dat van mensen die in de praktijk niet kunnen belijden wat ze pretenderen. In Nederland geen door giften overeind gehouden kloosters en maatschappelijk geaccepteerde bedelmonniken maar nu juist commercieel opererende Sanghas (in dit landje zijn dat gemeenschappen van vooral leken Boeddhisten die heel mindfull zijn, in Azië gemeenschappen van Boeddhistische monniken of nonnen). In Nederland wordt wel weinig verlicht elkaar het leven zuur gemaakt en in Nederland is zelfkritiek geen usance. Wat dat is negatief en derhalve niet verlicht. Het tapijt waaronder de rommel geschoven is blijkt zwaar.

Dat polder Boeddhisme heeft overigens voor de oppervlakkige maar zeker voor de diepgravender blik geen lor uit te staan met het Boeddhisme zoals dat in Azië gepraktiseerd wordt. Nederland is daarin niet anders dan andere westerse landen waar er door een oranje brilletje gekeken wordt naar dat ‘vreedzame en mystieke’ geloof, maar datzelfde brilletje donker en ondoorzichtig wordt als het gaat om het geweld dat er in Azië van datzelfde boeddhisme uit gaat. In het Boeddhistisch Dagblad geen artikelen over het openlijk rascisme in Birma onder Aung San Sui Kyi’s partij en bij de Boeddhistische monniken die Islamitische hulporganisaties de toegang tot het gebied weigeren waar minstens een half miljoen Islamieten verrekken in vluchtelingenkampen onder mensonterende omstandigheden. Weggejaagd uit hun huizen door Boeddhisten. Geen openbare discussies over het geweld van de Birmese én de Bhutaanse regeringen tegen mensen met een andere religie. Geen woord over de zowat één miljoen vluchtelingen die vanuit Bhoeddistische landen op gang is gekomen in de laatste twintig jaar en waar de rest van de wereld voor opdraait. Geen objectief geluid over de waanzinnige corruptie onder de Tibetanen buiten Tibet en geen artikel over de diep trieste wijze waarop in Aziatisch landen diezelfde zo verlichte boeddhistische gemeenschappen omgaan met minder validen en ouderen.

Om maar eens een paar zaken te noemen.

Ach, zoals gezegd ben ik geen Boeddhist maar sinds ik de zelfverklaarde Boeddhist Erica Terpstra de hand heb zien schudden van Dago Tshering, de Bhutaanse afgezant van de premier aldaar én een gedocumenteerd mensenrechtenschender, wil ik dat ook niet zijn. Bloed aan de handen blijft immers plakken aan de geest. Overigens is het interessant om te constateren dat ook bij Open Boeddhisme de kritiek op Bhutan verdwenen lijkt te zijn naar de marge want die ‘factcheck’ is er dus nooit gekomen. Toch niet zo open dus blijkbaar.

© 2012 Alice Anna Verheij

The Floriade exhibition and Bhutan part 2.

An update.

Today we had a conversation with one of the people responsible for bringing Bhutan to the Floriade World Horticultural Expo in Venlo, the Netherlands this year. Next Sunday that expo will come to an end to return in ten years or so. As some (but not enough) people know is Bhutan the country with the largest number of refugees through ethnic cleansing per capita worldwide. On September 22nd the Floriade held a Bhutan Day focussing on the contribution of Bhutan to the world with the Bhutanese philosophy of Gross National Happiness and the countries rigid but nature friendly eco policies.

Bhutan House of Happiness:
“Happiness often sneaks in through a door, you didn’t know you left open.”
And so do human rights violators.

Main guest of that day was Mr. Dago Tshering, special envoy for the Bhutanese prime minister Jigme Thinley and the one responsible for the ukaze that started off the ethnic cleansing and many of the repressive policies behind that. A man with blood on his hands.

Our conversation was meant to get an answer to some questions concerning the organizers for Bhutan’s Floriade precence comments on the fact that they hosted one of the worst ethnic cleansers who is because of that in the eyes of many a de facto criminal.

We got our answer.

The organizers state that they are not in any way making any statement that they label as ‘political’. This means that they do not have any comments regarding the above and will not distance themselves from the presence of Bhutan and Bhutan’s special envoy of the prime minister, Mr. Dago Tshering. They acknowledged that they were in aware of the Bhutanese refugee crisis from the start but did not check the background of their honored guests.

The answer was not a surprise but is a trigger for further research on the financing of the Floriade event and the use of government and other susidies for presence and events on the Floriade for specific countries that are known for their human rights violations and by doing so passively supporting the governments of these countries to present themselves in a positive manner to the world without any discussion about these governments human rights violations. While the Floriade is partly subsidised by the Dutch government who in another capacity is taking the financial consequenses of keeping the UNHCR refugee camps and UNHCR third country resettlement project operational. Countries like China, North Korea and Bhutan have been present on the Floriade expo without any discussion on their human rights situation so far.

In the coming week extra research and the responses (or lack of that) from involved people like Mrs. Erica Terpstra (ambassador for the Bhutan presence on the Floriade) and long time VVD politica and the Floriade direction will result in an article concerning these matters and challenging the organization of the event about the human rights violations of their participants. Some information is already available including the answers to parliamentary questions regarding the €5,000,000 subsidy by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture for the Floriade and the skyhigh salaries of the Floriade board. More information will follow in the coming days regarding the flow of money.

Sometime next week such an article will be written and published in the media.

© 2012 Alice Anna Verheij

Dutch Floriade exhibition embraces human rights violator.

Note: today we received an invitation from the organizing committee of the Floriade to discuss our findings with them. Of course we accept that invitation.

On September 22nd this year a Bhutan day was held at the Floriade World Horticultural Expo in Venlo in the Netherlands. The day was centered around making the world a better place and the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness‘. Amongst the people present that day was Mrs. Erica Terpstra, a well known Dutch liberal ex politician who made a television program about beautiful Bhutan, its nature and culture. Next to Mrs. Terpstra, Mr. Dago Tshering was present. He holds a minister seat in the government of the small Himalayan kingdom.

Erica Terpstra returned home with the honor of having a tulip named after the queen of Bhutan presented, presumably unaware of the fact that she had been shaking hands with a notorious human rights violator. Because, who is Dago Tshering for real?

In the early ninetees, after demonstrations against the at that time already longtime ongoing civil rights violations, a process of ethnic/religious/cultural cleansing was started by the Bhutan government. In just a few years the civil rights and citizenship were taken away from over 20% of Bhutan’s population. Changes in marital and citizenship laws were cooked up to do that. Wearing other clothes than the traditional dress from the powerful ruling elite minority was forbidden and the Nepalese language was banned from schools and government organizations.

Through a policy of state terror in which political murder, random arrests, torture and years long incarceration of intellectuals and leaders from the south and east of the country, the population in those regions was oppressed. After violent attacks by the Royal Bhutan Army and the police against village leaders, their families and other local leaders, a total of over 100,000 and possibly 150,000 people fled the country. Many of them at gunpoint after being forced to sign papers stating they were voluntary leaving and abandoning their homes, land and possessions. The by far percentagewise largest exodus in 100 years really started off in the first months of 1991 after an edict written by that same Dago Tshering who came to Venlo in the Netherlands to welcome the visitors to the Bhutan pavillion on the Floriade exhibition.

Because, on August 17, 1990, Dago Tshering, then Deputy Home Minister of Bhutan wrote a ‘NOTIFICATION’. It states literally, and I quote:

You are hereby instructed to immediately inform alls the gups, DYT members and the general public in your dzongkhag that any Bhutanese national leaving the country to assist and help the anti-nationals shall no longer be considered as a Bhutanese citizen. It must also be made very clear that such people’s family members living under the same household will also be held fully responsible and forfeit their citizenship.

With this order to the Dzongkhas’s, Dago Tshering personally kicked off the ethnic cleansing that would in the end lead to the exile of over 1/6th of Bhutan population.

The Netherlands is, together with the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom and the European Parliament, financing the UNHCR refugee camps in Nepal and the resettlement of the larger part of the population of these camps to these fore mentioned countries. By doing so the West is taking the rap for the effects of the Bhutanese ethnic cleansing that was initiated and excuted since 1990 by Dago Tshering and the current prime minister of Bhutan, Mr. Jigme Thinley. The international community has until now spend tens of millions of dollars on this issue and will continue to do so on request by the United Nations. The European Union itself has sourced the UNHCR at the end of 2011 with over 3 million euros for upholding the refugee camps in Nepal and taking care of the after effects after these camps will be emptied by the ‘durable solution’ as the mass resettlement is euphemistically named by the UNHCR.

Bhutan has since 1991 systematically refused to take a serious effort in repatriation of its own people to their villages and homes. The victims live in diaspora without expectations for return to their motherland.

In 2012 however, Dago Tshering is received and honored by the Floriade. There were no Bhutanese refugees present in Venlo. They were not invited by the organization and Mrs. Terpstra probably again had no idea what she was dealing with.

© 2012 Alice Anna Verheij

Floriade omhelst mensenrechten schender.

Opmerking: vandaag ontvingen we een uitnodiging van de organisatoren van de Bhutan dag op de Floriade om met hun te spreken over onze constateringen. Uiteraard nemen we die uitnodiging aan. 

Op 22 september dit jaar werd op de Floriade wereld tentoonstelling in Venlo een Bhutandag gehouden. De dag stond in het teken van een betere wereld en het begrip ‘Bruto Nationaal Geluk’. Aanwezig was onder andere ex politica Erica Terpstra, die eerder een tv programma wijdde aan het o zo mooie Bhutan. Naast mw. Terpstra was ook dhr. Dago Tshering aanwezig. De man is minister in het kleine Himalaya koninkrijk.

Erica Terpstra ging naar huis met de eer een naar de koningin van Bhutan genoemde tulp te hebben onthuld, wellicht volledig onbekend met het feit dat ze uitgebreid de hand heeft geschut van een mensenrechten schender. Want wie is die Dago Tshering werkelijk?

Begin negentiger jaren startte in Bhutan, na demonstraties tegen de al jarenlang voortdurende inperking van de burgerrechten van een groot deel van de bevolking, een proces van etnisch/religieuze/culturele zuivering. In enkele jaren tijds werden de burgerrechten van meer dan 20% van de bevolking afgenomen. Er werd een verbod op het dragen van andere dan de etnische kleding van de machtige minderheid afgekondigd. Het Nepalees werd als officiële taal afgeschaft en uit het onderwijs verwijderd. En de huwelijks- en burgerschapswetten werden zodanig gewijzigd dat velen het staatsburgerschap afgenomen werd.

Via een politiek van staatsterreur waarbij politieke moord, willekeurige arrestaties, martelingen en jarenlange opsluiting van intellectueren en leiders uit het zuiden en oosten van het land, werd de bevolking onder druk gezet. Nadat er gewelddadige invallen van het leger bij dorpsoudsten en andere lokale leiders plaatsvonden vluchtten in totaal ruim 100.000 en mogelijk tegen de 150.000 inwoners in het land uit. Deze exodus kwam pas echt op gang begin 1991 na een edict van dezelfde Dago Tschering die in Venlo een lintje kwam doorknippen.

Want op 17 augustus 1990 schreef Dago Tshering, toen staatssecreatris van Binnenlandse Zaken in Bhutan een ‘NOTIFICATION’. Daarin staat letterlijk dat zij die het land verlieten om ‘anti-nationals’ te helpen hun staatsburgerschap verliezen. Ook hun inwonende familieleden zouden als gevolg van het vertrek van onwillekeurig welk gezinslid hun staatsburgerschap verliezen.

Met deze order aan de Dzongdag’s geeft Dago persoonlijk opdracht tot etnische zuivering.

Nederland financiert samen met de Verenigde Staten, Canada, Australië, Nieuw Zeeland, Noorwegen, Denemarken, het Vereningd Koninkrijk en het Europees Parlement het opvangen van de vluchtelingen die sinds 1990 in UNHCR vluchtelingenkampen in Nepal leven en waarvan een groot deel ten lange leste worden geresettled naar de genoemde landen. Daarmee draait het westen op voor de Bhutanese etnische zuivering zoals die door Dago Tshering èn ook de huidige premier Thinley in gang is gezet en is uitgevoerd sinds eind 1990. De wereldgemeenschap heeft inmiddels tientallen mijoenen dollars besteed aan dit probleem en zal dat in de komende jaren nog blijven doen. De Europese Unie heeft eind 2011 nog een budget van ruim 3 miljoen euro beschikbaar gesteld aan de UNHCR voor het managen van de gevolgen van het wegvallen van de vluchtelingenkampen nadat resettlement van de daar wonende vluchtelingen.

Bhutan heeft sinds 1991 systematisch geweigerd serieus moeite te doen de eigen bevolking terug te laten keren naar hun huizen. De slachtoffers leven in diaspora zonder uitzicht op terugkeer naar hun moederland.

In 2012 wordt Dago Tschering echter met alle egards door de Floriade ontvangen. Er waren in Venlo geen vluchtelingen uit Bhutan aanwezig. Ze waren niet uitgenodigd door de organisatie.

© 2012 Alice Anna Verheij

Dutch press: ‘Birma’ or ‘Myanmar’?

In 1995 the Birmese military junta changed the name of the country into ‘Myanmar’. An age old name for the area in South Asia that now is Birma (Dutch spelling). That name was not recognized by the United States, many other countries at the United Nations and many (western) media.

Ever since that last group, the media, have been using the name ‘Birma’, partly to support the Birmese opposition that wanted (more) freedom for the people in Birma and to support the honorable Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi.

Today that same Aung San Sui Kyi pleaded for the release of the Russian popband Pussy Riot. And the media name her ‘Birmese opposition leader’. And she certainly is that. But not the Dutch news website NU.nl. They seem to be oblivous of the value of the name ‘Birma’ for the Birmese people. And so they published the following:

Mrs. “Suu Kyi”, her name obviously being too loong or complicated to list properly in the title, is a Myanmarese opposition leader. According to that news site. NU.nl is building on a reputation of shallowness as they frequently display a total lack for recent history, and this to be just another error in their list of errors. Or is there something else happening?

Remember my comments concerning Dutch journalism and the lack of checks and balances in the editorial teams of the major Dutch newspapers and news websites? Some time ago I wrote a rant on this website against the Dutch journalistic practice of cut-and-paste-journalism. Meaning the unchecked republication of news as formulated by the known press agencies and most notoriously the ANP (Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau, the Dutch Press Agency and Hollands version of AFP and Reuters).

And they did it again. It is not only NU.nl but it is also a list of known Dutch newspapers including de Telegraaf, Wegener newspapers, and a list of news sites still holding on to the cut’n’paste journalism practice. Because the source of the ‘Myanmarese’ in stead of ‘Birmese’ politically sensitive error is that ANP news agency. (Compliments to the ‘white raven’ newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (www.ad.nl) who rephrased the ANP article and corrected it (seemingly based on AFP article).

So there we are. They did it again. The ANP again made an error and all the Dutch press just reprints or republishes that error because they DO NOT CHECK! Again this is a small demonstration of the lack of editorial quality of the Dutch press. For the Dutch readers this obviously means that if they value proper news handling and reporting they simply cannot trust the Dutch news media. Because they just copy’n’paste everything without checking and as such multiply errors without any limitation. The other issue with this is of course that nowadays all media have become ‘parrot-media’. They report literally the same information, they do not check that information and do not even rephrase that information.

Thank the Lord for internet where conscious readers can turn to real news media for proper reporting based on checks and balances and editorial effort in bringing quality news. For me it just underlines why I nowadays more frequently turn to my media selection consisting of Al Jazeera, BBC News, CNN, ITN, Wachington Post, New Yorker Magazine, Huffington Post, AFP, The Indian Times amongst others. Because obviously we can not trust our local media anymore.

Alice Anna Verheij © 2012

Still no news from Jeetan

I think I have a friend in prison.

At least, he was imprisoned a couple of months ago and until today I’ve not been able to get new information regarding his safety and well being.

My friend Jeetan training refugee kids in a Journalism Training, summer 2011

I am convinced of his innocence to the charges against him. I worked with him for a while and I’ve seen his passion for his people and the youth that he supported and trained. He is a special guy.

I suspect that his arrest has a lot to do with his continuous efforts for the youth in the camps and his work as a writer / poet involved in community work and refugee journalism.

Currently most contacts in Nepal seem more or less frozen or have at least weakened. Partly because some of my friends were resettled to other places on the globe and mostly to the United States. Partly because some of them have been threatened. The effect is that the story of Jeetan (an alias for his real name Jit) is still unclear.

And I find that worrying.

Therefore I repeat the appeal made by the AHRC (Asian Human Rights Council) on his behalf. Here is the story. If you want to support and apeal his case, and I urge you to do so, go to the AHRC website and sign the petition. This is the link.

This is the story of a desperate guy who was arrested unjustly only days before he was supposed to resettle and get a better life elsewhere:

14 May 2012

———————————————————————
NEPAL: Bhutanese refugee tortured and threatened with false charges in Kathmandu

ISSUES: Torture, Refugees, IDPs & Asylum seekers, Police violence, Arbitrary arrest and detention
———————————————————————

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that a 29-year-old Bhutanese refugee, Jit Bahadur Subba, having applied for third country resettlement was arrested from the office of the International organization for Migrant on 27 April 2012. After his arrest, he was kept in illegal detention for two days without receiving any arrest warrant or detention letter in the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), Maharajganj, Kathmandu. He was severely tortured under interrogation and threatened that false charges of drug smuggling would be filed against him. He is now detained at Hanumandhoka Police Station and needs immediate medical treatment. He was not allowed to meet with his lawyer without the presence of the police. 

CASE NARRATIVE:

According to the information we have received, 29-year-old Jit Bahadur Subba lives in the Bhutanese refugee camp, Beldangi II. He belongs to one of the thousands Nepali-speaking families who, after having lived for several generations in Bhutan, were expelled from the country to refugee camps in Nepal twenty years ago. Mr. Subba had applied for resettlement to the USA and was kept in the transit office of the International organization for Migrant (IOM) in Baluwatar, Kathmandu for investigation of his identification documents from 12th to 27th April 2012.

On 27 April 2012 at around 2.30 pm he was arrested from the IOM office by 4 to 5 police officers in civilian clothes. He was not given any reason for his arrest nor was any arrest warrant produced by the police. He was then brought to the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), Maharajganj, Kathmandu. He was kept there for two days, without being provided with a detention letter or an arrest warrant. He was brought before a judicial authority on 29 April 2012, exceeding the 24-hour delay set up by the constitution for every person who is arrested to be produced before a judicial authority. This amounts to illegal detention.

He was kept in the CIB for two days, reportedly without being provided with any food or water. His family was not informed of his arrest. There he was interrogated regarding his alleged involvement in the forging of a fake passport and of having purchased Nepali citizenship. The first day he was tortured under interrogation by two policemen, wearing civilian clothes. He was slapped across the face a dozen times, the soles of his feet were beaten and the policemen beat him all over his body. Due to the pain he almost lost consciousness. The policemen then interrogated him on other the involvement of other persons in the same charges and, as he could not provide information, the policemen put a packet of drugs in his pocket and threatened to charge him with drug smuggling. As the policemen were wearing civilian clothes, he could not identify their ranks.

On 29th April, he was sent to Metropolitan Police Range, Hanumandhoka, Kathmandu, and was provided with warrant papers. He was produced before Kathmandu District Court on the same day. The court remanded him into custody for five days the first time, and for six days a second time. According to the police his case is under investigation under charges of forgery of citizenship documents and passports.

At no point during his detention was Mr. Subba informed of his legal rights. His lawyer visited him twice: once on 3 May in the office of the District Attorney, Kathmandu, and the second time on 8 May at the MPR Hanumandhoka. In both cases the police refused to allow the lawyer to meet with his client without the police presence. This is in spite of the Interim Constitution of Nepal guaranteeing the right of every person who was arrested to consult a legal practitioner and that the consultation should remain confidential.

The police was also present during the medical check-up of the victim when they sent him to Bir hospital on 7 May. Due to the presence of the police, the victim did not dare mentioning the torture to the doctor and the doctor did not ask about it either. Therefore the presence of the police during the medical examination prevented the victim from getting proper treatment and he was just provided with some anti-allergic medicines.

The victim’s health condition has deteriorated due to lack of proper treatment and the poor conditions in Hanumandhoka detention center. His body is covered with scars of worms and insects and he suffers from sleeplessness.

The victim is very afraid that he may receive further torture and measures must be taken for his protection immediately.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please join us in writing to the authorities listed below to express concern upon learning of the torture inflicted to Mr. Subba and urge the authorities to guarantee his physical and psychological safety. Please demand that an investigation should be launched into the allegations of torture and that the perpetrators should be held accountable. Please further urge the authorities to ensure that no confession extracted under torture could be used in court proceedings against the accused.

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment calling for his intervention into this matter.

Alice Anna Verheij
writer, filmmaker, journalist, human rights worker

Twee onvergetelijke tentoonstellingen op komst.

Vanaf half september tot na sinterklaas worden er twee onvergetelijke tentoonstellingen gehouden door mij en mijn collega Eveline van de Putte.

Deze slideshow heeft JavaScript nodig.

Van 15 september tot en met 26 oktober is UNFORGOTTEN te zien in de Domkerk in Utrecht. Daarna zal deze tentoonstelling van 10 november tot 7 december te zien zijn in Café & gallerie Quirky in Den Haag.
UNFORGOTTEN is een tentoonstelling met de beste foto’s uit ons bestand van 18.000 foto’s die we in het kader van het Headwind project gemaakt hebben in Nepal, Sikkim (India) en Nederland. De foto’s laten het leven van de vluchtelingen uit Bhutan zien in de kampen in Nepal en gaat in op de resettlement van hun waardoor zij in enkele jaren in diaspora worden gebracht.

  • 15 september – 26 oktober
    Domkerk Utrecht
    Project presentatie en vernissage met live muziek op zondag 23 september om 12.30u.
  • 10 november – 7 december
    Café & galerie Quirky, Tasmanstraat 128 Den Haag
    Vernissage en fundraising dinner (traditioneel Nepalees-Bhutaanse schotel) met live muziek op zaterdag 10 november om 18.00u.
    Reserveren gewenst. Prijs: €20 waarvan €5 gedoneerd wordt aan de Empowerment Foundation voor het Headwind project.


Reserveren is gewenst en kan op 070 3808502 of info@cafequirky.com

* In English *

From September 15 until October 26 UNFORGOTTEN, the photo exhibition, can be seen at the Domchurch in Utrecht. UNFORGOTTEN will be brought there in co-operation with the Domchurch Citypastoraat.
Special presentation of Headwind and UNFORGOTTEN is on Sunday September 23rd at 1 PM.

From November 10 until December 7 UNFORGOTTEN will travel to Cafe & gallery Quirky in the Tasmanstraat 128 in The Hague. The vernissage on Saturday November 10 will be followed by a fundraising dinner at 6 PM. Cost €20 of which €5 is donated to the Empowerment Foundation’s Headwind project. Reervations needed and can be made at 070 3808502 or info@cafequirky.com.

Ernie and Bert suspected of fraud.

Nothing seems sacred anymore these days.

According to reliable sources in Pakistan a huge fraud at Sesamestreet was recently uncovered by the Pakistani police. In spite of Obama’s recent drone attacks this acknowledges the fact that there still is police in Pakistan working on very important cases. Of course the United States have retalliated in the strongest possible manner for the Pakistan Sesamestreet Fraud. It seems that the Pakistani Ernie and Bert, who are as everyone knows the producers of the childrens television show, have been arrested as they seem to have used the american dollars to pay of their debts.

And as the US is a bit sensitive on the dollar the Obama administration immediately increased diplomatic and military pressure on Pakistan once it became clear the dollars were leaking at the Sesamestreet headoffice. After a massive fluffy hunt the Pakistani police have been able to arrest the perpetrators who seemed to be employed by the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop. Although Pakistan Today claims that it is the little and übercute Elmo who has been caught with his hand in the USAID cookie jar (he is perceived to be quicker noadays than Cookie Monster on that) it is obvious that it were in fact Ernie and Bert who have become the real suspects now.

The Pakistan Children’s TV channel claims not to be involved but according to Kermit the current ceo of PCTV, miss Piggy, has been playing a doubtful role in the past concerning commercial deals with Ernie and Bert. The connection with Super Grover and Cookie Monster is also currently being investigated just like the activities of Elmo althoug he now is no longer the focus of the ongoing investigation.

The Pakistani Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop

Currently it is impossible to assertain the damage done by the two Sesamestreet villains. What is clear however is that the 20 million dollar of USAID allotted US tax payers money is not completely used to create the agreed 78 episodes of Sesamestreet Pakistan. How much of that 20 million has been used by the whole Sesamestreet family remains to be found out. The Peerzada’s (the real names of the Sesamestreet family in Pakistan) as a close family of course appointed their own relatives in all relevant places in the production company thereby shifting funds into the family members NIB Bank Pakistan bank accounts.

Ernie and Bert are now in Lahore prison being questioned by the Pakistan police with support of Obama’s Secret Service who have abandoned the Colombian brothel research program recently. According to Lahore police they still deny all accusations and state that they are only puppets in a larger scheme. But according to sources they will soon be transfered to Guantanamo Bay for further interrogation by the US military as suspects of economic terrorism.

Alice Anna Verheij © 2012

No new constitution in Nepal but elections instead.

A couple of days ago the Constituent Assembly of Nepal dissolved after another extended term went without the outcome of an agreed concept constitution. Wether that is bad news or good news remains to be seen.

Seat of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal, Kathmandu

After the overturning of the monarchy almost a decade ago and the ending in 2006 of the ten year long civil war that devastated the countries economy and homogenity there have been elections only once. The outcome of those events was the installation of a Constituent Assembly and the dawn of the provisional Federal Republic of Nepal. Elections were held and a government was formed. And that government fell. A new one was formed. Which fell also. And another one and another one. Nepal became politically unstable with none of the major parties (including the Maoists who started the revolt against the former king) being large enough to stay in power for long. The core problem of Nepal turned out to be the many divisions in politics.

The country became paralized but because of the intentions of becoming a democratic nation it also became one of the countries with the largest support from international organizations, NGO’s and governments. The country became dependent on aid as the successive governments proved unable to bring the country from revolt to stability, to improve the economy and to improve the many infrastructural and social challenges that were present. In the meanwhile many Nepalese had hopes of the effects of a new constitution that was in the making. But that constitution never materialized. Terms for the 2008 elected Constituent Assembly (with its ludicrous large number of 575 seats) were extended several times. The 60% ballot turnout proved the high hopes of the people of Nepal. But these hopes deteriorated quickly due to the continuous inability of the assembly to come up with a draft constitution on time and agreed by a majority.

Still, that draft that didn’t materialize did have some very specific topics handled in a revolutionary manner in the last Hindu ex Kingdom and the results have been brought to a provisionary implementation by the government recently. The caste system became politically undesired which potentially freed millions of people from hardship and lack of opportunities and there was even a third or other gender introduced as a concept in gender identification releasing the gay and transgender communities from social pressure based on discriminatory laws.

But it all ended on May 27 of this year at midnight.

The Constituent Assembly outlived its term and its mandate and the government decided to dissolve the non working body. At the same time announcing general elections on November 22nd this year. The second general elections and the first one after four years of disappointment since the fall of King Gyanendra. At this moment in time the conditions for Nepal to come back to a stabile political solution are far from ideal. The political spectrum dominated by the Maoists, Marxist-Leninists and the conservative Congress Party is more divided than ever. No one is big enough, politicians are not trusted by the people any more because of the many broken promises and the country is in economically dire straits. The infrastructure of the country in areas like energy, transportation, education and health care are all in a very bad state. The international monetary crisis is devaluating the Nepali Rupee at an alarming rate and impovering the country faster and faster. The political squeeze from India and China is becoming more vivd in daily life because of the dependencies on those neighbours for basic resources like food and energy. There is an energy crisis in the country that is lasting for years now and becoming worse. India pretty much owns Nepal’s oil consumption which effects the economy.

The Nepalese are demotivated by the politics in the country. Young peoples main desire is to leave the country and indeed there’s a brain drain going on of enormous proportions. The number of refugees and stateless people in the country push an extra burden on the economy and mental stretch of the people. As the politicians are unable to bring salvation many groups in the country (political, ethnic and otherwise) are increasingly grabbing the only instrument they have to force the government to give them what they want: they strike. The destabilizing bandhas (strikes) have become a daily routine in many parts of the country and especially in the Terai, the southern part of the country which is of key importance for food production and the little industry the country has. These strikes slowly kill what’s left of the economy and by their nature prove the worst possible ‘solution’ to the many problems.

It remains to be seen wether the failure of the Constituent Assembly is a bad thing for Nepal. If on November 22nd elections turn out to be clear on which political parties should rule the country then a faster solution to the constitutional crisis is in sight. But that would be a miracle to be honest. Looking at the current political situation, the bad economy, the institutionalized fraud and corruption, the instability of the armed forces (the integration of Maoists in the Nepal Army is still very shaky) and the hunger for individual power of the politicians, it is impossible to be optimistic on the outcome. If it doesn’t work out later this year it will only mean that the largest of the former Himalayan Kingdoms will remain without a formalized constitution and with less hope of overcoming the many crisises the country is facing.

Hopefully the international community will be fully aware of Nepal’s problems and not turn it’s back on the country with it’s almost thirty million inhabitants. Nepal needs solid international backing and attention now more than ever.

Alice Anna Verheij © 2012

The benefits of being ill (for a while).

Sometimes life travels at lightspeed for some. The reasons why are usually a totally unpredictable combination of events, challenges, situations and probably more known factors like character, emotion, personality, ambition and health. For me it’s not difficult to attach something personal to all of these words but the last one has, for the time being, become like the sand in the machine. And that was about time.

There’s no need or ambition in me to go through that whole string of words but a few things are at this moment determining my life in the short term. That is until expectedly the end of this year.

So I fell ill. An intense flu crossed my path and although that is no drama at all for me it meant that I for the first time in many months was forced to take a break. If only for a week or two. And taking a brake from work, obligations, efforts and ambitions forces one to think. Usually.

In the coming months is a lot of work waiting for me and with a lot of luck I’ll be able to get it done before summer. The long awaited novel is getting printed and so are two photobooks. The latter two however still have to be produced from ground up and that is quite a job even for someone like me who is able to make beautifully layouted work in a relative short timespan. And then of course there’s the big one. The film. Still so much to do and so much of it only possible to be done by me. It was, is and will be the biggest time consumer for at least another couple of months. That isn’t everything on the agenda. Because I am turning this work of writing, filming, photographing and publishing my profession rapidly. I know exactly what I want to do in the next part of my life and in fact I have been doing that already since about two years. It feels good, it is me out there doing what I love.

But there’s also the demonic shadow of the past preventing me to build a business of it in my home country because of a business past gone bad (nothing special there either but the left overs are still quite unmanageable). So if I want to do what I do on a solid basis I will have to work internationally. The good news is, I love that. Still, being stranded by illness for a while does force me to revise plans. Not in the least because when out of the performance loop the mind starts asking questions. Making reality checks. And so plans change.

Sure, I still will start to work from abroad for a large portion of the year as soon as it can be arranged. Economics will decide when, I decide if. But the timelines and the way this will happen shift, turn and change. It is not realistic for me to work from Nepal as a home base. I will however keep visiting the country I love so dearly and keep following, filming and reporting the fate of my Bhutanese friends in and around the refugee camps. Not because I promised but because I see that as an obligation to do so. There are more angles to the Nepalese society and the developments of Nepal that I want to report about. But it will never be my only world.

I am still a novel writer and that will not change, just like my love for writing poetry and songs for entertainment. So there will always be times when I am not in Asia or anywhere else for local reporting or filming but in stead I’ll be somewhere, anywhere, writing a novel. And the topic will not necessarily be connected to previous work because my very being as a literary artist doesn’t allow fixation.

So what does all of this mean for the plans I had and for a part still have?

Well, I am the journalist writer, photographer and filmer interested and focussed on human and women rights in South Asia. No doubt about that. But maybe after finishing the film not for this year anymore. Probably if not almost certainly next year again. But I am also the heremit writer in a soft spot somewhere writing that next novel. The sort of novel is already decided and quietly I am starting up research for it already. It is going to be very different from previous work, a challenge to write (that’s never a surprise) and a very special book. And I will also every now and then take the stage with a song or a short story in whatever show with dear theatre friends.

It will mean that I will not leave my country permanently. It will mean that I will leave my country intermittently, sometimes for long periods. But I’ll always be back for long periods. Like this year. Because this year, after the dust has settled of the books and the film and the two years of work involving the Bhutanese exiles issue, I will take a break for something very different, to keep myself in shape and not loose myself in one topic to work on and to take care that my mind stayes free. (I will not drop the topic of the Bhutanese, I can’t but it will be not the main focus for some time.)

Sometime this summer the real work on my new novel will start in traditional writing style. Designing the essence of the story, the plot if there is one to be, the characters, events, images and emotions. It will be England from roughly the end of the 19th century until the 1930’s. It will be distiguished romantic painters and one specific exquisitly beautiful model. A girl who became a model by fate and lost that work also by fate, never known by the public by her real name because she was not so high class savvy as that other famous painters model in that time but by the names of Greec goddesses or biblical Heroïns and who faded away in history but by her image remained unforgettable. I long to write about the life and loves of that woman who was once ‘Flaming June’. And this novel is one that will take quite some time to write wether I am in the flow or not. But it is a certainty that this will be my next major work.

Alice © 2012

Another step on Nepal’s long march to peace.

In between 1996 and 2006 Nepal was caught in a civil war. The Maoists euphemistically named it the Peoples War. It was a medium scale civil war which started with the aim to overthrow the Nepal monarchy. It was started and led by Maoist insurgents and forces within Nepal. When unexpectedly the royal family assassination took place in 2001 (many blame the former crown prince but the cause of the event was never completely unveiled) the country was brought into further turmoil. It ended with a peace accord on November 21, 2006. The then king abdicated and Nepal became a federal republic. A democratic republic also as a parliament was instated and efforts started to draft a new constitution. In 2012 the country still doesn’t have a completed draft for the new constitution let alone an installed one. It still lives under parliamentary supported government guided regime and is still in the process of becoming a peaceful democratic country. The good thing is that Nepal has been able to rebuild society into a more open and democratic one and many Nepalis are actively involved in constructing their nation.

Maoist forces in training (photo courtesy of Khairul Today)

Still, a lot of problems, challenges if you will, exist. Crime rate is high especially concerning trafficking of women and children, drugs trafficking and domestic and gender based violence. The Maoist forces have still not completely integrated in the Nepal society and the level op corruption although being the glue in society is very high. Nepal is for all intents and purposes a very complicated country. Poverty is all around but at the same time Nepal has become one of the most attractive tourist countries in South Asia. After all, Chomolungma (‘mother of the universe’ as the Tibetan’s call her) is overlooking the country and with the name Mount Everest it attracts large number of western tourists to the country. And because of that attention and the mystification of the former Hindu kingdom many westerners are confronted with the vast amount of problems that Nepali society faces. Resulting in an extreme large number of NGO’s working in the country with volunters from all over the globe.

What’s lacking is a strong connection on political level with the international community. Reasons for that being that the international community is pre occupied with Africa and the Middle East and everything in the Himalayas seem to be under control. But is everything under control?

Nepal is walking the tightrope. Just today the Nepali army finally took over the maoist army camps which is a major step towards lasting peace. The Maoist are a force to reckon with. They have a formal position in Nepal’s parliament, just as the other communist parties have. The current governent after all is a Marxist/Leninist led government. The Congress Party with it’s traditional India link is currently not in the government seat but has been there for long. None of the parties have a majority. New elections are still not there because there is no new constitution as the drafting process is continuously sabotaged by some of the political parties involved and because of that it is unclear how the democratization and constitutional processes in the country will evolve in the coming years. Which is a pitty as they started off so well in 2006. The drafting process of the new constitution involves a couple of revolutionary novelties in South Asian politics and rule, like the formal dismissal of the caste system that has held the whole population captive for hundreds of years, the introduction of third gender as a legal and equal foundation for lesbians, gays and transgenders and the rights to education and health care for all citizens. Those are few of the amazing changes that this newly drafted constitution will bring to beautiful Nepal. When it gets there and if it gets there.

In the meanwhile the world economic crisis has hit the country hard. Energy is problematic as 100% of the oil reserves are managed by India and the production of electricity is way below the needs of the country. These two resulting in a hampering of economic activitities to an unacceptable level and gross unrest under the Nepali population. This, in combination with strong corruption and a weak and instabel government is continuously leading to bandhas (strikes) in the country. Especially in the densily populated and economic all important south of Nepal. The number of undisturbed working days available to build the economy is terrifying low. And then there still is that silent force of Maoist forces that has its position and power in the country and still has the risk of resurrecting itself if the political situation becomes undesirable for them. They have laid heir weapons down and are being integrated in the Nepal armed forces, their camps are now being taken over and at Thribuvan Airport there now is one checkpoint and not two (one of which was a seperate Maoist checkpoint). Their visible role in everyday life is decreasing fast and the Maoist veterans are slowly becoming part of the greater Nepal society. At least, that’s how it seems. But there are still political killings in the country and press freedom is threatened by continuous attacks on journalist. The government, being not very strong, is unable to dismantle the Maoist forces as they are in fact part of the current political system. And maybe they shouldn’t even try.

The good news is that today the Maoist army camps are no longer Maoist army camp but army camps from the Nepal army. That at least reduces the number of different armed forces in the country. The bad thing is that it didn’t happen voluntary but because of unrest in the camps making the handover of the camps two days earlier than planned to prevent outbreaks of violence.

Still, it’s a small but important step on Nepal’s log march to peace.

Alice Verheij © 2012

How CNN does not do it’s work on Bhutan’s behaviour.

I am appalled by CNN’s lack of journalistic fact finding and truth seeking considering Bhutan. This is my response to the article on their website on the UN Happiness Summit:http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/01/the-u-n-happiness-summit
CNN published this blog from Stewart Patrick without any comment and without any hint of the Bhutanese reality. They are not doing what they should do on this topic as a free press organization.

The U.N. Happiness Summit

globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com

Editor’s Note: Stewart Patrick is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security. By Stewart Patrick, CFR.

My response:

Dear all at CNN, dear Stewart, dear readers,

I am flabagasted and to be quite honest disgusted by the onesided views presented in this article on this website. I am amazed that CNN without any criticism lends itself for the propaganda of the Bhutanese government. Let me explain.

It is a well known an proven fact that in recent history (early ninetees) the King and government of Bhutan have been orchestrating the percentage wise largest ethnic cleansing of it’s own population resulting in about 1/6th of the population being forcefully thrown out of the country. They have done so after a decade of discrimination, human rights violations, oppression including army killings, imprisoning innocent citizens, torture of political prisoners, stealing land, houses, cattle and goods. Of their own people living in the south and east of Bhutan for the simple fact that they are ethnically and religiously different from the Druk minority that holds power in Thimpu.

Over the past twenty years way over 120000 refugees have lived in and around refugee camps instated and maintained by the UNHCR without Bhutan giving any sign of allowing repatriation. Mr. Thinley, the prime minister, has been and still is the mastermind of both that ethnic cleansing as the cover up operation of the export of the concept of Gross National Happiness that te west has been all to eager to accept as a great way to look at what really counts in life.

Bhutan is constantly stating that Gross National Happiness is what it all should be about and is supported in that by the governments of the very countries that are now taking in 1/6th of Bhutan’s population through the largest massive third country resettlement project. Triggered by the US and executed by the UNHCR and IOM this resettlement program is in fact throwing the exiles from Bhutan in diaspora in a timeframe 6 or 7 years. It therebye passively supports the Bhutanese ethnic cleansing policy.

It is horrific to have to conclude that the free press is silent on this but is noise on the concept of Gross National Happiness as advocated by the government of Bhutan. It is downright disgusting that the UN is hosting an event to give this dictatorial government the opportunity to spread it’s lies and deceit while at the same time it is the UN that is shifting around 100.000 Bhutanese the globe unjustly.

It is also crazy to know that Bhutan is a memeber of the United Nations based on false data on the number of inhabitants in it’s country (when they joined they grossly overstated the number of Bhutanese to be over 1 Million whereas at the time any reasonable guess would have given a figure of around 700000 inhabitants which is under the minimal required inhabitants for a country to be a UN member). Bhutan has been living a lie since the 1980’s and has abused it’s population. It is in fact one of the biggest human rights violators when taken it’s size as a country into account.

When will the international community and when will the international press stop supporting the geopolitical framing of the Himalayan reality which is in fact one of poverty, unhappiness, ethnic cleansing and human rights violations. As a writer, film maker and journalist I am apalled by the lack of journalistic fact finding and thruth seeking in this article and many other media considering Bhutan.

Yours truly,
Alice Verheij
director of the upcoming documentary ‘Headwind, the forgotten exiles from Bhutan’
the Netherlands
www.headwindfilm.com

Ex hunger strikers demand real action on registration in Bhutanese refugee camps.

Note: this is a republication of a news item on bhutannewsservice.com from March 28th, 2012
Text by the  of Bhutan News Service.

A delegation led by a women group, which has been fighting for registration of all pending cases in the camps, met Chief District Officer (CDO) of Jhapa on Monday and pressed the district administration to resume registration at the earliest.

Durga Devi Bista, photo Eveline vd Putte, Headwind Production Team, december 2012

The group led by Durga Devi Bista called on the CDO as the deadline committed by the government in last November, assuring to resume the installed registration process within the next five month, would end by April.

“We were finally granted an audience after several attempts. We have requested the government through the chief of the district administration to address our demands at the earliest,” Bista told Bhutan News Service, after the meeting.

However, she expressed blues over not having any progress to address at their sufferings.

“We came to know that nothing has been done so far. It looks that the registration process might not begin within April,” added she.

Meanwhile, Bista also mentioned that the CDO even warned them not to operate agitation programs like fasting-to-death even if the government fails to address the issue within the deadline committed.

“It is too early to announce our programs if the government fails to meet the deadline. However, we will not sit idle simply waiting for another fake assurance.”

On a personal note: Durga wass interviewed for the Headwind documentary in December 2012 and we’ve met again last January. Currently an article is written supporting the demands of the women group and listing some of the current human rights issues in the Bhutanese refugeecamps. That article will be distributed to UNHCR, European Parliament and a number of human rights organizations.
When we talked extensively in December and January it became clear to us that the story of the unregistered is complex and that the women in this group are very, very brave and strong. We hope to be able to continue the advocacy of their just cases. These women have been lied to in the coarse of a number of year. The string of broken promises by the authorities is still getting longer. So please, spread this information. For more info please read he articles on this website concerning the hungerstrike last November.

Alice.

About media responsibility.

In January 2009, over two years ago now, I wrote a column about a television program in the Netherlands that disgusted me. The title ‘Family Matters’ (not the US comedy) hinted about the topic of the program. It was a reality tv show with an aid worker (experienced because he himself has been a drug addict for many years) who ‘helps’ families in their relationships and family ties. The method for that was cold turkey confrontation and tough. Which in every single show showed people brought to the limits of what they could take before improvement started. I doubted the program, the presenter and the results.

In December 2010 that same presenter got accused by some of his pupils for sexual harrassment and rape. The broadcasting company involved immediately cancelled the show and made the shortest press statement ever. After that they never talked about it. The program makers, director and producer and the production company, went dead silent on the issue at hand.

Some time ago Keith Bakker, the presenter confessed the sexual harrassment and the fact that he had sex with minors at the time the program was filmed in the Netherlands and Spain. He now states he was a sex addict at the time of recording. Which raises eyebrows and questions regarding the involvement of both the broadcasting company (NCRV, a protestant government subsidised broadcasting company) and the production company. Mind you, the shows are still online and can be watched at the public broadcasting viewing website ‘Uitzending Gemist’. Though Keith Bakker is not yet convicted it is clear that he is guilty of what he is accused of. He admitted to the accusations. So now we can all watch a criminal at work by surfing to this website: http://www.uitzendinggemist.nl/afleveringen/640656

This is interesting from a media ethical perspective.

First of all I do not understand why the NCRV as a broadcasting company still has the old shows online. Knowing what is been admitted by Bakker it is now known that at least one of the girls in the shows recorded in Spain is in fact a victim of Keith Bakker who was – as he said so himself – acting as a sex addicted predator at the time of recording.

Secondly I do wonder how it is possible that the production team and production company were not aware of the abuse that was taking place under their very eyes. Some people in that team must have seen or heard things. Simply because in a reality tv show that is about very personal problems it is impossible to have sexual harrassment to go unnoticed. So where are these people now? Where is that production company? Well, the production company Strix Television, a Swedish company, is staying under the radar and keeping quiet about the ‘incidents’. They still, just like the NCRV, list the show on their websites. Where the NCRV made a press statement in December 2010, Strix has kept silent.

My conclusion of the behaviour of both the broadcasting company and production company is that when media organizations are being confronted with a disaster concerning their program, even if that disaster has social relevance, they simply try to back off as fast as possible and duck for any responsibility by bringing that show to the screen. Only recently the unlawful filming of hopital patients by another production company in the Netherlands resulted in the withdrawal of that program from the screen but is also resulting in a big financial claim by those companies to the hospital. How blunt can people be? But in the Family Matters case the program actually gave Keith Bakker the opportunity to act as predator on vulnerable young girls while the show was made. As he stated himself it was in that timeframe (2009 / 2010) that he had completely lost track and was in fact a sex addict. Obviously the screening and guidance by both the boradcasting company as the production company in regard to Keith Bakker have failed dramatically. With the side effect of young girls that were in a difficult position being harmed. No they will not face a judge but it would be a good thing if they at least would acknowledge responsibility for giving a platform to Keith Bakker to commit his crimes. Unknowingly at first and probably naive. But nevertheless, moral responsibiliy comes when starting the making of this kind of programs and does not end when the presenter goes to jail.

Because looking back at any of the shows it is impossible to hear Keith Bakker making statements that he is proud of his pupils and giving advice to youngsters, also on their sexuality, without being utterly disgusted.

Today, the district attorneys office will make public what punishment they require for Keith Bakker. The NCRV and Strix are not accused and are not requested to give statements on their facilitating role and poor judgement. That is for the public to decide.

Alice © 2012

Freedom of speech in a country in distress.

The Netherlands is a country in distress. A land with a population and a government and parliament who in general do not longer understand the basics of democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of demontration. Liberties that are the very foundation of the international acknowledged human rights and the part of the root of a free democracy.

Why do I make such a judgement?

Well, let’s bring forward two incidents involving Dutch members of parliament to illustrate why I write this.

Geert Wilders
(PVV member of parliament – allowed to initiate a discriminating website and backed by the prime minister)

A couple of weeks ago the right wing political party, Freedom Party or PVV, started an initiative by bringing a website online were anyone is requested to file complaints about specific groups in Dutch society. Focussing on Polish and Eastern Europeans as being the cause of raising criminality figures, stealing jobs from the Dutch and things like that. At least according to the opinion of that party. Of course a large number of decent Dutch and almost the whole European Union reponded in anger. Justly so. But the prime minister (from the Liberal party) simply refused to denounce that PVV initiative. Even when urged to do so by almost all non PVV politicians in the Netherlands and many others in Europe. The effect of that of course is the démasqué of the Netherlands as a tolerant and non discriminating country. Simply because a political party that is supporting the minority Liberal-Christian Democrat government is allowed to discriminate and the prime minister backs that.

Somehow in this case some people lost focus on the value of freedom of speech as they seem to interpret that as the freedom to insult and discriminate. And some other politicians do not even want to stay away from that. Making this incident the ultimate devaluation of the universal right to freedom of speech. Thank you Mr. Wilders for helping to make this disgusting political attitude clear by initiating that flatout discriminating website that is still active to the disgrace of the Netherlands.

Sharon Gesthuizen
(Socialist Party member of parliament – arrested for protesting peaceful while carrying a coffin)

Today there was another incident. A Dutch member of parliament and Socialist Party was arrested during a public protest against the bad ecnomic policy of the Dutch postal service. The arrest was made by the police because she did not adhere to previously ‘agreed’ rules for that protest. Thing is that the police makes rules and simply does not accept that these rules are broken, even non violently. What did happen during that protest? Well, the deal was that it was to be held in a specific location in front of the parliament building and that the protestors were not allowed to bring a coffin with them during that protest. Reason for that being that the police finds carrying a coffin in a protest on the same day as the funeral of the children victims of a terrible bus accident is being held in Belgium, our neighbouring country, indecent.

This is interesting as in this case the police seems to be judging the way protesters (non violently) protest. Not based on the law but on the police’s opinion on what is decent. Something that is most certainly not in the capacity of the police to do. There is no legal basis for that and only in ‘police states‘ where democracy is not the basis the police force does things like that. The arrest was explicitly made for that reason according to the police spokes person. Now, of course it is not very sensitive of the protestors and this member of parliament in regard to the feelings of the victims of that bus accident and their relatives. But on the other hand this protest had absolutely nothing to do with that. The reaon for protesting was something completely different and the location of the protest in our country. So the police doesn’t allow a protest because of a memorial service in another country.
By all means this is a crazy thing. The police actually is limiting the freedom of speech and arresting a member of parliament without a legal basis. Therefore the police is breaching the democratic foundation and rules of this country.

So the simple conclusion is that right wing politicians have the liberty to openly insult and discriminate against groups in the Dutch society and even make an openly call for action to the population to do the same. Left wing politicians on the other hand who protest against an anti-social policy of a large company are arrested because of carrying harmles (though possibly shocking) objects in a peaceful protest are arrested by the police and held in custody for five hours.
Connecting these two incidents is a good example of the current state of democracy and freedom in the Netherlands. That state can be comprised into one four words long sentence:

Gone  – down – the – drain.

The Netherlands is a country in distress. Democracy is translated in the freedom to insult and dicriminate, vulnerable people, the arts, education, health care, public transport and many other important areas of society are being abolished and opposition is being silenced by the police on vague and unlawful grounds. But does anyone in parliament see this reality? Do the people see this? Does anyone get worried? Does anyone do anything against this moral downfall?

Alice © 2012

A letter to the Fulbright International Educational Exchange Program.

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.

This is the link to the article in the Portland Herald and before that published in the Sentinel.
This is of course the link to the article written by Kai Bird in The Nation.

Dear Fulbright people,

today I’ve read this article in The Portland Press Herald concerning a scholarship for a study by Mrs. Gretchen Lechler who plans to travel to Bhutan to study Gross National Happiness:
I am amazed and quite honestly astounded by this.
Because yesterday I read this article by Pulitzer Price winner Kai Bird about the Bhutanese diaspora and the cost of that for the US, the international community, Bhutan and the Bhutanese refugees:
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.
With kind regards,
Alice Verheij
writer, film maker, journalist
The Hague, Netherlands / Kathmandu, Nepal
Alice © 2012

Call for Action: the importance of free Bhutanese journalism in Nepal.

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.

Journalists and community workers from Bhutan Media Society bringing relief to fire victims in Sanischare camp,
Morang District, Nepal, summer 2011. (Photo © 2011 Alice Verheij)

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.comwww.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 alice.verheij@xs4all.nl. 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.

Alice Verheij © 2012
director Headwind (www.headwindfilm.com)
friend of Bhutan Media Society