Japan award for Bhutan minister opposed

Lyonpo Dago Tshering served as Bhutan’s Home Minister between 1991-98 and saw the eviction of 100,000 Bhutanese from Nepal, in the world’s least-known refugee crisis.

A consortium of dozens of Bhutan organisations all over the world have sent a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to withdraw his country’s decision to confer an award to Bhutan’s former Home Minister Lyonpo Dago Tshering, saying he had violated the human rights of citizens and suppressed democracy in the country 30 years ago.

The Global Bhutanese Campaign Coordination Committee for Japan Campaign 2021 sent the letter this week asking that the ‘Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star’ on Dago Tshering be revoked.

‘The decision of the Japanese government to award Dago Tshering, a primary perpetrator of human rights violations and voice of democracy in Bhutan during the 1990s has come to us with surprise, pain and shock,’ the letter says.

‘While we acknowledge the desire of your government to strengthen mutual relationship between Bhutan and Japan through the conferral of this award, we regret to state that this very gesture of goodness has unlocked deep seated injury and trauma that many of us Bhutanese have personally undergone during the Home Minister’s tenure,’ it adds.

The letter, signed by organisations of Bhutanese in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Nepal, New Zealand, Norway, United Kingdom and United States urges the government and people of Japan to review the decision.

“The entire Bhutanese diaspora has come together to raise their voice of concern against Japan’s decision to confer this award,” said Jogen Gazmere, convenor of the Japan chapter of the global campaign.

The Bhutanese are regarded as the world’s most forgotten refugees after 100,000 of them (one-sixth the population) who had been living in the country for generations were driven out of the country by the regime beginning 1990, and with the help of India forcibly driven into Nepal.

There are still 7,000 Bhutanese in two camps in southeastern Nepal, with the rest having been resettled in eight countries around the world, nearly 96,000 of them in the United States.

As deputy Home Minister of Bhutan, Dago Tshering in August 1990 issued a written directive revoking the citizenship of the Lhotshampa people of southern Bhutan. When they protested, Bhutanese activists say Tshering mobilised the state machinery to arrest, torture and evict the southern Bhutanese and render them stateless.

He was promoted to Home Minister and served from 1991-1998 before being made ambassador to Japan from 1999 to 2008.

The refugees spent nearly 20 years in makeshift camps in Nepal. Bhutan refused to take them back and by the time they started being resettled in third countries, the refugees numbered 120,000. Bhutan has maintained that those evicted had illegally settled in the country and were recent migrants.

Bhutanese human rights activist Tek Nath Rizal who was an Amnesty International ‘prisoner of conscience’ and imprisoned for 10 years has said he cannot understand why Japan is honouring a man like Tshering.

“I cannot fathom how a country like Japan, which has championed for the guarantee of human rights and democracy in Bhutan in various forms for years, has now decided to award Dago Tshering, a racist, ruthless and corrupt former home minister,” Rizal, who now lives in Nepal, wrote in the portal, The Diplomat.

The eviction has been described as the largest by any country in modern history in terms of the proportion of the original population, a process described by rights activists as Bhutan’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ of its people.

The letter from the Bhutanese organisations to the Japanese prime minister says: ‘As the Home Minister, Mr. Dago Tshering exercised enormous power and authority, next only to the King. He misused his powers to silence and repress people often with no restraint or control.’

T P Mishra, whose father was also detained and tortured by the Bhutan regime, and who is now settled in the US, says, “Japan must understand and appreciate the impact of the other side of Tshering’s career — that of the ethnic-cleansing of the Nepali-speaking population in Bhutan and the hounding of them when resettled.”

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