United States: In a momentous gathering on September 8, the Bhutanese diaspora made its powerful voice heard at the United Nations Sideline Event hosted by the Peace Initiative Bhutan (PIB). Titled “Voices of Resilience: Building Bridges for Peace in Bhutan,” this event marked a historic occasion as the Bhutanese community, driven by their unwavering commitment to justice, called for action and international support.
Three decades ago, Bhutan faced a crisis that shook the nation’s foundations. In the 1990s, a conflict erupted, leading to the forced displacement of a significant portion of Bhutan’s population, predominantly the Lhotshampa, a Nepali-speaking Hindu minority. This expulsion was carried out under the banner of Bhutan’s “One Nation, One People” policy. The scars of this conflict have endured, and the pain of separation and the trauma of that period continue to haunt many.
Amidst this turmoil, the Bhutanese diaspora witnessed a crackdown on peaceful protests and the systematic removal of the Lhotshampa community. Families were torn apart, and for many, the only glimmer of hope lay in third-country resettlement, a path chosen reluctantly, as their hearts still yearned for repatriation. This resettlement, however, scattered the community across ten different countries on four continents, adding a new layer of complexity to their collective struggle.
It has been 35 years since the unfortunate events unfolded in Southern Bhutan. The trauma and pain of separation have remained unaddressed and continue to haunt the affected individuals to this day. The core issues that persist include the existence of refugee camps, the matter of so-called fake-Bhutanese refugees, the plight of political prisoners in Bhutan, and the lack of visitation rights for resettled Bhutanese with their loved ones in Bhutan. The policies, which have led to divided families, are in stark contrast to Bhutan’s claim of promoting Gross National Happiness.
The pain endured by the older generation has left a lasting scar. Unaddressed mental health issues have led many to rely on their children to navigate their daily lives. This suffering has, in turn, affected the younger generation, resulting in documented cases of intergenerational trauma and a high prevalence of mental illnesses. Tragically, this has contributed to one of the highest suicide rates among all ethnic groups in the United States.
Recognizing the pressing need to attend to these unaddressed wounds and alleviate their parents’ suffering, the younger Bhutanese generation, growing up in the United States, embarked on a mission to bring this issue to the attention of the international community. Over the years, these young community leaders have diligently worked with their elected officials to advocate for an amicable solution. The United Nations Sideline Event on September 8th at the Scandinavian House in New York epitomized their unwavering commitment to seeking resolutions through dialogue and reconciliation.
PIB, with its dynamic young leaders, has been at the forefront of this movement. They have forged alliances with global peace networks and stakeholders within the UN to advocate for their cause. Building on their successful campaign in Washington, D.C. in August 2022, where they garnered support from both chambers of Congress and the White House, PIB is actively working on Bhutan Resolution (US SR108, and H.Res. 228), currently under consideration in both the US Senate and Congress. The passage of these resolutions would be a monumental achievement, thrusting the issue of the forgotten people of Bhutan onto the world stage.
The United Nations Sideline Event showcased PIB’s remarkable ability to engage partners and bring together distinguished guests, scholars, community leaders, ambassadors, human rights activists, and fellow peace advocates. Prominent figures such as Nepali Ambassador Deep Upadhyay, Dr. Danial C. Gbujie, Somnath Ghimire, Dr. Gopal Siwakoti President of the International Institution of Human Rights, Environment, and Development (INHURED International), Theo Dunfey, the Executive Director of Global Citizens Circles, Dr. Uzma Gul, UN representative, Hon. Dior Fall, the Global Goodwill Ambassador for Human Rights, and many other dignitaries and scholars lent their support.
The event also featured insightful panelists and speakers from the Bhutanese diaspora, including Dr. Kumar Gurung, Tika Acharya; the CEO of AS Insurance, Kamal Dhimal; the President of the Global Bhutanese Hindu Organization (GBHO), Khara Timsina; the Executive Director of the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh (BCAP) express the urgent need and ask the UN to step in. Mr. Tilak Rai; the Acting Chairperson of the Bhutanese Refugee Representative Repatriation Committee (BRRRC) and Ram Karki, founder of the Global Initiative on the Release of Political Prisoners in Bhutan, who joined the event via Zoom from Bhutanese Refugee Camps in Nepal, and Netherlands who share the plight of the Bhutanese refugees in the camps and in the Bhutanese prisons.
Sixteen-year-old Lazza Magor, accompanied by her mother, shared a poignant testimony about her father during the event. Her father was imprisoned in Bhutan for visiting his family before departing for third-country resettlement in 2008. The families had a deep desire to be reunited, but the Bhutanese government has not permitted them to visit, even when the Red Cross made humanitarian pleas for family reunions. Magor’s case is not unique; there are numerous other families in the refugee camps in Nepal who are eagerly waiting for their loved ones to be released and the chance to reunite.
The committed members of PIB who organized and coordinated the event, including Sudarshan Pyakurel chairperson of PIB, Suraj Budathoki, the co-founder and president, and the youth PIB board members Dilasa Adhikhari, Dipisha CK, Aarti Chapagain, and Shristi Upreti exemplify the resilience and determination of the younger generation. These emerging leaders from the community are actively engaged and have stepped into leadership positions guided by the belief that peace and reconciliation are the pathways to addressing the human rights issues that have persisted over three decades in Bhutan.
As the Bhutanese diaspora continues to seek justice and healing and make a call for action at the United Nations Sideline Event on September 8th. It was a poignant reminder that their voices cannot be silenced. Their quest for a peaceful resolution to their painful past serves as an inspiration for the world to come together and support their cause.
Sudarshan Pyakurel is the Executive Director of Bhutanese Community of Central Ohio (BCCO), and community leader and advocate for social justice.