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Friday, August 20, 2010

From the Himalayas to Limburg, in search of peace and happiness.

Bhutan is portrayed as a peaceful country, where ‘gross national happiness’ is the government’s top priority. However, starting in the early 90s, over 100,000 Bhutanese citizens, mainly Hindu and Nepalese speaking minorities were driven from Bhutan at gun point, and warned that attempts to return would be met with lethal force. Most of them have been living as refugees in U.N.-administered camps in Nepal ever since, denied a future and the most basic human rights. In 2007, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) launched a resettlement programme, allowing Bhutanese refugees to resettle in various countries. Photo: Peter de Ruiter

The Netherlands receives 500 refugees from various countries each year, and approximately 250 Bhutanese are currently resettled throughout the country, from Friesland in the North, to the South of Limburg. Leaving many of the hardships behind them, new challenges await in adapting to a new culture, learning the Dutch language and eventually find work. The health facilities in the camps are poor, and in the Netherlands they are given the chance to rebuild their life and the right medical treatment.

GHRD currently travels throughout the country, interviewing Bhutanese refugees about their experiences.

One of them is the Khadka family, who moved to a small village in Limburg in 2009. Akil and Til live with son Yog, daughter in law Sabitra, and ten month old grandson. The parents and son fled Bhutan following the detention and torture of Mr. Khadka Sr. Their property was seized and they have lived in a Nepali camp for 17 years. Due to the poor medical facilities, Sabitra endured three miscarriages in the camp, but she gave birth to a healthy son soon after arriving to the Netherlands.

GHRD visited the family together with photographer Peter de Ruiter in their beautiful home with a spacious garden in Limburg. The Khadka family are grateful for the resettlement, and optimistic about their future. They appreciate the Netherlands as a safe, peaceful country with good rules and regulations. I just want to live a simple life here free from torture. I will get a job, and my child will do better.”(Yog Khadka). Mrs Til Khadka too is optimistic: “ I know there is a future for my son and grandson.” (Til Khadka).

The only thing missing is some of the remaining family members that are resettled in other countries. And a Bhutanese Hindu priest. Akil explains; ”There is no Bhutanese Hindu priest here, I wish they could send one with the next group, so I can practice my religion with a fellow countryman.”

Photos: Peter de Ruiter

Note: Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) has supported the Bhutanese for years, through projects in the camps and in the Netherlands. As from 2010, GHRD conducts research in partnership with the Dutch Refugee Council (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland), into the situation for the Bhutanese in the Netherlands.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Jahangir Alam Akash; ‘ No one can ever stop me from continuing to fight for the voiceless.’

Recently the ‘Committee to protect journalists’ published its impunity index list of countries were journalists are regularly killed and governments failed to solve the crimes. Bangladesh ranked as the 11th country, a rank higher than last year.

Jahangir Alam Akash is one of those journalists and writers living in exile as a result of his reporting of human rights issues in the country. On numerous occasions he disclosed. the atrocities of the armed forces in cases involving human rights violations, and he has faced at least four politically motivated cases based on false charges as a result.

He was brutally tortured by the law enforcement agencies (RAB) in 2007, and fled to Germany fearing his safety after the Awami League came into power in 2009. The Hamburg Foundation has hosted Mr Akash as a guest for the politically persecuted, for a duration of one year.

Global Human Rights Defence invited Mr Akash to celebrate International Human Rights Day in The Hague, and took the opportunity to discuss the situation for Bangladeshi journalists and to obtain his view on the human rights situation after the national elections. Mr. Akash shared his concerns about the corrupted system, and fears that little has changed despite the return to democracy in Bangladesh.

At the time of the incident when you were tortured, several organisations, like GHRD, Asian Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International lobbied for your safety. What impact did the work of international organisations have on your work, especially the time after you were tortured?

-'In Bangladesh I feared for my life, I felt unsafe and helpless. The support I received from organisations like GHRD, Amnesty International, The Asian Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma Victims (BRCT), meant a lot to me and my family. The pressu
re that has been put on governments and international bodies, in the form of urgent appeals and other requests demanding my safety and protection helped to ensure the safety of myself and my family. Since the government is still very concerned about its image, the international support and attention that I received through the work of these different organisations was one of the main reasons why I was actually not killed during those two days of torture.’

How would you say is the human rights situation today, compared to the situation during the emergency powers?

- ‘The elections were considered democratic. However, the democracy in the country does not work in practice. Persecutions against religious minorities, extra judicial killings, attacks against journalists and other human rights violations still occurs. The government has been warned by the High Court regarding the situation of the growing and ongoing illegal activities of the RAB. It demanded that the government immediately have all these types of activities banned. But still you can’t see any changes.’

As long as the lack of political will to address human rights violations continues, he sees no possibility to return:

- ‘Because of the widespread corruption throughout
the country’s legal instances, I have learned that you cannot depend on the system to serve you justice. The legal, political and governmental system is not strong enough to fight the atrocities and human rights violations. So far there has been no response whatsoever from the government in regards to the torture they subjected me to.’

According to Akash, it is not to be expected that the government will ever recognise or acknowledge these types of incidents:

- ‘The government’s actions are controlled by its political interests and agenda, which obviously overshadows the population’s human rights. The governments way of “handling” the extra judicial killings conducted by RAB forces in the country is an example of this.’

What practical changes do you think the government should undertake to improve the situation?

- ‘The government has some major obstacles to tackle in order to get the human rights situation under control, such as the fact that the country has no working educational system or the gross poverty that prevails in the country. As of right now the judiciary system is not functioning, the main reason is the widespread corruption. The system is filled with
corruption, from top to bottom.’

Akash explains further:

- ‘Religion is also present in the politics and Islam is announced as the state religion. The “islamisation” of the government is a serious problem, especially for the religious minority groups and also for the process of building a secular democracy. To remove Islam as the state religion would be a critical step to achieve secularism, which is of great importance to release the tension between religious groups in the country.’

Do you feel optimistic about the future of Bangladesh with the new government?

- ‘The process will be long and time consuming but I stay positive. There are alot of people working and hoping for a better future for Bangladesh. There will come a day of happiness and peace. After coming to Europe I have been able to conduct my work for the people in Bangladesh who are living in oppression, people who are marginalised and who live in poverty.

No one can ever stop me from continuing to fight for these voiceless people’.