Nepal, Bhutan & Tibet



  • Video testimony from a teacher who worked in the south of Bhutan
  • All names in testimonies have been changed

Since the first refugees fled from persecution in Bhutan in the early 1990s, their stories have been recorded by international and local human rights organisations.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The Refugee Council and the Association of Human Rights Activists, Bhutan (AHURA) have recorded accounts that detail widespread human rights abuses by the Bhutanese government of the Lhotshampa in what appears to be a bid to drive them out of their homes.

Below are some of their testimonies.


“It was on Monday. All the family members were ready for dinner after finishing a hard day’s work. At that time we heard an unusual sound outside. My father went to outside the kitchen and was suddenly caught around the neck by a policeman who started to beat him.

After some time the policeman tied his hands and started walking towards the van. All of my family were weeping and begged them to let go of my father. But the policeman denied our requests and took our father to prison.

In prison they hung my father upside down and beat him. Then they hung him over chilli smoke. After that they ordered him to leave the country with all his family.

That very night myself and my family left our house and our country empty handed. There were many tears.

During the night we had to cross a big forest. We small children were crying for lack of food. Without light to see, we had to cross a big river. Only in the morning did we reach India.

With only sorrows we started the long journey from India to Nepal. We children were still asking for food but our father was only able to give us water.

Eventually we arrived at Maidhar, Nepal – near the bank of the Mai river. We still had nothing to eat. We went to a Nepalese village but the people chased us away. After that the Nepal government provided us with rice.”

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“It was July 3rd 1990 at about 4 o’clock in the evening. Suddenly my father cried with fright and pain. I, too, was frightened at that moment but my fear reached the boundary of my mind when I saw blood running from my father’s thigh.

He tells me now that after I fell unconscious, he held me, embracing me with his arms, and then tried to run away. However, he was injured and was unable to run or walk far and he was soon arrested by the army forces.

I do not remember anything after I fell unconscious. My step-mother was also there and she was also arrested. In jail they were kept separately and my father was tortured.

One day we were returning from the market. An incident occurred and my father told me this story, his eyes full of tears. He said, ‘I still have no idea about my wife, whether she is dead or alive’.”

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“The village in Bhutan where I spent my childhood and our forefathers spent the whole of their lives has a Dzong to the northern side, a monastery to the east and snow-clad mountains to the far side. Our Hindu temple was on the southern side of our house and was burnt before our eyes in 1989. We were told to worship Lord Buddha in their monasteries.

A spy who was a neighbour led the Bhutanese army to our house and they arrested my father. He was taken to prison and ordered to eat the meat of cows and do Buddhist religious ceremonies.

He was told to stop praying to Hindu gods and goddesses and to always wear the national dress. If we did not do this we had to leave the country. My father did not obey and they kept him in prison for six months were he was severely punished.

When they freed my father they burned our house in front of his eyes. No human likes to see their home burn and we cried but no one was there to help us. Our cries were in vain. So we left our animals, our burnt house and everything else and fled towards Jhapa in Eastern Nepal for safety.”

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A teacher from Thimpu

There was a pro-government rally in my area, but I did not attend so I was fired from my job. I was afraid to go home to southern Bhutan because all educated people were being arrested. But without my job, I had to leave.

I was arrested in July 1992. I was tied up and beaten by police all day. My mother came to the police station and appealed for me. They said they would release me if I signed a statement (Voluntary Migration Certificate). I signed in order to escape from prison. Then I had to flee.

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A 17-year-old pro-democracy demonstrator

Around midnight on 1 January 1991 we were awoken by a group of about 30 Bhutanese security personnel … My father, brother and I were arrested and taken to Sarbhang police station… In Sarbhang we were housed in the school. Food was always insufficient and of very poor quality. We were regularly tortured.

In March 1992, along with some other inmates, I was transferred to Chamgang prison near Thimphu. Here too we were regularly tortured. They would hang us by our wrists for prolonged periods from the ceiling or upside down… Till the Red Cross team visited the prison in 1993, we were continuously kept in shackles. Beating was also very severe, with 200-300 lashes per day being common.

From the time of our arrest, none of us was allowed to meet our relatives. We later found out they were never informed of our place of detention.

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A village headman

(from Nowhere to turn: Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, The Refugee Council, UK (1998))

When they introduced registration they told me (as a village headman) to tell the people to leave the country. When I protested they beat me and put me in prison. A headman from another district was beaten to death in front of me. Local courts issued orders directing people to leave. Soldiers stole cattle and harassed women.

Out of 445 houses in my area, 440 households were driven out. I spent seven months in jail and another four months in Thimphu prison. They took me to the border with 40 rupees and left me there.

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A Southern Bhutanese farmer

(from Bhutan: A Shangri-La without Human Rights, various Bhutanese organisations in exile, 2000)

On the fifth day, the soldiers came to the prison cell and began intimidating me to write the application. Exhausted, I was unable to bear any more torture and I wrote down the application. Soon after that I was released.

After seven days a group of police came to my house to summon me to the district office. There they had the Voluntary Migration Form filled and forced me to sign the document, the content of which I did not understand. Out of sheer fear I signed it.

They gave me a very small amount of money. While receiving the money, I was asked to smile and say that I was leaving the country of my own free will, facing a video camera. When I refused, the policemen beat me hard on my back. Out of extreme fear, I complied with the order, while the officials watched the scene mockingly. I was ordered to leave the country within five days.

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A girl, aged 12 when she left Bhutan

(from Nowhere to turn: Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, The Refugee Council, UK (1998))

From Sarbhang we took a truck to Maidhar, where there was nothing. It was windy and not good there. Soon after reaching, it became very congested with many people and many died. I think people died from the congestion. We stayed in Maidhar for about three months. We built a shelter there from sticks. We got some green plastic from an NGO.

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A 50-year-old refugee woman

(from Nowhere to turn: Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, The Refugee Council, UK (1998))

I was tortured by Bhutanese police when I refused to go and work for them. I was classified F4 in the census so then they threw me out of the country. I still take medicine for the torture they inflicted on me. Despite everything I want to go home but only if we go in a group. At least let me die in my own house.

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