Civil liberties

Yesterday’s workshop on human rights awareness confirmed what most of us already suspect: that we don’t have serious human rights violations, but that, occasionally, human rights do get inadvertently sidelined.

Dasho Damcho Dorji, who is the Chairman of the National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, explained that instances of human rights violations were isolated and that they were: “not intentional” and resulted from either “ambiguity in laws” or “over enthusiasm by young officials.”

But, intentional or not, the Human Rights Committee has decided to investigate all complaints they receive. They will also review legislation and government policies to ensure that our citizens are guaranteed basic human rights, guarantees that are enshrined in the Constitution as “Fundamental Rights”.

One fundamental right is that: A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression.

Yet, the Civil Service Bill that the National Assembly passed last year states that civil servants shall: Refrain from publically expressing adverse opinion against the Royal Government.

The Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech, opinion and expression, and yet a law is passed that would undermine that freedom for the more than 20,000 civil servants.

So I agree with the Human Rights Committee’s decision to review legislation to prevent “ambiguity in laws”. The review could also stop any intentional violation of human rights.

Our poll asks if civil servants should be allowed to express adverse opinions about the Government.

 

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Comments

  1. I am puzzled. What did the Human Rights Committee mean by violations that are “not intentional”?

    Intended or otherwise, human rights violations are exactly that. No more, and no less.

    If the Committee meant to say such violations are not systemic, let it be crystal clear — that all notorious human rights violations in history have their roots in “ambiguity in laws” that permitted excessive discretion, and in “over enthusiasm by young officials” whose basic human values were unacceptable.

  2. What civil liberties are we really talking about when we are not even allowed to watch some sports channels on cable TV. It would be nice if BICMA explained to us as to how and why they arrived at allowing cable TV owners to provide viewers only 40 channels, that too some weird channels like akash bangla and some south Indian channel which are obviously free.

    We request Dasho Damcho to please take this issue up with the relevant BICMA officials.

  3. I agree to Zekom’s point of what does it really meant when the Committee refers to non-intentional violations. After all violation is violation, whether is intentional or unintentional. We can not except violation by saying it is unintentional. Like for instance, there are numerous violations committed by ACC, the Police and our courts without actually making proper investigations and judgement. Our innnocent people and their family members were made to suffer by these organisations for nothing. And, there is no instrument or mechanism to sue these organisations for their wrong judgements. The losers are the public and their unfortunate family members.
    The Human Rights Committee as committed should review and ensure no unintentional human rights violation be made in the future. Our people, the people of the GNH country should not tortured in the name of unintentional violation of human rights.

  4. Tshering Jamyang says:

    people are still locked up for months and many do not know their rights enshriend in the constitution. Human Rights committee should promote awareness of rights to the people through media campaigns.

    As civil servants, we can only criticise the government anonimously and live in fear of the government and its hounds.

    Thanks OL for bringing this very important issue for discussion.

  5. Sunny Side says:

    Civil Liberties!!!

    The instances of immigration officials going door to door with a warrant from the court is a prime example of infringement of our civil rights. In the first instance, how can the court issue a blanket warrant to search each and everybody’s house for illegal workers-the burden of proof rests with the immigration folks and it is their responsibility to convince the court that they are sure that certain households/establishments are employing illegal immigrants. Upon such conviction only should the court issue warrants for such houses only. But to issue a blanket warrant to search each and everyone’s house is a misuse of power and authority. Or were the immigration officials able to convince the court that each and every house in Bhutan has an illegal domestic worker? If that is the case, what were the immigration officials manning the check posts etc.??

  6. Fundamental rights r the basic rights of the people and needs to be respected and not violated with excuses such as “unintentional” “ambiguity” or over enthusiasm. For instance a very good example is the statement made by the chairperson neten zangmo blatantly saying “oversight of procedures”. Common… how can one just get away by saying something like that for such a grave human rights violation. Is that fair? Not at all. This is how respect for human rights is in GNH country and who dared to even open their mouth. As I civil servant I was so intimated to do so because of the repurcursions and the mere fact that I coundn’t express my views openly was also a violation of basic rights as a human being and citizen of the country.

    We really need to look into this aspect intensely and people working on this must also apply this in their own situation and see how if violation of basic rights happen to themselves and their family members. When framing laws and regulations, rooms for manipulation must be avioded. Our laws are all full of loopholes for manipulation to benefit the rich and the powerful. Appropriate compensation must be provided in cases of violation of basic rights and people who violate must be reprimanded as per the law.

  7. Sunny Side says:

    Civil Liberties!!!

    The instances of immigration officials going door to door with a warrant from the court is a prime example of infringement of our civil rights. In the first instance, how can the court issue a blanket warrant to search each and everybody’s house for illegal workers-the burden of proof rests with the immigration folks and it is their responsibility to convince the court that they are sure that certain households/establishments are employing illegal immigrants. Upon such conviction only should the court issue warrants for such houses only. But to issue a blanket warrant to search each and everyone’s house is a misuse of power and authority. Or were the immigration officials able to convince the court that each and every house in Bhutan has an illegal domestic worker? If that is the case, what were the immigration officials manning the check posts etc. doing?

  8. While civil liberties or human rights are important for well being of individuals, but i am more concerned with recent government initiative to remove the land ceiling of 25 acres. I want to hear OL views on this very important issue.

    To me having restriction on land holding below 25 acres per household has been an excellent policy from equity point of view. Removing this restriction will encourage land grabbing spree by the rich and powerful, thus widening gap between have and havenots and leading to polarization of small society.

    OL, Please comment.

  9. Does it look like all the people in Bhutan are enjoyong GNH? YES.
    Does it look like there is democracy in Bhutan? YES.
    Does it look like people in Bhutan enjoy all the civil rights that he is entitled to in th Constitution? YES.

    BUUUUTTTTT….

    Do we really have GNH in Bhutan? NO.
    Do we really have democracy in Bhutan? NO.
    Do we really have civil liberty in Bhutan?NO.
    Do we really have freedom of speech, opinion and expression in Bhutan? NO.

  10. Thinlay raised a valid point for discussion on the land issue. The removal of the 25 acres land ceiling with weird explanation of the Land Commission. I also wanted to comment more on the land issue and the areas where policy makers should focus more than many things that are not relevant in the draft land policy. There are so many weird and unrealistic policy statement in the draft land policy which is soon to be endorsed by the parliament. No analysis and proper research has been carried out and therefore many important issues that will have implications on the equity, wider access to land by broader category of people, affordability, consideration of the limited buildable area in Bhutan, etc. were not addressed in the policy.

  11. Dremten Drukpa says:

    “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression.”

    “National Assembly passed last year states that civil servants shall: Refrain from publically expressing adverse opinion against the Royal Government.”

    The constitutional rights should overide all other rules. So in this respect the civil servants who are the cream of the socity in Bhutan should have the rights to express their opinions. Else the democracy will just be facewash as in many failed states.

  12. Sonam ongmo says:

    You will find that even in countries like the US
    civil servants are bound by certain rules about what they can and cannot say about the govt. Corporate employees are also bound by certain restrictions of what informations they can and cannot reveal.
    Freedom of speech and expression doesn’t exempt people/ employees in even in the US from this. Perhaps it is our lack of understanding of how far these liberties go with certain people and in what contexts.

    Even people within the same political parties have certain restrictions under contract of what they can and cannot say. If they are in disagreement with the party lines they have to solve the problem within the party before the blab to the press. If they do it is a serious breach of contract.

  13. Civil servants cannot criticise the government according to the law. That is a serious breach of Human rights. that said, no law can grant complete freedom of expression. There is a reason why countries have the secrecy act. What we need is a more defined set of rules. What a civil servant cannot say, becasue of course they are privy to information, not all of which should be publicly declared.
    HOWEVER. The law here does not speak about revealing facts, it speaks about expressing opinions, and given the volume of civil servants we have in this country, if none were to point out the flaws in the government, whose working they best understand, we will be heading a very dangerous way.
    The gvernment must learn to accept criticism, from the media, the opposition, AND from those who work in it. After all, that is the only way to improve. If we do not listen to criticism, we are declaring that we do not wish to ever correct any faults we have.
    The above law should be changed into one where the civil servant may not disclose certain information if that information is found to be harmful to the security of the nation, bring about unrest, or incriminate an individual while not being in the interest of social well being.
    PS. Thank you OL for bringing this up. i actually had a civil servant show me this rule to demonstrate what the impact of naming him in my article would be as per the laws in our country, after speaking about a few things in the system that he didnt like.

  14. Penjore Wangdi says:

    We, civil servants, are doomed by the government that we helped come into power.

  15. I think most of you are thinking of “Freedom of Speech and expression” solely in terms of a civil servants criticism of the government. I also know that you are arguing for a good cause but because we are all new in this we might tend to overlook how this basic right can and has been abused in many other countries who have experienced Democracy and these rights longer than we have.

    As I said before, most, if not all, Democracies (esp one as old as the US and some European countries too) have restrictions even on this Right. For instance, according to the US amendment/restriction to Freedom of Speech for govt. Employees includes : “For example, the Court has decided that the First Amendment provides no protection to obscenity, child pornography, or speech that constitutes “advocacy of the use of force or of law violation … where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action..”

    And here is another restriction: “The Court has also decided that the First Amendment provides less than full protection to commercial speech, defamation (libel and slander), speech that may be harmful to children, speech broadcast on radio and television, and public employees’ speech. Even speech that enjoys the most extensive First Amendment protection may be subject to “regulations of the time, place, and manner of expression which are content-neutral, are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.” Furthermore, even speech that enjoys the most extensive First Amendment protection may be restricted on the basis of its content if the restriction passes “strict scrutiny” (i.e., if the government shows that the restriction serves “to promote a compelling interest” and is “the least restrictive means to further the articulated interest”).

    Don’t lets just harp about rights without understanding them fully and contextually.

  16. I also forgot to mention that if you are talking solely about government/organization criticism by an employee, then there is another right (because of these restrictions) that protects an individual who wants to reveal illegal doings of that organization. This is called the “whistleblowers statutes” designed to encourage employees to come forth about fraud and unlawful engagements by the govt/company/institution etc.

  17. Penjore Wangdi says:

    Let us talk about our statutes and laws, not others’

  18. Agreed. But our statutes and laws have not clearly defined what kind of criticism, because we have not had that experience. As much as the PM’s appointment of the PO was not clearly lined out in the laws, so also Freedom of Expression in Bhutan has not gone into these details. It is good to learn from our own experience, but if you can learn from it sooner from others, before you make that mistake wouldn’t that be better?

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