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Refugees call on Japan to remove former Bhutan minister’s decoration

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Groups representing Bhutanese forcibly evicted from Bhutan wrote to the Japanese Prime Minister asking him to remove a decoration awarded to Dago Tshering, a former interior minister accused by human rights activists of being one of the main perpetrators of ethnic cleansing in the Himalayan kingdom three decades ago.

In April, the Japanese government announced that Tshering, Minister of the Interior of Bhutan from 1991 to 1998 and Ambassador to Japan from 1999 to 2008, would receive the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star. , which earned him the distinction of being the first Bhutanese to be awarded the honor.

“While we recognize your government‘s desire to strengthen the mutual relations between Bhutan and Japan through the awarding of this award, we regret to state that this gesture of kindness has helped to unblock deep wounds and traumas that many of us Bhutanese have personally suffered. during the tenure of the interior minister, ”the groups said in a letter to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga dated June 24.

The groups represent Bhutanese living in the United States and elsewhere in the world, including neighboring Nepal.

The Foreign Ministry and the Cabinet Office, both of which deal with state decorations, have denied knowledge of the letter. Although the Japanese Embassy in New Delhi admitted to being aware of the contents of the letter, it did not say whether Japan had officially received it.

In 1988, the government of Bhutan implemented a national integration policy centered on traditions adopted by the majority of Tibetan Buddhists, sparking anti-government movements among Nepalese-speaking Bhutanese citizens.

On August 17, 1990, the then Deputy Home Minister, Tshering, revoked the citizenship of thousands of Bhutanese citizens. His order, and the subsequent state persecution of Nepalese-speaking Bhutanese citizens, forced 130,000 Bhutanese to flee Bhutan and settle in refugee camps in eastern Nepal. They were prevented by Indian security personnel from settling in India or returning to Bhutan.

The refugees have lived in Nepal for two decades in makeshift camps, during which countless repatriation efforts have failed. Under a resettlement program launched in 2007, most Bhutanese refugees have been resettled in eight countries: the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Great -Brittany and the Netherlands. A few thousand Bhutanese refugees still live in Nepal, hoping to return to their country of origin.

Bhutan human rights activist Tek Nath Rizal, who has refused resettlement and lives in Nepal pending repatriation, says he cannot understand how the Order of the Rising Sun, the Golden Star and Money could be bestowed on Tshering.

“I cannot understand how a country like Japan, which has championed the guarantee of human rights and democracy in Bhutan in various forms for years, has now decided to reward Dago Tshering, a racist, ruthless and corrupt former interior minister, “Rizal said. Cited in a guest article published on The Diplomat, an online news magazine, in May.

In an online signature campaign seeking wider support for the demand, members of what some human rights activists call the world’s most forgotten refugees have mentioned blatant abuses, including arrests, torture and deportations they faced, and expressed their belief that Japan will revoke the award.

“I am signing this petition because my father was arrested and tortured by the Bhutan army for months in Bhutan. This was done under the strict order and supervision of Dago Tshering. Our property was then taken from us and we were driven out of our country. Bhutan and Dago Tshering are responsible for all of this, ”wrote Malty Sharma, one of the signatories.

Announcing the awarding of the honor on April 29, the government said Tshering “contributes to strengthening ties between Japan and Bhutan as well as to friendship” between their peoples.

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