George Graham

I Guess Bhutan Isn’t So Great After All

nepalYou know what they say, be careful what you wish for, you might get it. So I am hastening to rescind yesterday’s wish to be magically transported to Bhutan. Like every  other conclusion in my life, my opinion of Bhutan was based on incomplete information. Today, in the Care2 newsletter, Charlie B. responds to Nancy R’s post by citing a history of “ethnic cleansing” in the supposedly idyllic kingdom on top of the Himalayas.

Charlie B., who in real life is Charles J. Brown, a Senior Fellow and Washington Director at the Institute for International Law and Human Rights, conceded that Nancy R. has a valid point in suggesting that countries should measure progress by more than than the amount of consumption by their people. But he adds:

The problem is not with the idea.  Nancy is right that Gross National Happiness is a worthy metric, and I support and value her efforts to promote it. The problem is rather with its chief advocate:  the Government of Bhutan.  Much as was the case with Mr. Jefferson 233 years ago, the Government of Bhutan may believe in happiness, but that doesn’t mean it practices what it preaches. In the early 1990s, Bhutan pursued what Human Rights Watch called a policy of “ethnic cleansing,” targeting citizens of Bhutan whose ethnicity happened to be Nepalese rather than Drupka (Bhutan’s indigenous race). 

Charlie B. quoted a 2008 Human Rights Watch report that charged:

After a campaign of harassment that escalated in the early 1990s, Bhutanese security forces began expelling people, first making them sign forms renouncing claims to their homes and homeland. . . .  Today, about 108,000 of these stateless Bhutanese are living in seven refugee camps in (neighboring) Nepal. The Bhutanese authorities have not allowed a single refugee to return.

And he recalls traveling to the refugee camps in the mid-1990s as part of his work monitoring human rights for Freedom House.  This is what he found:

Their death rate was one of the highest ever recorded.  To this day, it represents in terms of per-capita, the world’s largest refugee displacement.  Seventeen years later, not one of them – not one – has been allowed to return home. Although conditions had stabilized by the time of my visits, I can testify to the gross unhappiness of more than 100,000 people who wanted nothing more than to return to their homes. 

What am I to make of this disillusioning information? I know my sister-in-law Faye would say the only perfect place is to be found in the after life. And I am beginning to think she’s right. After yearning for Utopia for as long as I can remember, I am ready to concede that no human institution is likely to work. People are a sorry lot, after all.

As Winston Churchill – famously – commented, democracy is the worst system of government except for all the others. I’m ready for Heaven myself, but (as the country and western song points out) I just don’t want to die to get there.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for