Balancing human rights and duties

Former Chief Justice of Bhutan, Sonam Tobgye addressing the participants.

Former Chief Justice of Bhutan, Sonam Tobgye addressing the participants.

“Bhutan’s Constitution lists 23 fundamental rights under article 7 and only 11 fundamental duties under article 8”, observed Karma Choden, a citizen volunteer, as she spoke on civic duties as a panelist during the International Human Rights day.

Karma has been working as a volunteer to improve sanitation of public toilets. Stressing on the importance of citizen volunteerism and civic duties she said, “The government can provide us toilets, which is a fundamental right but we, as responsible citizens must exercise our civic duties to ensure the toilets are well maintained.”

The panel discussion was organized to discuss Human Rights in Context of GNH by the Bhutan Center for Media and Democracy (BCMD) with support from UNDP Bhutan and the Austrian Development Cooperation. Members of the democracy clubs from schools in Thimphu, civil society and youth volunteers participated.

Speaking on fundamental rights and duties, Sonam Tobgye, the former Chief Justice of Bhutan said, “Fundamental rights limit the power of legislature, secure individual liberty and act as a barricade against tyranny of the majority.”

Siok Sian Pek-Dorji, the Executive Director of BCMD said that it is important to establish a balance between fundamental rights and duties when looking at human rights in the context of Gross National Happiness.

Echoing a similar belief, Phuntsho Choden, a youth volunteer working at BCMD said how they youth today use social media platforms to complain on the government failing to provide them employment, “But fail to look one’s own duties and not only focus on rights.” To make youth responsible, Phuntsho added that it is important for the society should not see youth as problems and rather as problem solvers.

Bhutanese Parliament Committee on Human Rights

Speaking to the participants, Parliamentarian Kelzang Wangchuk, the Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly shared how the committee has been investigating a few human rights cases.

One of the more recent cases referred to was on financial institutions publicizing the names of loan defaulters on television. MP Kelzang Wangchuk said that the financial institutions were hampering people’s identity and dignity following which the committee convinced to ban such practices.

The committee has also been working on a case of a person being detained for corruption who was imprisoned besides the fact that the case was under investigation. This is mainly because we don’t yet have separate facilities for detention other than the regular prisons. The committee will soon submit the findings to the National Assembly.

The global perspective

Addressing the participants on the event, Niamh Collier-Smith, the Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP Bhutan highlighted how, globally, headlines are rife with realities of war, depravations and inhumanity making it clear that rights are not something relevant only within a country.

“Like the migrants moving across North Africa and Europe every day and night, human rights transcend borders. We need more than ever a strong global framework”, she said. Highlighting the importance of the day, the Deputy Representative referred back to the origin of the United Nations in the aftermath of the Second World War in 1945.

“Seventy years ago, the horrors of the Second World War were only just behind us. All countries came together to reaffirm the need for global standards to protect people’s rights and to promote social progress and better living standards in larger freedom”, she said.