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ICC Note:

After becoming a constitutional democracy in 2008, Bhutan’s constitution enshrined the right to religious freedom. Unfortunately, that right has not been fully realized by Bhutanese Christians. Christianity in Bhutan is still not recognized as a legal religion. The United Nations has raised concerns over the issue of religious freedom in Bhutan, but failed to bring up the issues facing the country’s Christian population. Will Christians in Bhutan every be granted legal status? 

6/5/2014 Bhutan (Morning Star News) – Several member countries of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) have raised concerns over lack of rights for religious minorities in Bhutan, but legal recognition for Christians remains nowhere in sight.

At the UNHRC’s recent Universal Periodic Review of the Buddhist nation in Geneva, Switzerland, the United States and other nations urged the tiny kingdom to protect religious freedom by allowing people to freely practice their faith and by granting all religious groups equal opportunity to obtain legal status.

Among other international rights groups submitting reports, U.S.-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) called on Bhutan to address various religious freedom concerns. ADF noted that Bhutan has enacted several laws restricting fundamental rights of its citizens, freedom of association and freedom of religion and belief of individuals.

Bhutan transitioned to a constitutional democratic monarchy in 2008 after a century of absolute monarchy. ADF lamented that Christians are still unable to freely profess, practice or propagate their faith due to legislative hurdles, in spite of several provisions in the country’s constitution that recognize and affirm basic human rights, including freedom of religion and belief.

“Freedom of conscience is the bedrock for any democracy, and Bhutan would do well to recognize and protect this basic fundamental right of all its citizens,” said Tehmina Arora of ADF. “Bhutan’s embracing of democracy is very encouraging, and we hope that Bhutan will continue strive to protect its religious minorities.”

The member states also urged Bhutan to accept requests for visits by U.N. Special Procedures mandate holders, including the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, without further delay.

“Religious freedom is a basic human right that belongs to all people, and that includes the people of Bhutan,” Arora added. “No one should be targeted for violence, inhumane treatment, and religious discrimination simply because of their faith.”

The leader of the Bhutanese delegation to the UNHRC, Minister of Home and Cultural Affairs Damcho Dorji, said that Bhutan was committed to further protect and promote fundamental rights and freedoms of its people as enshrined in the Constitution of Bhutan.

In response to questions regarding freedom of religion at the April 30 review, the Bhutanese delegation said that the country’s people have the freedom to embrace and practice any religion of their choice, provided it is a choice made out of free will. The delegation referred to Article7(4) of the constitution, which guarantees the right to practice any religion provided a person is not compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.

After making several attempts to get legal recognition in the country, however, the Christian minority appears to have given up hope. One pastor told Morning Star News they had approached the previous government without success and were hoping the new government led by Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay would heed their plea. But the March 5 arrest of two Christian pastors, M.B Thapa (Lobzang) and Tandin Wangyal, in the southern district of Samtse, made it clear that the government was in no mood to give Christians their rights, he said.

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