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Bhutan praised for progress on right to liberty but must step up safeguards for defendants’ rights, say UN experts

24 January 2019

THIMPHU/GENEVA (24 January 2019) – Bhutan has made progress in ensuring the right to liberty but must do more to improve due process for defendants, a group of UN human rights experts has concluded at the end of a fact-finding mission to the country.

“There have been significant and commendable achievements in safeguarding the right to liberty in Bhutan. These include the presentation of arrested individuals before a judge within 24 hours, taking into account time spent in custody when sentencing, and expeditious trials,” said the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention presenting its findings at the end of a 10-day visit to Bhutan.

“However, the authorities need to step up their efforts in a number of areas to improve the observance of due process rights. Ensuring effective access to professional legal representation and legal aid for everyone and especially those in vulnerable situations such as children, must be a priority,” the group added.

The Working Group expressed serious concern at the large number of people in civil cases who are being held in detention. “Detention due to inability to repay a debt is arbitrary under international law and must cease. There are alternative means of recovering debts, such as flexible repayment schedules and deductions from salary which should be employed instead of detention,” the experts stressed.

“There are no dedicated adult pre-trial detention facilities in Bhutan and those on remand are held in police stations. Pre-trial detainees spend entire days inside their cells in police stations without any purposeful activities or opportunities for outdoor exercise. While remand periods generally are not excessive, police stations simply cannot accommodate people for longer than a couple of days. This undermines the presumption of innocence,” the experts observed.

The Working Group also highlighted the issue of people with a drug dependency problem being deprived of their liberty. “It is unfair that someone who is found in possession of up to 20 prohibited tablets is required to undertake treatment and rehabilitation, while those with 21 tablets and more are prosecuted with no treatment for their addiction. All individuals addicted to drugs should first and foremost be able to participate voluntarily in treatment,” they added.

During the visit, from 14 to 24 January 2019, the three members of the delegation, Seong-Phil Hong, Leigh Toomey and Elina Steinerte, met Government officials, judges, lawyers, civil society organizations and other relevant groups. They travelled to Thimphu, Paro, Chukha, Phuntsholing, Samtse and Punakha, visiting more than 20 different places of detention and interviewing more than 150 people deprived of their liberty.

The Working Group will present the final report of its visit to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2019.


The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention comprises five independent experts from around the world: Mr. Seong-Phil Hong (Republic of Korea) Chair-Rapporteur; Ms Leigh Toomey (Australia), Vice-Chair on Follow-Up; Ms Elina Steinerte (Latvia), Vice-Chair on Communications; Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Mexico); and Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi (Benin).

The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

Check the Database of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

UN Human Rights country page – Bhutan

For more information and media requests, please contact: In Bhutan: Ms Tshering Chuki (+975 2322424 (Ext. 104) /[email protected]); In Geneva (before, during and after the visit): Ms Lucie Viersma (+41792010119 / [email protected]) or Ms Margarita Nechaeva (+41 797520481/ [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:  Mr. Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

Follow the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts

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