By the U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, Scott DeLisi
Published in the Kathmandu Post
November 20, 2011
For more than five decades the government and people of Nepal have shown tremendous generosity toward refugees, including the Tibetans who have sought refuge in Nepal and safe passage to India. The United States of America applauds Nepal’s record of steadfast support, even in the face of pressure to change its policy. I am pleased that the current government has demonstrated it will continue to protect refugee rights and allow Tibetans seeking asylum to present their case to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and, if found to be legitimate refugees, to transit through Nepal to India.
In addition to permitting the UNHCR to freely assist Tibetan refugees transiting to India, the government of Nepal has hosted thousands of Tibetans who have resided in Nepal for years and who have contributed enormously to the country’s progress and development. Each year, hundreds of thousands of tourists travel to Nepal to experience Tibetan culture and visit Tibetan religious sites, supporting Nepal’s burgeoning tourist economy. American visitors often tell me how much they admire Nepal’s respect for the views and values of the country’s many ethnic groups and religions, including Buddhism. It is commendable that Nepal, as the birthplace of the Lord Buddha, has chosen to reflect the embracing spirit of that faith by opening its arms to all those who respect and practice that religion.
Protecting the fundamental human rights and dignity of refugees, who number among some of the most vulnerable populations in the world, is the duty of every responsible government. As a party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Torture, Nepal, along with all other signatories to the Convention, has an affirmative duty to protect refugees and ensure they are not returned to states where they could be harmed. I would argue, however, that it is not treaty obligations alone which drive Nepal’s responsible and humanitarian treatment of refugees. Rather, I believe that this nation’s own values and respect for individual rights and dignity have been important contributing factors in Nepal making so many laudable decisions over the past fifty years whenever refugee rights have been debated.
My government has long valued the fact that successive governments in Nepal have protected vulnerable groups such as the Bhutanese and Tibetan refugees and respected internationally recognized norms regarding their rights. I am troubled, however, that today we find some who seek to make Nepal’s respect for refugee protection and human rights an issue of political debate and there are others who seek to portray Nepal’s hospitality toward Tibetan refugees as “pro-“ one country or “anti-“ another. In my view it is neither.
Instead I would argue that, if anything, Nepal’s generosity toward its long-staying Tibetan population and the hundreds more who cross its borders each year is “pro-Nepal.” Why? Because it offers one of the strongest and clearest and most consistent examples of the values of this nation and its people. Despite its own almost overwhelming development challenges, Nepal’s time-tested commitment to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable stands as a testament to the inherent decency and depth of compassion that define its citizens.
For more than 50 years, whether as a monarchy or as a republic, whether in times of peace or in times of upheaval and uncertainty, Nepal’s treatment of refugees has shown the rest of the world that it is a nation that exemplifies the virtues of tolerance and compassion. That record, unrivaled by many larger and more powerful countries, is something of which every Nepali should be proud. With a new constitution imminent, Nepalis now more than ever have to decide the kind of nation they want to be. Its record on protecting refugee rights is one that I am confident the new Nepal will continue to respect and uphold.
For the United States, humanitarian protection — not political gamesmanship — is our primary concern, and our focus will continue to be on protecting vulnerable refugees, rather than the politics of their countries of origin. The United States has long been a strong supporter of refugee rights, and we will continue to work to ensure the fair and humane treatment of refugee populations around the world. Whether a refugee is from Tibet or Bhutan or Iraq or Somalia, our humanitarian focus and concern for respecting fundamental human rights remain paramount. Those who seek to portray our position on Tibetan refugees as anti-China fundamentally misunderstand US policy and the importance we place on upholding universal values, rights, and principles.
I commend all that Nepal has done in the past for those who have come here seeking refuge, and all that I know it will continue to do in the future. The United States shares that commitment and appreciates the selflessness of the Nepali people and the constancy of their various governments over the decades in extending protection and hospitality to those in need. It is, quite simply, the right thing to do.
DeLisi is the US ambassador to Nepal