Tshering Palden 

“It was only a decade ago that we launched development programmes to raise the level of our economy and provide welfare facilities for the people. We’ve not made much headway during this period and we’ve nothing much to show to the outside world. I’m confident that if we’re united, the day is not far when we’ll be amongst the other developed nations of the world. Our admission to the United Nations is not an end in itself whereby all our problems will be solved on their own. We will have to work hard and unitedly to usher in prosperity and raise the standard of living of the people.”

More than 50 years after His late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck delivered this landmark address in 1971, after Bhutan’s successful admission to the United Nations Organisation (UN), the country marks the momentous day today with many thousand kilometres of roads, bridges, thousand more monastic and modern schools, modern communications facilities, and free health care services.

UN Secretary General U Thant made a statement before the flags of the new members of the UNO were raised at the UN headquarters on September 22, 1971

The former Chief Justice Thrimchi Sonam Tobgye, who began his career as a junior officer at the Royal court then, said that His late Majesty had meticulously planned Bhutan’s admission to UN.

“Bhutan had moved dexterously to the family of the world to promote goodwill and cooperation with nations, foster respect for international law and to promote international peace and security through bilateral, regional and multilateral relationship,” said the former Thrimchi.

Speaking at the 26th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations after Bhutan’s Admission to the UN, His Royal Highness Prince Namgyal Wangchuck spoke of how it all began from a visionary leader’s noble aspirations for peace and prosperity for His subjects and the country.

It was only a decade or so since Bhutan ended her age-old policy of national isolation and opened up to the outside world. The policy of national isolation was motivated in the past by self-interest due to geopolitical considerations, he said, and not because of a lack of desire or capacity to play an active role in the international community.

“The policy served its end and was instrumental in preserving the country’s sovereignty and independence. With the changing circumstances in the world and our desire to participate actively in the functioning of the international community, the policy lost its relevance.”

“It is important to emphasize the fact that all the radical changes in the country have been initiated by the King himself,” HRH Prince Namgyal Wangchuck said.

In the field of government and administration, it has been Bhutan’s aim to reform the traditional institutions to meet the needs of the changing times. Representative institutions like the National Assembly, Council of Ministers and the Royal Advisory Council were established. The sovereign powers of the Monarch were voluntarily surrendered to the National Assembly. The judiciary was separated from the executive and a uniform legal code based on past custom and present necessity was introduced.

By then, Bhutan successfully completed two Five-Year Plans and had launched a third. The social and economic infrastructure of the country was being built up through these Plans supported by the government of India.

His late Majesty remained up late into the night on September 21 excitedly waiting for the news from New York and giving instructions for the celebrations in the following days after the formal announcement of admission into the UN.

“One of the court officials were tasked to follow the news on BBC radio on one of His late Majesty’s two Zenith transistors,” Thrimchi Sonam Tobgye said. “His Majesty rose early that morning to listen to BBC news about Bhutan’s admission to the United Nations.”

Celebrations continued for the next three days.

The representative of India in Bhutan, BS Das, in his address during the celebrations held at Lungtenphu on September 22, 1971, said that the occasion was one of the most important occasions, if not the most important, in the history of Bhutan.

“Your Majesty, you have been the architect of modern Bhutan. It is rare that a leader of a country interprets the trends and hopes of his people so judiciously and correctly. You have been wedded to the idea of peace and progress and it was only in the fitness of things that Bhutan should have reached this position under your wise leadership.”

His late Majesty cautioned the leaders in the country of the challenges ahead in His speech to the 35th session of the National Assembly.

His Majesty said that with the UN admission having been attained, it was necessary to develop relations with other countries of the world, whatever their size and whatever different policies they adhere to. That some nations will give aid to benefit the country and this would assist greatly in developmental works. Other countries shall seek to give us false aid for their own interests. That kind shall be of no benefit to us. Rather it will do us a great injury.

Thus, His Majesty advised the National Assembly to come to a detailed resolution as to the kind of aid which should be accepted and that which should not be accepted later this will be of great value to our country.

Over the years, Bhutan had been involved in the numerous bodies of the UN. Bhutan has served on many important posts such as Vice President of the UN General Assembly, President of the Trade and Development Board, UN Conference on Trade and Development, two terms as a member of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and two terms as a member of the Economic and Social Council. Bhutan chaired the Third Committee during the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the UN, and it is today a member of the Bureau of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries.

Bhutan’s leadership was recognised through the presentation of awards from time to time.

His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo was recognised as Laureate for the Champion of the Earth in 2005 for His Majesty’s leadership in protecting Bhutan’s environment through numerous policy initiatives through decades.

In 2019, UNDP presented a Special Recognition Award to His Majesty The King for his leadership in advancing human development and the wellbeing of Bhutanese people.

Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, the longest-serving goodwill ambassador for UNFPA, was recognised as the laureate for the 2020 UN Population Award.

Bhutan worked with other Member States to realise the objectives of the UN. Among others, Bhutan has committed to promoting international peace and security. In September 2014, Bhutan joined the UN peacekeeping operations and since then peacekeepers have been dispatching regularly.

To mark the occasion, the Prime Minister will host a reception later today. The event would also be marked with the launch of a commemorative stamp and a coffee table book followed by a screening of a documentary on Bhutan and the UN at Royal Institute of Tourism and Hospitality in Thimphu.

The High-level General Debate of the 76th General Assembly will be held from September 21 to 27.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering will address the debate through a video statement on September 25. The theme for this year’s General Debate is “Building resilience through hope – to recover from Covid-19, rebuild sustainably, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people, and revitalise the United Nations’’.

Besides the General Debate, lyonchhen will participate Live in the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit on September 20, and the UN Food Systems Summit (virtually) on September 23, among others.