Rights: An increasing number of detainees every year is leading to overcrowding in detention centres, which deteriorates the centre’s condition, according to the National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee (HRC).

Haa’s Bji-Katsho-Eusu MP Kinley Wangmo, while submitting the HRC report yesterday, said detention centres in Gelephu, Thimphu and Phuentsholing are overcrowded.

The committee pointed to lack of infrastructure like proper kitchens, store rooms, dining halls, close circuit cameras and compound lighting in detention centres as examples. The committee also highlighted that there are hairline cracks on the walls and ceilings, and rusted fences and metal bars in the detention centres.

“There is shortage of trained manpower, particularly trained counsellors,” she said. “There is also sanitation problems in Samtse, Samdrupjongkhar and Shompangkha.”

Kinley Wangmo also said that as of today police treat all detainees as per the Prison Act of Bhutan 2009 and kept them in the same rooms irrespective of the crimes they commit. “This conflicts with the fundamental rights of an individual, as detainees are innocent until proven guilty,” she said. “There is also no separate detention room for women and children and other high-risk detainees.”

The committee also reported that while the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has identified a detention centre at the police’s Thimphu division office complex, ACC and the police could not construct it because of financial constrains.

The House resolved that the home and finance ministries provide financial support.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said the ministry asked RBP to submit a drawing of the detention centre and provide an estimate of the construction cost.

He said RBP’s estimate was about Nu 14 million. “It’s a prison and we cannot provide them the best infrastructure like in homes but we have to provide the basics.”

Foreign minister Damcho Dorji said conditions of the prisons have improved. “We should instead be looking for other alternatives than improving detention centres,” he said. “Bailing out detainees with minor crimes would solve the overcrowding in detention centres.”

He also said it is important to refrain from detaining a person if the crime is not serious.

NA members also discussed handcuffing of detainees.

This was in accordance to section 126 and 128 of the Prison Act, which mandates prison authorities to handcuff prisoners when they become violent, when there is risk of injury to themselves and others, and when there is risk of absconding.

Labour minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo said handcuffs are necessary, and the measure is practised even in developed countries like the United States. “But when a person is apprehended, how he or she is treated once in detention is important,” he said. “It is important to explain legal proceedings and the right of legal representation to the detained person.”

Wamrong MP Karma Tenzin said there is difference between a convict and detainee.

While the HRC recommended the government review the Guidelines for Issuance of Security Clearance Certificate 2011, the House decided to keep the guideline as it is.

The committee reported that the guideline mandates a person, who was convicted, to observe a three month to four year cooling period. “The same rule applied for inmates of the Youth Development and Rehabilitation Centre (YDRC), who are rehabilitated. So it is important to review the guidelines in context of YDRC,” Haa MP Kinley Wangmo said.

Dewathang-Gomdar MP, Mingbo Dukpa, said there is no need to review guidelines, as inmates of YDRC are minors below 18 years and they do not need security clearance.

Home minister Dawa Gyaltshen said the guideline was implemented in 2011 and it is too early to amend it.

The National Assembly also endorsed a proposal for ACC to communicate in writing to the respective agency and person involved declaring his or her innocence.

The sixth session of the National Assembly passed a resolution that mandated re-announcement of an alleged person’s innocence by ACC through the media.

The HRC submitted that there were people who were detained but were found innocent upon investigation. “Few of these cases appeared in social media but once the person is released, there was no announcement of the person’s innocence,” Kinley Wangmo said.

She added that while discussing the matter with ACC, the commission argued that they do not inform about detainees in the media and claimed to maintain secrecy in order to carry out an effective investigation. “The commission stated that it has no administrative control over social media and they cannot make public announcements on behalf of social media.”

She also said ACC has an informal practice of informing respective agencies if initial allegations were found to be baseless.

Wamrong MP Karma Tenzin said it is important to treat detainees and convicts differently.

He also said it is not only ACC but also the media who should follow up and declare a person innocent once the investigation is over. “It’s about a person’s image. So it is important for the media and ACC to clarify.”

Chukha MP Rinzin Dorji said ACC publishes a person’s name in the media, announcing about contract suspension and freezing of transactions. “So when the case reaches court and the person is acquitted, judges are criticised. ACC should not print the name of the person in the media until a court finds that person guilty.”

Tashi Dema