Tashi Dema

National Assembly members ratified the BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in International Terrorism, Transnational Organised Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking yesterday.

Of the 42 members present, 41 voted for the ratification.

As members deliberated the convention on February 4, the discussion revolved more on how Bhutan would benefit from it.

With 15 clauses, the convention is expected to facilitate and strengthen collaboration and information sharing among BIMSTEC member states on terrorism, transnational organised crime and illicit drug trafficking.

Of the seven member states, six have ratified the convention during the 12th BIMSTEC ministerial meeting held in December 2009.

Foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji said only Bhutan did not ratify the convention and it is necessary the Parliament support the convention.

He explained that the provisions of the convention include sharing and exchange of information regarding activities of individual or criminal group engaged in planning, promotion or execution of acts of international terrorism, transnational organised crime and drug trafficking.

Information on modus operandi and sources of financing of individuals or criminal group should also be shared.

The convention is also expected to help in coordinating joint approaches in combating crimes, sharing experiences and expertise in the area of preventing transnational organised crime, access to arms, explosives and other prohibited substances.

“Bhutan will indicate her support and commitment to efforts in combating international terrorism, transnational organised crime and illicit drug trafficking,” Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said. “Bhutan, as a member of Asia Pacific Group (APG) on Anti-money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism is reviewed regularly for compliance with international standards. Ratification of the convention will supplement and strengthen national mechanisms and improve Bhutan’s rating during the review.”

He said domestic legislation and other national mechanisms against terrorism and organised crimes can be strengthened and improved. “The disadvantage is that we will start receiving requests for information exchange and action related to it. We also lack expertise and capacity to deal with the issues.”

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi, who was the only member who voted against the ratification, asked on meeting the financial and human resource needs while ratifying the convention. “What are the conveniences of applying the extradition treaty and its implications, as it is not easily applicable?”

He also questioned if member states would share information, as most of the provisions in the convention mention that it is subjected to domestic laws, meaning they will not be mandated to share information if it contradicts their law.

Drametse Ngatsang MP, Ugyen Wangdi, said Bhutan has extradition treaty only with India and not with the other members. “We need not amend the Extradition Act 1991 but just ratify the convention.”

He asked if we could have extradition treaty with the other five member countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said stakeholders consultative meeting on national interest assessment report states cost analysis of the convention indicates it could be done with some adjustments. “The convention is in line with more than six existing Acts in the country and only Extradition Act 1991 needs some amendment.”

He also said information on security of the country need not be shared.

Many MPs supported the ratification.

Lamgong Wangchang MP Ugyen Tshering said there are more advantages than disadvantages in ratifying the convention. “It has to benefit the people.” Tashichoeling MP Dil Maya Rai also said the convention would benefit the country.

Meanwhile, members also discussed if all the clauses in the agreement should be discussed. Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji proposed to ratify the convention by discussing it and without going clause by clause.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji also claimed translation is not important, as long as it is clear in English.

Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) supported the ratification, but said it is important to have clear translation, as people who do not know English would also use the convention.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel, however, decided to go clause by clause reasoning Dzongkha and English translation should be uniform.