How Bhutan celebrated her admission to the United Nations.

Exactly fifty years ago, Bhutan was unanimously elected as the 128th member of the United Nations. To mark the historic occasion the Royal Government declared three days of national holidays. The highlight of the grand celebration in the capital was the archery match held in the Lungtenphu ground.

The choeda or inter-regional archery match was held between Paro and Wangduephodrang dzongkhags. Led by Dasho Paljor J Dorji and Dasho Karma Dorji respectively, the archery match drew a large crowd.

Played in traditional bamboo bows and arrows, the choeda lasted three days. The match drew the largest congregation at that time.

According to people who witnessed the occasion, traditional white tents with dragon embroideries were pitched in the Lungtenphu archery ground. The national flag was hoisted, along with other colorful flags to create a festive ambience. The nation’s best mask dancers and folk singers performed, enhancing the spirit of jubilation.

The 21 September 1971 issue of Kuensel recorded and reported the grand celebration of Bhutan admission to the UN.  According to the report, lunch was served to the public, and dinners were hosted for the senior Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese officers on all three days.

The next issue of Kuensel, 1 October 1971 reported more details of the celebration of the historic occasion. According to the newspaper, two films were screened at the Lophel Theater as part of the celebrations.

The first film was on His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck’s (r.1952-1972) visit to Delhi in April 1971. The second film was a color documentary. It was specially made for the occasion showcasing Bhutan’s rich culture and tradition. To stamp the occasion in the annals of history, the Postal Services and Information released a special series of commemorative stamps.

Bhutanese from all walks of life joined the grand celebration. They rejoiced the admission of our country to the most important world body.

Bhutan’s membership in the international community of nations gave a new meaning and content to its existence. With a self-imposed isolation policy, Bhutan, was virtually unknown to the rest of the world. With the admission to the world’s largest international organization, Bhutan could now participate and contribute to the goals of the UN.


His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo

The admission to the UN is one of the most important landmarks in our history. His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo called it a once in a life time event. “I myself and all officers serving my government and the representative of India in Bhutan are lucky indeed that our admission to the Untied Nations has occurred in our life time.” The 1 October 1971, Kuensel edition quoted the King.

His Majesty said that the other important landmark in the annals of our history was in the 17th century when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651) came to Bhutan from Tibet in 1616. At the time Zhabdrung brought unto us a message of truth and dharma. The lam eventually united country. His Majesty gave the admission of Bhutan to the UN the same significance.

His Majesty was a visionary leader and the chief architect of our admission to the UN. The King was determined to do everything in his lifetime to ensure that Bhutan not only remained a sovereign independent nation but enhanced its security. He was the mastermind and headed the movement to join the UN.

Bhutan’s admission to the UN was a gradual process with a well-thought-out plan that was executed patiently and brilliantly over a decade.

The process began in 1962. That year Bhutan attended the Colombo Plan as an observer. The, all-women delegation led by Ashi Tashi Dorji charmed the member countries. In an unprecedented manner, Bhutan was unanimously admitted as a member of the Colombo plan; Bhutan’s first membership in an international organization.

Five years later, after gaining confidence as a member of the international body, in 1967 the National Assembly discussed Bhutan’s admission to the UN. After months of deliberation, the Assembly passed a resolution for Bhutan’s bid to join the UN.

Two years later, in 1969 Bhutan became a member of the Universal Postal Union; one of the specialized agencies of the UN.

In accordance with Bhutan’s National Assembly’s resolution, the government looked to India for guidance and advice in the matter of UN membership. India agreed to sponsor Bhutan’s application.

In 1970, the application to join the UN was submitted. His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo sent a delegation from Bhutan to attend the General Assembly as an observer.

According to the ‘Report of the Security Council Committee on the Admission of the New Members’, Bhutan’s application for membership was circulated on 22 December 1970.

Two months later, on February 10, 1971, the Security Council unanimously recommended Bhutan’s admission. The Council’s report states, “We are pleased that this Security Council reported, unanimously and within a short period, its recommendation that the Security Council should accept Bhutan’s application for membership.” All fifteen members of the Security Council were present at the meeting and all supported Bhutan’s application. By September 1971, Bhutan had done a lot of groundwork and had conducted intensive negotiations all informally.

By September 1971, much groundwork had been done. Bhutan had conducted intensive informal negotiations both in India and in New York.

For example, our king had travelled to India several times. In April 1971 he was in Delhi. One week before Bhutan was admitted to the UN, His Majesty had just returned from Kolkatta after a week’s unofficial visit.

In anticipation of its membership, Bhutan had established a permanent mission in New York with a full staff. His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo appointed Lyonpo Sangay Penjor (1928- 1993) as the country’s first representative. Lyonpo was already based in New York.

His Majesty then sent a three-member delegation to New York to attend the assembly session and be present at the formal approval of Bhutan’s admission.

His Majesty’s brother, His Royal Highness, Lyonpo Namgay Wangchuck, headed the delegation. The other two members were Lyonpo Dawa Tsering and Dasho Tshering.

A week earlier, on 14 September, as part of the build-up to the event, Kuensel reported that the Bhutanese delegation was scheduled to reach New York on 17 September.

The 26th session of the United Nations General Assembly was a turning point in Bhutan’s history. Bhutan’s membership of the world body was proposed and formally approved along with those of Bahrain and Qatar. 

At 5 p.m. GMT (noon, in New York), H.R.H N. Wangchuck addressed the 26th session of the General Assembly. H.R.H thanked the members of the United Nation in accepting Bhutan into the organization and thanked in particular India for sparing no efforts in securing Bhutan’s admission to the free association of sovereign countries.

In his address to the General Assembly, H.R.H said, “Our government and people are now fully committed to a policy of modernization, although we are at the same time aware of the importance of preserving our national identity by retaining the best in our ancient culture and tradition. None of us imagine that this will be an easy thing to do to achieve this fine balance and synthesis but with all our mind and effort directed towards this goal, we are confident of success.”

With admission to the UN, His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo achieved his wish of further strengthening our independent status and securing the sovereignty of Bhutan and becoming an active member of the international community of nations.

At the end of the three-day inter-region archery match witnessed by the largest crowd amidst dancing and feasts it was clear that the Paro archery team was much superior. Since it was a celebration the Paro team captain wanted to call it a draw but his team members opposed stating that it was choeda. They had to win the Wangduephodrang team good and proper. So, while the Paro team were able to carry the day the real winners were the people of Bhutan captained by His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo. The people had congregated in the nation’s capital to rejoice the historic occasion of being unanimously elected as the 128th member of the United Nations.

Contributed by 

Tshering Tashi