During a speech at the National Graduates Orientation in 2007, His Majesty emphasized three guiding priorities for the country: ensuring peace, security, and prosperity for Bhutan now and in the future; achieving the goals of Gross National Happiness; and building a vibrant democracy. He considered these imperatives for the country’s future. The bedrock of any democracy is adherence to the rule of law.

When opening the first session of Parliament in 2008, His Majesty remarked that the greatest achievement of a century of monarchy was the steady cultivation of democracy. He noted that before democracy, kings and citizens had always worked together for the nation’s betterment, resulting in the constitutional democracy they now enjoyed. His Majesty stressed that upholding the rule of law must be their foremost priority for the success of democracy.

His Majesty citing the Drugyel Zhipa, said “to meditate on some of His Majesty’s beliefs as King, foremost in His Majesty’s mind was always, the rule of law. It is said that the failure of justice persecutes an individual, but the lack of adherence to rule of law persecutes an entire nation. Rule of law begets discipline, which in turn begets order, and peace, which leads to trust and to stability.”

Under the Constitution, the rule of law means the due process of law, equality before law equal before the law and are entitled to equal and effective protection of the law, non-discrimination against on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion, politics, or other status. Professor Dicey, one of the most influential authorities on Constitution defined the rule of law as legal equality where he said “with us no man is above the law and every man, whatever be his rank or condition, is subject to the ordinary law of realm and amenable to the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals.”

To achieve the visions of our great monarchs of establishing democracy and the rule of law as its foundation, all state agencies must adhere to constitutional limits. His Majesty reminded us that Bhutan build a vibrant democracy grounded in the Constitution, ensuring power remains in citizens’ hands. We are urged strengthening the rule of law to bolster institutions of checks and balances, which promote good governance in turn. His Majesty said “When my Father and I introduced democracy in Bhutan 2008, the most important objective we had in mind was to establish the rule of law.”

Through successive governments and three elections, the importance of the rule of law has diminished, never being considered a priority. State agencies engaging in public naming and shaming on social tactics before due process is becoming norm. This week, Thimphu City Corporation has threatened to “name and shame” just for failing to pay parking fees. While such tactics may seem convenient for enforcement, it contravenes the rule of law.

We must remember that the right to privacy is a fundamental right that protects individuals and their families from undue publicity. State agencies must recognize that those negatively impacted have the legal right to sue for due process violations, privacy breaches, and defamation under numerous laws including the Constitution.

Selectively naming and shaming some offenses is discriminatory and must cease. Public shaming has proven ineffective in other systems and is even more damaging in Bhutan’s closed-knit society, harming innocent family members. State agencies must function within the limits of the constitution- the rule of law.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.