Chhimi Dema

The joint committee of two Houses of the Parliament agreed not to amend section 177 in the Penal Code of Bhutan on rape.

During a National Council (NC) press conference yesterday, Social and Cultural Affairs Committee chairperson Ugyen Namgay said that the joint committee decided that to leave the section unchanged for now as a comprehensive definition of rape cannot be drawn.

The section was amended in 2011 and states that a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of rape if the defendant commits any act of sexual intercourse whatever its nature against any other person.

Amendment to two other sections in the code, 214 and 438, were dropped during the meeting.

Section 214 is on the grading of unnatural sex.

The amended Section 214 in the bill endorsed by NC stated the offence of unnatural sex is a petty misdemeanor; a third degree felony if unnatural sex is conducted or committed without consent as described within the exception of this section; a second degree felony if it is conducted or committed between minors between the ages of sixteen to eighteen years with or without consent.

The National Assembly earlier recommended the removal of the clauses as they criminalised the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer communities. However, the NC’s legislative committee recommended retention of the clauses reasoning that it might be a rushed decision for the country to remove the clauses.

“The six sub-sections under section 438 on crime against public election were mentioned in the Election Act. Therefore, it was proposed as repetition,” he said.

However, upon consultation with the Election Commission, the commission proposed to keep the section unchanged.

The NC will deliberate on the Mines and Minerals Bill, the Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Bill, BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in International Terrorism, Transnational Organised Crime and Illicit Drug trafficking, Fiscal Incentives (Amendment) Bill and the Charter (Amendment) of the SAARC Development Fund.

There will be re-deliberation on the Entitlement and Service Conditions (Amendment) Bill for the Holders, Members and Commissioners of Constitutional Offices of Bhutan and the Lhengye Zhungtsho Bill.

Although the Covid-19 restrictions have prevented MPs from visiting their constituencies, the members using technology were able to consult the public, said Chukha MP Sangay Dorji.

“We conducted virtual meetings and had telephone conversations with members,” he said.

NC deputy chairperson Jigme Wangchuk said that issues from the constituencies were not included in the agenda this time.

He said that MPs visit their constituency twice a year to discuss the issues faced by the people and to inform them about the plans and activities of both the Houses of the Parliament and the government.

“Many could not go this time following the Covid-19 protocols and restrictions,” he said.