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Bhutan: Penal Code
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Legal System > Penal Code


Arrests can be made only under legal authority. Exile, stated as a punishment in the 1953 Constitution of the National Assembly, and its 1968 revision, is not used as a form of punishment, and mutilation was abolished in 1965. Fines, according to various reports, ranged from the equivalent of US$10 to US$55, and jail sentences from seven days to one month were levied against citizens who violated a compulsory but not widely enforced 1989 royal decree that they wear the national dress at formal gatherings to preserve and promote Bhutanese culture. With respect to international criminal law, in 1988 the National Assembly ratified a SAARC convention on terrorism, which Bhutan has consistently condemned in international forums. It provided for extradition of terrorists.

The last half of the twentieth century was a momentous period in Bhutan's long historical development. The nation moved from a traditional system of governance to a de facto constitutional monarchy while retaining its firm Buddhist religious basis. Physical isolation was overcome with major road construction and advances in telecommunications that linked the various parts of the country and gave greater access to the outside world. International air travel brought tourism and greater amounts of foreign exchange needed for economic development. Having observed the problems encountered by other developing nations, Bhutan sought a more controlled economic and infrastructure development with the assistance of major foreign and international organizations. Once exclusively reliant on India for trade and aid, the kingdom broadened its import/export base and diversified its sources of economic assistance markedly during this period.

Despite these positive achievements, Bhutan faced serious political problems in the early 1990s. The Nepalese minority in southern Bhutan had been a source of serious ethnic disturbances and even terrorist acts, and its demands for greater participation in the political process had been on the rise since the mid-1980s. The threat to the indigenous population of gradually being outnumbered by politically active immigrant Nepalese raised for Bhutan's leaders the specter of Sikkim's annexation by India in 1974, when that kingdom's indigenous Buddhist people became a minority in their own country and lost political power. The question of how to modernize the nation politically remained a crucial one, and Bhutan's independence and sovereignty hung in the balance as the 1990s progressed.

The annual writings of Brian Shaw in the Far Eastern Economic Review's Asia Yearbook, Statesman's Year-Book, and Europa's The Far East and Australasia and Europa Yearbook provide an excellent and up-to-date overview of all facets of Bhutanese history, society, economy, politics, and other sectors. Bhutan: The Early History of a Himalayan Kingdom by Michael Aris provides a detailed view of Bhutan's historical origins as derived from Bhutanese primary sources. Bhutan's general history is well covered in History of Bhutan by Bikrama Jit Hasrat. The Bhutan Planning Commission's Statistical Yearbook of Bhutan provides copious information on many sectors of society and the economy. Social and economic developments are cogently presented in Pradyumna P. Karan's Bhutan: Development Amid Environmental and Cultural Preservation, and his earlier book, Bhutan: A Physical and Cultural Geography, provides key information on geography. The World Bank's Bhutan: Development in a Himalayan Kingdom and Bhutan: Development Planning in a Unique Environment are excellent analyses of economic development. Articles by Sukhdev Shah and S.W.R. de A. Samarasinghe in Asian Survey also provide useful analyses of the economy of Bhutan. Political developments from the seventeenth to the midtwentieth century are well presented in Leo E. Rose's The Politics of Bhutan. The weekly official newspaper Kuensel [Thimphu] is a good source of current official information on government and popular activities. To keep abreast of subsequent publications on Bhutan, the Association for Asian Studies' annual Bibliography of Asian Studies should be consulted. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of September 1991

Last Updated: September 1991

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bhutan was first published in 1991. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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