Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises sex between men
  • Criminalises sex between women
Penal Code 2004, Section 213 Unnatural Sex

Section 213 criminalises “sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature.” Applicable to such conduct both between men and between women, the crime is considered a “petty misdemeanour” punishable with imprisonment for between one month and one year.1



There is little evidence of enforcement. The US Department of State’s Human Rights Report on Bhutan found no examples of prosecution under the country’s laws. According to the report, one government official called prosecution under the act “rare”, due to difficulties in evidencing criminal intent. During the country’s Universal Periodic Review, the State party stated that the law “has never been evoked since its enactment for same-sex acts between two consenting adults.”

[The law] has never been evoked since its enactment for same-sex acts between two consenting adults.

Statements by Public Figures


During a sensitisation programme held during the Senior Police Officers’ Conference in Phuentsholing, Colonel Chimi Dorji ,the Chief Royal of Bhutan Police  remarked that, “Although LGBT community has been there for long, it was not open like it is today,” adding that for the last few decades, the LGBT communities were victimised, harassed, and often discriminated by the law enforcement authorities “not because they caused problems, but because they were different and were not understood properly.”

Although there is no special treatment but we will be able to refrain from hurting them if we know them better.

Chief of Police, Colonel Chimi Dorji


In September, Gasa Dzongkha MP and Secretary of Bhutan’s National Land Commission, Sangay Khandu, told the Australia News Network that, “with time, as society progresses and thoughts broaden, homosexuality may need to be revisited.”


The Secretary of the Bhutan Ministry of Health, Nima Wangdi, at a meeting on HIV Prevention among MSM and Transgender People in Bhutan, talked of the need to help prevent HIV among men who have sex with men and transgender individuals. During the meeting a member of the Bhutanese Supreme Court, Tshering Wangchuk, spoke of his belief that, if a case were brought to the supreme court challenging the countries sodomy provisions, the Bhutanese Supreme Court would “resolve the issue in a just and equitable manner in accordance with the right to equality before the law and right to privacy guaranteed in Bhutan’s Constitution”. Justice Wangchuk did, however, place emphasis on the since overruled Indian Naz judgement.

Persecution and Discrimination


In November the Royal Bhutan Police announced it would introduce a procedural guidebook on working with the LGBT community in the country to better understand their needs.


The rainbow flag was flown in Bhutan for the first time to mark IDAHOT. The pride flag was hoisted at UN House in Thimpu. The small LGBT community, who have formed under the name Lhak-sam, oberserved IDAHOT together and stated that discrimination had lessened in the country in the past few years.[ii]


In an interview with the Daily Beast, public LGBT figure Karma Dupchen said that growing up gay in Bhutan, they had “never really faced any kind of discrimination.” This was put down the then fact that many people do not know the small LGBT population exists.

Homosexuality should be accepted and homosexuals protected from discrimination and harm.



Whilst little has been written on the situation faced by LGBT individuals in Bhutan, one personal account of life in the country suggests that Bhutanese do not tend to impose their personal morality upon others. The same article includes a survey conducted involving 150 individuals; over 50% of whom said “homosexuality should be accepted and homosexuals protected from discrimination and harm.”

Legislative News


On 7 June, the lower house (National Assembly) of Bhutan’s parliament voted to repeal Penal Code provisions criminalising “unnatural sex”. However, in order for such changes to be enacted, the additional support of the upper house (National Council) and royal assent will be required. In response to this development, Tashi Tsheten (Director of Rainbow Bhutan) said: “This is our first journey towards equality.”

This is our first journey towards equality.

Tashi Tsheten, Director of Rainbow Bhutan
1. Penal Code 2004, Section 213 & 214 Unnatural Sex

“A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of unnatural sex, if the defendant engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature.

The offence of unnatural sex shall be a petty misdemeanour*.” Full text.

*Section 13: “A defendant convicted of a petty misdemeanour shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment, a minimum of which shall be one month and a maximum of which shall be less than one year.”

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