Mongolia: UN raises concerns around investigation into environmental activist and need to amend human rights defenders law
Civic space in Mongolia is rated as ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. Ongoing concerns raised by civil society include reports of harassment, intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders, especially those working to defend economic, social and cultural rights. Further, provisions of the Criminal Code related to cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies (article 19.4) and sabotage (article 19.6) have been used to prosecute human rights defenders for legitimate activities. There are also concerns about press freedom.
In July 2023, the sixth EU-Mongolia Human Rights Dialogue took place online. The EU and Mongolia discussed a broad range of human rights related issues including further strengthening cooperation on human rights and the rule of law. Mongolia and the EU discussed the implementation of the recommendations accepted by Mongolia during its United Nations Universal Periodic Review. The EU stressed the importance of a safe and enabling space for civil society and human rights defenders and referred to Mongolia’s law on the protection of human rights defenders and encouraged Mongolia to enforce this law to protect human rights defenders and promote their work.
In recent months, UN experts have raised concerns around the investigation of environmental activist and human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren while the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Mongolia and raised concerns around vague and broad provisions in the Law of Mongolia on the Legal Status of Human Rights Defenders that are inconsistent with international law and standards and could be used to criminalise activists. Human rights defender Munkhbayar Chuluundorj is serving a ten-year sentence.
UN experts raised renewed concern about investigation into human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren
Now public: I wrote to the Government of #Mongolia asking about the status of the criminal investigation opened against WHRD & environmentalist Sukhgerel Dugersuren. Unfortunately, we did not receive any response from the Government.@MongoliaGVA https://t.co/06dzi2FmaF— Mary Lawlor UN Special Rapporteur HRDs (@MaryLawlorhrds) September 5, 2023
In September 2023, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders posted online a joint communication by the Rapporteur and other UN experts to the Government of Mongolia in June 2023 expressing renewed concern about human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren. The government did not reply to the UN experts within the 60 day time frame.
As previously documented, in 2022 Mongolian woman human rights defender and Executive Director of Oyu Tolgoi Watch (OT Watch) Sukhgerel Dugersuren was informed by the General Intelligence Agency of Mongolia (GIA) that she was being investigated for crimes under Article 19.4 of the Mongolian Criminal Code, which prohibits the “illegal cooperation with foreign intelligence agency, agent.”
Sukhgerel Dugersuren works closely with communities impacted by large scale development projects. She has a long history of exposing human rights abuses and environmental degradation linked to large scale mining, energy and infrastructure projects.
An earlier communication in September 2022, noted that Dugersuren had published an opinion piece online arguing against the development of the Erdeneburen Hydropower Reservoir on the basis of the threats it would pose to the rights of local communities and wetlands. The investigation was launched following the appearance of an article on a German news website alleging that Ms. Dugersuren and one other person were being used by the Russian Federation to sabotage Mongolia’s efforts to break free of energy dependence on Russia. This article was translated into Mongolian and republished on a number of Mongolian websites.
In the June 2023 communication, the UN experts expressed “concern at the confirmation by the government, in its response to our previous communication, of the criminal investigation opened against Sukhgerel Dugersuren, which we fear to be directly connected to her exercise of her right to freedom of expression to highlight environmental and social risks connected to the development of the Erdeneburen Hydropower”.
UN Working Group calls for amendments to human rights defenders protection law
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Mongolia and published their report in July 2023 around their visit to Mongolia in October 2022.
The Working Group noted that the Law of Mongolia on the Legal Status of Human Rights Defenders to protect human rights defenders sets out strong protections for the work of human rights defenders and that Mongolia is the first country in Asia to have adopted such a specific legal framework. The law also establishes a protection mechanism, and a Commissioner from the National Human Rights Commission has been designated to coordinate its work.
Despite this the Working Group was concerned about specific provisions of the law, including article 5.1.5, which requires human rights defenders to “respect honour, reputation, rights and legal interests of others” and, similarly, article 8.1.3, which prohibits human rights defenders from damaging the human rights, freedom, dignity, reputation and business reputation of others.
The Working Group stated that “noting that the legitimate work of human rights defenders often involves criticising and challenging existing policies and practices, such vague and broad wording, especially the terms “reputation” and “business reputation”, may be misused in order to silence and criminalise their work.”
It added that “further, Article 7 restricts the resources that human rights defenders may receive by prohibiting funding from entities, organisations or persons carrying out activities that are considered to be terrorist or extremist or that harm national unity. Framed in very broad terms, this provision may be used to restrict funding sources for the vital work of human rights defenders, fundamentally undermining their ability to carry out their functions. Vaguely worded provisions may be used to deprive individuals of their liberty without a legal basis that conforms with the essential prerequisite of the principle of legality.”
The Working Group recommended that the government amends “broadly worded legal provisions in the law in order to obviate the possibility of individuals being detained for being critical of or for challenging existing policies and practices and to ensure the principle of legality stipulated in article 11 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Activist remains in prison
CHRD was proud to join more than 100+ groups in making this call:— CHRD人权捍卫者 (@CHRDnet) January 12, 2023
Over 100 Global Rights Groups Call for the Immediate Release of #Mongolian writer and activist Munkhbayar Chuluundorjhttps://t.co/HEomew5opz #FreeMunkhbayar pic.twitter.com/M6ObUuqe11
Activist Munkhbayar Chuluundorj has spent around 18 months in prison. He is serving a 10-year prison sentence on politically motivated charges related to his public criticism of the Mongolian government’s close ties with China.
As previously documented, the prominent activist was arrested in Mongolia in February 2022, part of what campaigners have said is a wider effort to "clean up" Beijing's critics in the country. A founding member of the World Mongols Poetry Association, Munkhbayar Chuluundorj is a well-known blogger, poet and human rights activist known for defending the linguistic, cultural and historical identities of ethnic Mongolians in China’s Inner Mongolia.