Human rights defenders still at risk from state actors and businesses

Association

National consultation discusses challenges faced by human rights defenders

On 12th November 2018, a national consultation on human rights defenders was held in Mongolia. The meeting was organised by Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), and Globe International (GI). During the two-day discussion, participants concluded that human rights defenders in Mongolia are still vulnerable to threats, intimidation, and harassment from both state and non-state actors, particularly foreign and domestic companies operating in rural areas.

Concerns were raised around restrictions on freedom of expression, in particular through the proposed amendment of defamation laws. Other issues raised include the need to develop an effective law on the protection of human rights defenders and disruptive business activities, in particular mining and large-scale development projects, which can have an adverse impact on human rights.

A few weeks earlier, on 28th September 2018, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) organiseda roundtable discussion in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, which was also aimed at addressing the situation of the human rights defenders in Mongolia. At the event there, were discussions on the need to address structural challenges faced by civil society “which could be partially addressed by granting NGOs tax-exempt status and by allocating dedicated state funds to civil society organisations through a transparent and fair process, including for projects focusing on youth, gender and LGBTI issues”.

Mongolia supports UN declaration on peasant rights 

On 28th September 2018, Mongolia voted in favour of a resolution on the UN Declaration for the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. The resolution was passed with 33 votes in favour, 11 abstentions and three against. It was a significant leap forward in a campaign led by La Via Campesina, the world’s largest peasant movement supported by many organisations across the world.

Subsequently, on 19th November 2018, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of the UN General Assembly voted in favour of the declaration, which was put forward by 10 countries including Mongolia. The resolution was approved by 119 votes in favour, seven votes against and 49 abstentions.

The UN Declaration aims to better protect the rights of all rural populations including peasants, fisherfolk, nomads, agricultural workers and indigenous peoples and to improve living conditions, as well as to strengthen food sovereignty, the fight against climate change and the conservation of biodiversity.

Zainal Arifin Fuat, from La Via Campesina Asia said that this declaration is a landmark moment in the peasants struggle:

“The Declaration acknowledges the prominent role that peasants play in solving multiple crises facing us today – food, environmental, social and economic. Peasants are essential to food security and sovereignty and the realisation of the right to food, particularly in developing countries where they provide up to 80% of the food locally consumed. This UN Declaration will also contribute to the humanity’s efforts to end poverty, hunger and achieving our sustainable development goals.”

The UN Declaration will be formally ratified by the UN General Assembly in December 2018, following the decision taken by the Third Committee

Peaceful assembly

Hundreds protest massive state corruption exposed by journalists

On 14th November 2018, hundreds of citizens poured into the streets in front of Mongolia’s State Palace in Ulaanbaatar to demand an official investigation into state officials involved in a recent financial scandal.

According to reports, senior government officials and parliamentarians channelled more than US$ 1 million in government money to their families and friends. The money came from a fund set up 18 years ago to offer loans at three per cent interest to owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, as banks and finance companies normally charge between 12 and 30 per cent. Some 65 billion Mongolian tugrik (US$ 25.4 million) was allocated to the fund in the 2018 budget. 

The scandal was brought to light by investigative journalists in Mongolia, especially Ch Bolortuya and her colleagues who work at the Ikon.mn news outlet.

Expression

According to FORUM-ASIA, since July 2017 when the Law on Administrative Offences came into force, over 230 journalists, media workers and users have been accused or charged.  The law allows for increased administrative fines including when false information is published that could damage the reputation of individuals or business entities. Media organisation have criticised the law for being vague and overly broad, and is being used to suppress freedom of expression.