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Mongolia: UN expert warns against setbacks in rule of law and shrinking space for civil society

ULAANBAATAR (13 May 2019) – Mongolia must ensure that reforms to its legal framework promote rather than restrict the work of human rights defenders, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, said today.

While Mongolia has often – and rightly so – been depicted as champion of democracy in East and Central Asia, recent legislative amendments are of concerns and are sending mixed messages, Forst said in a statement at the end of a two-week visit to the country.

Having carefully considered the information received from the Government, civil society and other stakeholders, I conclude that, Mongolia is a relatively safe country for human rights defenders,” the UN expert said.  “Although some cases of attacks and abuses against human rights defenders were reported, I did not observe a pattern of systematic attacks against them.

However, this relatively safe environment does not translate into a conducive environment for human rights defenders. Obstacles such as stigma, the lack of understanding of who human rights defenders are, and dangerous amendments to several laws instil fear and hinder their work.”  

The Special Rapporteur expressed concerns regarding amendments allowing political interference into the judiciary and public prosecution and reforms preventing administrative courts from overseeing Cabinet’s decisions. “These reforms may deter judges and prosecutors from taking action against corruption, and ultimately prevent people from speaking out against discrimination, or from calling for justice.”

“During the visit I heard about cases of intimidation, discrimination, harassment and stigmatization of human rights defenders, including LGBTI rights defenders and children rights defenders,” Forst said. “Environmentalists and investigative journalists who are working on corruption or environmental issues have also faced threats and pressure. Some have died in circumstances that are still to be properly investigated.

Defenders also mentioned more diffuse strategies of social or economic threats against their relatives - like difficulties to access jobs, scholarships and projects - or rumors that these kinds of reprisals might happen whenever they get more vocal on sensitive issues such as corruption or environmental protection. Given that the community in Mongolia is small and interconnected, these pressures create an environment of suspicion and fear which has a serious adverse deterrent impact on human rights defenders who would like to expose wrongdoings.

The Special Rapporteur concluded that the adoption of a law on human rights defenders would be critical to promote and recognise the vital and legitimate work of human rights defenders, and to penalize and end impunity for attacks against defenders in a concrete way. He urged Mongolia to become the first country in the region to enact such a law.

Forst met the President of Mongolia, State officials and other authorities, members of the diplomatic corps and representatives from the private sector. He also heard the testimonies of more than 100 defenders in Ulaanbaatar, Airag and Sainshand/Zuumbayan.

The Special Rapporteur will present his final report and recommendations on the official visit to Mongolia to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2020.

ENDS

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