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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Mongolia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Mongolia, 30 January 1997, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997


Mongolia continued its transition from a highly centralized Communist-led state to a full-fledged multiparty democracy. The Prime Minister is nominated by the President and approved by the State Great Hural, the national legislature. Mongolia's progress in the development of democratic institutions was demonstrated by the overwhelming, and unexpected, June 28 election defeat of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP), which had been in power since 1921. A coalition of democratic, reform-minded parties took 50 of 76 seats in the unicameral legislature. The coalition won despite the MPRP-designed single member districts, which the MPRP apparently calculated would give it a far greater majority in the Hural than it anticipated it would get under proportional representation or a mixed system. The MPRP accepted its defeat and entered into its new role in opposition.

Security forces are under civilian control; the newly appointed Minister of Defense is the first civilian to hold this post. Reduced government spending continues to downsize the military. The Mongolian Central Intelligence Agency (MCIA) is responsible for internal security; its head has ministerial status and reports directly to the Prime Minister. Some members of the security forces committed occasional human rights abuses.

Despite post-1990 reforms, most large economic entities remain under state control; the new Government plans to privatize 60 percent of these entities by 2000. The economy continued to expand and strengthen, despite annual inflation rates of about 40 to 50 percent. However, Mongolia remains a very poor country, with per capita income at approximately $340 a year. The mainstays of the economy continue to be copper production and other mining, livestock raising done by a majority of the rural population, and related food-, wool-, and hide-processing industries, which meet both local needs and produce goods for export. A growing trade and small entrepeneurial sector in the cities provides basic consumer goods. Minerals, especially copper, provide the bulk of export earnings; foreign exchange earnings were hurt badly by the drop in world copper prices. An unreliable energy system, the lack of transportation and other infrastructure, and a small domestic market discourage foreign investment.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. Problems remain, however, including occasional beatings of detainees and prisoners by security forces, poor prison conditions, restrictions on due process for detainees, and violence against women.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings.

Several dozen prisoners died in custody, at least partially due to inadequate management and oversight by the authorities (see Section 1.c.).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the Constitution forbids such practices, there were credible reports that police and prison officials sometimes beat or otherwise physically abused prisoners and detainees.

Prison conditions are poor – including insufficient food and heat – and threaten the health of detainees. With the continuing rise in crime and subsequent rise in the prison and pretrial detainee population, severe crowding in both prisons and detention facilities is common, aggravating management and resource issues.

The deaths of several dozen prisoners from unclear health-related causes appears at least partially attributable to negligence and inadequate oversight. However, there is no evidence of a pattern of deliberate abuse or of a policy of withholding food or other necessities as punishment.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides that no person shall be searched, arrested, detained, or deprived of liberty except by law, but these protections have not been fully codified. Under the Criminal Procedures Code, police may arrest those caught committing a crime and hold them up to 72 hours before the decision is taken to prosecute or release. A warrant must be issued by a prosecutor for incarceration of longer duration or when the actual crime was not witnessed. A detainee has the right to see a defense attorney during this period and during any subsequent stage of the legal process. If a defendant cannot afford a private attorney, a state-appointed attorney will be appointed.

The Government does not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The courts are independent, and there is no evidence that they discriminate against any group, or that decisions are made for political reasons.

The court system consists of local courts, provincial courts, and the Supreme Court. The 9-member Supreme Court is at the apex of the judicial system, hearing appeals from lower courts and cases involving alleged misconduct by high-level officials. Local courts hear mostly routine criminal and civil cases; provincial courts hear more serious cases such as rape, murder, and grand larceny and also serve as the appeals court for lower court decisions. A Constitutional Court, separate from the criminal court system, has sole jurisdiction over constitutional questions. The General Council of Courts, an independent administrative body, nominates candidates for vacancies on both the Supreme and lower courts; the President has the power to ratify or refuse to approve such nominations. The Council also is charged with ensuring the rights of judges and guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary.

All accused persons are guaranteed due process, legal defense, and a public trial, although closed proceedings are permitted in cases involving state secrets, rape cases involving minors, and other cases provided by law.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides that the State shall not interfere with the private beliefs and actions of citizens, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice. The head of the MCIA may, with the knowledge and consent of the Prime Minister, direct the monitoring and recording of telephone conversations. The extent of such monitoring is unknown.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for the rights of freedom of speech, press, and expression. The Government generally respects these rights in practice.

A growing range of newspapers and other publications represent major political party viewpoints as well as independent views. Although in the past the Government controlled access to newsprint, all newspapers now buy newsprint directly from private suppliers, and neither party-affiliated nor independent news media report difficulty securing an adequate supply. Due to transportation difficulties, uneven postal service, and fluctuations in the amount of newsprint available, access to a full range of publications is somewhat restricted in outlying regions.

There is a government-financed television station with countrywide reception, as well as a new, limited operation private television channel, and several radio stations. The latter are particularly important as the major sources of news in the countryside. Both official and private media present opposition and government views. Residents also have access to foreign broadcasts from the United States, China, Russia, Japan, the United Kingdom, and other countries on commercial satellite and cable television systems.

The Government respects academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for the right both to worship and not to worship and explicitly recognizes the separation of church and state. The Government generally respects these provisions in practice. Although Mongolia has no official state religion, the Government has contributed to the restoration of several Buddhist sites important as religious, historical, and cultural centers.

Although under the provisions of a 1993 law on relations between church and state, the Government may supervise and limit the numbers of both places of worship and clergy for organized religions, there are no reports that it has done so. Religious groups, however, must register with the Ministry of Justice. Proselytizing is allowed, although a Ministry of Education directive bans the mixing of foreign language or other training with religious teaching or instruction. Contacts with coreligionists outside the country are allowed.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country as well as the right to travel and return without restriction, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice. By regulation, some categories of foreigners who wish to travel for more than a week must notify the police in their projected destination of their plans.

The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees in the small number of cases reported in which such status has been claimed. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government through periodic, free elections by secret ballot, with universal suffrage. Presidential, national legislative, and local elections are held separately. The MPRP, which had ruled since 1921, had hoped to continue its domination of the Hural through the establishment of 76 single member, electoral districts in which a plurality could determine the winner. However, the MPRP was beaten by a coalition of democratic parties in June legislative elections. About 90 percent of eligible voters cast ballots; international observers judged the elections to be free and fair. The MPRP handed over power and stepped down, in the first transition of power between political parties in Mongolian history. In October 6 local elections, the MPRP succeeded in capturing 14 of 21 provincial assemblies. There are currently 12 registered political parties.

There are no legal impediments to the participation of women in government and politics, but they are underrepresented in the highest levels of the Government and in the highest echelons of the judiciary. Only 7 of 76 Hural members are women. Although there are significant numbers of women in various midlevel ministry positions, there are no women in the Cabinet or the Supreme or Constitutional Courts. Underrepresentation of women at the highest levels of government and in the professions has several causes, including tradition and some degree of discrimination by the virtually all-male web of leadership.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution states that "...No person shall be discriminated against on the basis of ethnic origin, language, race, age, sex, social origin, or status" and that "...Men and women shall be equal in political, economic, social, cultural fields, and family affairs." The Government generally enforces these rights in practice.


There is increasing public discussion of domestic violence, including spousal and child abuse, after many years of government and societal denial. Although there are no reliable or exact statistics as to the extent of such abuse, human rights groups believe that it is a common phenomenon. The large economic and societal changes under way have created new stresses on the family, including loss of jobs, inflation, and lowered spending on social and education programs. These factors, coupled with the serious problems caused by extremely high rates of alcohol abuse, have led to increased instances of abuse and abandonment and have added to the ranks of single-parent families, most of which are headed by women. Although women's groups are advocating new statutes to cope with domestic violence, at present there is no known police or government intervention in cases involving violence against women beyond prosecution under existing assault laws when formal charges have been filed.

The Constitution provides men and women with equal rights in all spheres, and, both by law and practice, women receive equal pay for equal work and have equal access to education. Women represent about half of the work force, and a significant number are the primary earners for their families. Although many women occupy midlevel positions in government and the professions and many are involved in the creation and management of new trading and manufacturing businesses, women are almost completely absent from the highest leadership ranks of both the public and private sectors. There is no government agency overseeing women's rights, nor are there any notable efforts by the Government to encourage greater representation by women in policymaking positions.

A small number of women's rights groups concern themselves with such issues as maternal and children's health and domestic violence. The law prohibits women from working in certain occupations that require heavy labor or exposure to chemicals that could affect infant and maternal health.


Increased stress on the family structure and in society has had direct effects on many children, and the Government has been unable to keep pace with all of the educational, health, and social needs of the most rapidly growing segment of its population. Children of both sexes are guaranteed free public education through the age of 16, although family economic needs and state budgetary difficulties make it difficult for some children to attend school. In addition there continues to be a severe shortage of teaching materials at all educational levels.

There are growing numbers of infants and small children orphaned by maternal deaths and desertion and, in Ulaanbaatar and major urban centers, growing numbers of street children; one unconfirmed estimate has the national street children population at 3,000. The Government is committed in principle to children's rights and welfare, but it provides only minimal support for the shelters and orphanages that do exist; those facilities must turn to private sources to sustain their activities.

Mongolia has a long tradition of support for, and often communal raising of, children. The Government has been reluctant to admit the extent of the problem and slow to take steps to improve the welfare of children who have become the victims of larger societal and familial changes.

People with Disabilities

There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment and education, and the Government provides benefits to the disabled according to the nature and severity of the disability. Those who have been injured in industrial accidents have the right to be reemployed when ready to resume work. The Government also provides tax benefits to enterprises that hire the disabled, and some firms do so exclusively. There is no legislation mandating access for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution entitles all workers to form or join union and professional organizations of their own choosing. Union officials estimate that union membership now totals over 400,000, somewhat less than half the work force. Union membership rolls are decreasing as the economy shifts from large enterprises and as increasing numbers of workers become either self-employed or work at small, nonunionized firms. No arbitrary restrictions exist on who may be a union official, and such officers are elected by secret ballot.

Union members have the right to strike. Those employed in essential services, which the Government defines as occupations critical for national defense and safety, e.g., police, utility, and transportation workers do not have the right to strike.

Most union members are affiliated with the Mongolian Trade Unions Confederation (MTUC), but some are affiliated with the newer Association of Free Trade Unions (AFTU). Both organizations have ties with international labor organizations and confederations in other countries.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

In theory wage levels and other employment issues are decided in tripartite contract negotiations between employer, union, and government representatives. The Government's role is limited to ensuring that the contract meets legal requirements as to hours and conditions of work. In practice wages and other conditions of employment are set mainly by the employer, whether that employer is a private firm or the Government.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law specifically prohibits forced or compulsory labor. However, most members of the military are required to help with the fall harvest. Many members of the military, along with prisoners, joined in the fight against the massive steppe and forest fires that struck Mongolia in the spring.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law prohibits children under the age of 16 from working, although those 14 and 15 years of age may do so with parental consent. Those under 18 years of age may not work at night, engage in arduous work, or work in dangerous occupations such as mining and construction. Enforcement of these prohibitions, as well as all other labor regulations, is the responsibility of state labor inspectors assigned to regional and local offices. These inspectors have the authority to compel immediate compliance with labor legislation, but enforcement is limited due to the small number of labor inspectors and the growing number of independent enterprises.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly legal minimum wage is $13 (7,680 tugriks) per month, or $0.06 (37 tugriks) per hour. This level applies to both public and private sector workers and is enforced by the Ministry of Population Policy and Labor. This is the lowest wage for manual labor, such as janitorial work; virtually all civil servants make more than this amount, and many in private businesses earn considerably more. The minimum wage alone is insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.

The law sets the standard legal workweek at 46 hours and establishes a minimum rest period of 24 hours between workweeks. For those under 18 years of age, the workweek is 36 hours, and overtime work is not allowed. Overtime work is compensated at either double the standard hourly rate or by giving time off equal to the number of hours of overtime worked. Pregnant women and nursing mothers are prohibited by law from working overtime.

Laws on labor, cooperatives, and enterprises set occupational health and safety standards, and the Ministry of Health and Welfare provides enforcement. According to labor law, workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations and still retain their jobs. Mongolia's near total reliance on outmoded machinery and problems with maintenance and management lead to frequent industrial accidents, particularly in the mining, power, and construction sectors. Effective enforcement of existing occupational health and safety standards is difficult because the Government has less than 40 full-time inspectors to cover all firms, including a growing number of small enterprises. Some of the major industrial sectors, however, have part-time inspectors.

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