Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 December 2014, 12:47 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Mongolia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Mongolia, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa430.html [accessed 25 December 2014]
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.
 

 

During 1994 Mongolia showed steady--if sometimes uneven--progress in its transition from a highly centralized Communist-led state toward a full-fledged multiparty democracy. The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP), the lineal descendent of the former ruling Communist party, dominates the unicameral legislature. In 1992 parliamentary elections, the MPRP garnered 71 of the 76 seats in the State Great Hural (SGH), even though opposition parties received over 40 percent of the popular vote. Owing to this imbalance, a lingering sense of disenfranchisement continues among the political opposition. The Prime Minister is nominated by the President and approved by the SGH. The President and Prime Minister together nominate cabinet officers, who must also receive SGH approval. Security forces remain under civilian control. The Mongolian military continued its downsizing in 1994. The newly named and reorganized Mongolian Central Intelligence Agency (MCIA) is responsible for internal security. Its head has ministerial status and reports directly to the Prime Minister. There were no reports of human rights abuses by the MCIA during the year.

The economy continued to progress steadily, if unevenly. Despite increasing industrialization and urbanization, a large portion of the population is still engaged in agriculture, with an emphasis on livestock raising and related light industry. After decades of nearly total dependency on the former Soviet Union, Mongolia is increasing its trade with other countries and making the difficult transition to a market economy. The new Constitution lays the groundwork for this transition by establishing the right to private property and to conduct private commercial activity. A shortage of capital and a slowdown in economic growth constrained reform efforts.

The human rights record remains generally good. Human rights problems included the lack of laws to codify human rights provisions contained in the Constitution, occasional violence against prisoners and detainees by security forces, lack of access to defense attorneys for pretrial detainees, monitoring of telephone lines by security forces, some limitations on access to government-owned media, and violence against women. A short, bitter strike at a major joint venture textile company emphasized the still problematic status of labor law in this rapidly changing country, the necessity for clarifying workers' rights, and the need for new industrial safety legislation.

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 or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated abductions or disappearances.

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

The Constitution forbids these abuses. However, there were credible reports that police and prison officials sometimes beat and otherwise physically abuse prisoners and detainees. Mongolian detention facilities are Spartan, and conditions in them--including insufficient food and heating--may on occasion pose a threat to the health of detainees.

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 codified. Under the Legal Code, police may arrest those caught committing a crime and hold them for up to 72 hours without a warrant. A warrant must be issued by a prosecutor for incarceration of longer duration, or when the actual crime was not witnessed. A detainee has no statutory right under the current Code to see an attorney, and defense attorneys are routinely denied access to their clients before trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The courts system consists of local ("people's") courts, provincial courts, a Constitutional Court, and the Supreme Court. The courts are independent, and there is no evidence that they discriminate against any group or that decisions are made for political reasons.

The Supreme Court is at the apex of the judicial system; its members, appointed for 4-year terms, hear appeals from lower courts. The local courts hear mostly routine criminal and civil cases; provincial courts hear the more serious cases, including those of murder, rape, and grand larceny, and also serve as the appeals court for local court decisions. The President nominates, and the SGH approves, justices to the Supreme Court for 4-year terms. Lower court judges are chosen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, based on the recommendation of the members of the Supreme Court, for 4-year terms also. All accused persons are guaranteed due process, legal defense, and a public trial, although closed proceedings are permitted in cases involving crimes against the State, rape cases involving minors, and particularly brutal murders.

The Constitutional Court has sole jurisdiction in matters involving constitutional issues, and in corruption and other criminal charges levied against high government officials. In late summer, after a lengthy investigation the court charged well-known opposition Member of Parliament Elbegdorj with having revealed state secrets in a public speech. Elbegdorj was acquitted of all charges in a 1-day closed trial. Both he and some of his supporters contend that the charges and subsequent trial constituted harassment for his political views.

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 this is generally respected. 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 and expression, and the Government generally respects them.

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 media report difficulty securing an adequate supply. The Government now plays no role in the allocation of newsprint. Due to transportation difficulties, uneven postal service, and the fluctuations in the amount of newsprint available, however, in outlying regions access to publications is somewhat restricted.

In April, after several months of charges and countercharges of corruption by both opposition and progovernment forces, the Mongolian Democratic Union (MDU) called for a hunger strike in Ulaanbaatar's central square. Reminiscent of a similar MDU action that had helped spark the prodemocracy movement in 1990, the 2-week action drew the support of several opposition political parties and others concerned about basic social and economic issues. President Ochirbat helped mediate an end to the strike with a promise to introduce new legislation codifying the constitutional right of free expression. The strike and a counterstrike by government supporters, ended when the three parties represented in Parliament agreed to discuss new legislation dealing with press freedom and the rights of assembly. As the year ended, such legislation was still in the drafting stage.

There is a single, government-financed television station with countrywide reception, as well as several radio stations. The latter are particularly important as the major sources of current news in the countryside. Government-financed television and radio stations report both opposition and government views. In response to a 1993 threat by opposition political forces to leave the Hural (Parliament), the Government briefly granted opposition parties limited access to both broadcast and print media. Revocation of this access was one of the factors leading to the 2-week-long hunger strike discussed above. Academic freedom is evident, although there continues to be a shortage of teaching materials.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for peaceful assembly and association, and this is generally respected in practice. An additional cause of the April hunger strike, however, was the first reported denial of a meeting permit by police forces, whichopposition forces claimed was made on political grounds. The President promised to introduce legislation delineating these rights, and clarified that the permit process is a public order and safety measure, not a means of controlling the expression of political criticism. By year's end, no legislation had been passed.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides only for the right both to worship and not to worship and explicitly recognizes the separation of church and state.

However, the Constitution's provision for regulation of church and state relations led to the passage in late 1993 of a law that appeared to make distinctions between the three "traditional" Mongolian belief systems--i.e., Buddhism, Islam, and Shamanism--and all others. The three most discriminatory provisions of the law were struck down by the Constitutional Court in January. The decision left intact several provisions which could lead to abuse of the freedom of religion. The most controversial are the provision that allows the State to supervise and limit, if it desires to do so, the number of priests, monks, and other religious authorities, as well as the locations of individual religious establishments, and the provision recognizing the "predominant" or "preeminent" place of Buddhism in Mongolia. The law prohibits the use of state-owned buildings for religious purposes in a country where most buildings are state owned. Nevertheless, since the decision, several Christian churches have successfully reistered and found places to worship. Except for a single, unconfirmed charge of discrimination levied by one congregation, there is no credible evidence that the Government has used this law or any other to limit or interfere with religious freedom. 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

Citizens move freely within the country and may change their workplace and residence without government restriction. The Government does not arbitrarily restrict travel abroad. There have been 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 the right to change their government through periodic, free elections via secret ballot, with universal suffrage. However, as noted above, the plurality-takes-all election law, combined with a multiplicity of candidates in each constituency, led to an overwhelming MPRP victory in the 1992 elections. The MPRP, the successor party to the Communist party that controlled political life in Mongolia for 70 years, dominates a unicameral chamber (70 of 76 seats), even though opposition party candidates won more than 40 percent of the popular vote. They have consistently complained that the current SGH composition does not reflect the will of the electorate.

Several new political parties were formed in 1994, bringing the recognized total to 19.

There are no legal impediments to the participation of women in government and politics, but they are underrepresented in the highest levels of government and the judiciary. Although there are significant numbers of women in various midlevel ministry positions, there are no women in the Cabinet or in either the Supreme or Constitutional Courts, and only three in the legislature. Underrepresentation of women at the highest levels of government and 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

In late 1994 the Human Rights Committee, which was founded in 1990, merged with two smaller human rights groups to become a local affiliate of Amnesty International. They continued to operate without government restriction.

The Government welcomed visits by representatives of several international human rights organizations, and a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross is resident in Mongolia.

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."

Women

Women comprise about half the work force, and a significant number are the primary earners for their families. By law and practice, women receive equal pay for equal work and have equal access to education. They comprise a majority of the work force in the legal and medical professions and are well represented in middle-level management of government, education, and research institutions. Growing numbers of women are involved in the creation and management of private companies such as trading and manufacturing. Women are, however, almost totally absent from the highest ranks of government and the professions.

There is growing public discussion of domestic violence, including spousal and child abuse, after many years of government and societal denial. The large economic and societal changes under way have created new stresses on the family, including loss of jobs, inflation, and lowered spending for social and educational 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 added to the ranks of single-parent families, most of which are headed by women. There is no known police or government intervention in cases involving violence against women beyond prosecution under existing assault laws when formal charges are filed.

Children

Increased stress on the family structure and in society has had direct effects on many children. There are growing numbers of infants and small children orphaned by maternal deaths and desertion, and in the major urban centers, particularly Ulaanbaatar, growing numbers of street children. The Government is committed in principle to children's rights and welfare, but lacks the resources to go beyond minimal support for shelters and programs which require additional private donations to operate. The few orphanages and shelters are hard pressed to accommodate all the children who need temporary or permanent placement and to raise sufficient funds from government and private sources to sustain their activities. It appears difficult for many Mongolians--reared in a culture that values children and in which extended families and multiple caregivers have always been the rule--to recognize or admit the gravity of this relatively new problem.

People with Disabilities

People with disabilities receive government benefits 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 which hire the disabled, and some firms do so exclusively. There is no government 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 the combined membership in all unions now totals over 470,000, close to half of the work force. During 1994 there was a government-mandated registration of all workers' organizations, and almost 600 separate unions were recognized. Most of these are affiliated with the Mongolian Trade Unions Confederation (MTUC), formerly a part of the MPRP, but now officially separate. The newer Association of Free Trades Unions (AFTU) has a growing number of affiliates. Both organizations are developing contacts with international labor organizations and confederations in other countries. Membership figures may be rather unreliable as many companies and institutions undergo privatization and restructuring and as many workers change occupations. There are no arbitrary restrictions on who may be a union official; such officers are elected by secret ballot.

Union members, with the exceptions of civil servants and employees in essential services, have the right to strike. The Government defines essential services as those critical for national defense and safety, including police, employees of power plants, water works, public transportation, public communications, and certain railway employees. Articles 6 and 7 of the Law of Labor Conflict Resolution state that the court can punish organizers if it finds the strike was illegal because either the industry was an essential service or there was "insufficient cause" for the strike. A strike at a major joint venture textile company ended in a court ruling that failed to clarify this provision or other aspects of the country's labor code.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Amendments to the existing Labor Law passed in 1993 provide for collective bargaining, but its current application remains unclear. 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 still are set mainly by the employer whether that employer is a private firm or the Government. Most industrial concerns have now been privatized, although the Government still controls some major infrastructure enterprises, including mines and the communications system.

There are no export processing zones in Mongolia.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law specifically prohibits forced or compulsory labor. However, virtually all of the military forces are required to help with the fall harvest.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law prohibits children under the age of 16 from working, although those age 14 and 15 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 order and, reportedly, compel immediate compliance with labor legislation. Enforcement is limited due to the small number of labor inspectors who must monitor a growing number of small enterprises.

A significant number of children continue to leave school early to work, both in the cities and in the countryside. In rural areas, this appears to be partly attributable to the closure of some schools and a growing shortage of teachers; the children often leave to help care for newly privatized herds.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In September the minimum wage was raised to about $0.12 (33 tugriks) per hour, or approximately $25.00 a month. This level applies to public sector employees only, and it is enforced by the Ministry of Population Policy and Labor. However, this is the lowest wage for manual labor, such as janitorial work, and virtually all civil servants make more than this amount. Those employed in private businesses generally earn considerably more. The minimum wage alone is insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and his family.

Labor law sets the standard legal workweek at 46 hours and establishes a minimum rest period of 42 hours between workweeks. For those under 18 years of age, the workweek is 36 hours, and overtime work is not allowed. Time off is given equal to the number of overtime hours worked or, by law, compensated at double the standard hourly rate. 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 Population Policy and Labor provides enforcement. According to the 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 continuing problems with management and maintenance 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 Labor Ministry has only 37 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.

Search Refworld

Countries