Contributed by Marusca Perazzi

As a parliamentary democracy, Mongolia has embraced political and economic reforms since the 1990s and gradually expanded its international ties to foster national development.

The country has a small population spread over vast areas, administratively divided into provinces and three autonomous municipalities (Ulaanbaatar, Darhan and Erdenet). Most Mongolians' cultures are based on nomadic or semi-pastoral traditions. Khakha Mongols constitute the dominant group, along with other Mongol minorities (Barga, Bayad, Buryat, Chantuu, Durbet and others). Non-Mongolian communities, such as the Muslim Kazakhs inhabiting the western regions, include smaller groups such as the Dukha, Evenk, Tuvan and Urianhai, all with distinct languages and dialects, and clusters of Chinese, North Korean and Russian migrants.

In Mongolia, minority groups have coexisted quite peacefully in the context of tolerant societal attitudes. Traditionally, however, there has been a tendency to deny or ignore the existence of non-Mongol minorities, and they suffer marginalization from political life. The authorities, though generally supportive of human rights and diversity, have been criticized by international bodies for taking only limited actions to respond to ethnic minorities' needs. As a result, the government's legislative arm in January 2008 approved the 'Comprehensive National Development Strategy based on the Millennium Development Goals' to assess minorities' needs and to better implement cultural rights' reforms.

Reports confirmed the persistence of official harassment of some religious groups with limitations on churches' registration (in the vicinity of Ulaanbaatar, Tov province), and in acquiring land to build mosques. Unlike in the previous year, no strict monitoring of groups allegedly involved in separatist activities (namely the Kazakh) was reported. Instead, the government took concrete steps on issues of concern, such as trafficking of persons, prostitution, violence against women and child labour (including minorities).

The state of Mongolia is committed to provide general education free of charge to all, and the scheduled 2009 visit to Mongolia by the Special Rapporteur on the right to education is indicative of the positive stance of the authorities. But in 2008 the government still lacked the capacity to keep pace with the educational needs of all groups. The amendment of the Mongolia Education Law (2006) has contributed to improving the existing system. Steps have also been taken to ensure that local provinces and education authorities create environments that are gender-sensitive and free from discrimination against minority children, through school management, non-formal education and native-language learning arrangements. The decentralization of public administration through joint initiatives with the UN also proved beneficial for minorities, leading to better-trained local authorities with autonomy responsibilities, and greater use of minority languages.

The remarkable progress in education legislation was not fully matched by clear government language policies on mother tongue and bilingual education for all minorities. The almost exclusive use of the Mongolian language (Khalka), to the exclusion of other minority languages, demonstrates the need for more concrete efforts to address the lack of qualified bilingual teachers and provide textbooks, teaching materials and tailor-made curricula in other tongues.

While in 2005 the government adopted the Tuva Language Study Programme to support the Tsaatan minority in preserving their cultural and linguistic heritage, in 2008 policies continued to be pursued to the detriment of other reindeer-herding minority communities. For example, the Evenk still cannot learn in their mother tongue in schools, and, like other nomadic peoples, would benefit from the reestablishment of 'seasonal' schools.

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