Contributed by Marusca Perazzi

Acute economic hardship, increasing poverty and unemployment, pervasive corruption, lack of transparency, and policing and security issues remained problematic during 2009, according to the World Bank's Mongolia Monthly Economic Update on recent economic and social developments and policies in Mongolia. The Mongolian government, however, has taken some positive steps to foster human rights, ranging from suspending the death penalty to increasing equal access to education for 'vulnerable groups' and minority children, partly through a funding pilot scheme, according to the UN Human Rights Committee in its fifth periodic report of states parties to the ICCPR under Article 40.

The state sponsored translations of the Constitution and other legislation into Kazakh and renewed facilities for local-language television and radio broadcasting in Kazakh-inhabited Bayan-Ulgii aimag. In October 2009, at the end of the first visit by a UN Independent Expert to Mongolia, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Muñoz Villalobos, praised Mongolia's achievements while encouraging the government to produce disaggregated statistical data on minority education, and called for the promotion of a human rights culture to strengthen women's public participation and combat stereotyping.

After decades of repression, Mongolia's religious groups are calling on the Mongolian government to strengthen its adherence to freedom of religion or belief and promote greater religious tolerance. Mongols, 40 per cent of whom are atheists, generally tend towards practising traditional religions such as Shamanism and Lamaism rather than other faiths. With restrictions on proselytizing, the government respects the religious rights of Tibetan Buddhists (50 per cent), Muslims (4 per cent), Shamanism believers and Christians (6 per cent). Religious minorities rely on constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion or belief as well as the 1993 Law on Relations between the State and Religious Institutions and local policies. While religious groups such as the Kazakhs in Darkhan-Uul or Orkhon must register annually and reportedly face burdensome bureaucratic requirements, there were no accounts of any violent repression of religious minorities during the year, as confirmed by USCIRF 2009. However, government pressure and control of churches reportedly continued in Tuv province near Ulaanbaatar. Such local authority interference in religious activities in the area prompted followers of religious groups, like the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), to urge the government in September 2009 to implement religious freedoms. In spite of widespread leniency towards others' religious beliefs, affiliations and customs, discriminatory attitudes persisted, with reports of harassment and abuse, albeit that these were more likely to have been induced by widespread socio-economic frustrations rather than religious differences.

Traditional prejudices and rivalries exist between Kazakhs and Khalka but no specific incidents were reported. In northern Mongolia, Muslim Kazakhs, Buddhist herders and nomadic Shamanist Tuva continued to maintain good relations. Along with Darkhad and Uriankhai, Tsaatan in Khuvsgul province follow their own unique Shamanistic tradition of nature worship, considered to be the oldest form of religion practised by Mongolian nomads. In addition to governmental and the community's own efforts to preserve its language, distinctive customs, and religious beliefs and traditions, the Tsaatan community sought to ensure their culture's future existence by initiating sustainable forms of community self-empowerment such as eco-tourism.

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