Victory at the Human Rights Council

Part 1: Mongolian LGBT Activists at the Human Rights Council »

10 am, Nov 2, 2010: The review of Mongolia started with the opening remarks by Mr. Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez, Vice President of the Human Rights Council (HRC). Then His Excellency Mr. Tsogtbaatar Damdin, State Secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) of Mongolia introduced Mongolian government officials and delegates (consisting of seven men and two women from Mongolian Ministries, National Human Rights Commission, and General Police Department).  He then introduced the human rights situations of Mongolia in general terms, highlighting some issues such as capital punishment, desertification and other natural disasters, and people with disabilities.

After that, the most exciting part of the review commenced with each State asking questions and making recommendations. There were 43 States listed to speak for two minutes each. The first eight countries spoke with no mention of the LGBT rights issues and I started to feel nervous.

Then, Canada stated, “Canada recommends that the Government of Mongolia (GoM) enacts broad-based anti-discrimination law that specifically protects … based on sexual orientation and gender equality.” A breath of relief! This was the mission delegation I met only the night before the review to insist that they include our LGBT rights issues. At this point, I realized the effectiveness of lobbying and advocacy activities done in advance of the review.

The good news continued as States, one after the other, such as Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland, and the Netherlands made recommendations and asked questions on how Mongolia is treating its sexuality minorities and what they have done or are intending to do in order to protect and ensure the rights of LGBT community members. For example, the Netherlands recommended that, “the GoM publicly condemns all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” Other States mentioned the enactment of an anti-discrimination law.

Meanwhile, Mr. Damdin makes comments after the first 20 States, in which he stated that, “…legal modification will stop the ill treatment against LGBT people…” and “…whatever the law that is not in conformity with… should be amended…”  He added, “[w]hen it comes to sexual orientation, there are cultural stereotypes and we will have to work hard to increase public awareness.”

Before the UPR 9th session review of Mongolia on November 2nd, 2010, from left, Mr. John Flynn and Ms. Enkh-Amgalan. E, Human Security Policy Studies Centre, Mr. Otgonbaatar. Ts, LGBT Centre, Ms. Urantsooj. G, Centre for Human Rights and Development, Ms. Badamragchaa. P, Open Society Forum, Ms. Tsend-Ayush. D, lawyer and Ms. Khishigsaikhan. B, Access to Justice and Human Rights Project, UNDP Mongolia.


13:00 pm, Nov 2, 2010:  LGBT Centre NGO Mongolia was happy to be acknowledged and to have its pressing issues raised seriously in front of member States of the UN and the Human Rights Council. Those who watched the review at home or elsewhere shed tears of joy. My comrades-in-arm have made this moment possible by their hard work, their dedication and, most important of all, their passion. It was worth fighting for three years to get officially registered by the authorities. It was worth working so hard for these three hours of States questioning and challenging the government of Mongolia on LGBT rights, because the government has finally made positive comments about its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens.

10:00 am, Nov 3, 2010: Government officials and delegates met with representatives of NGOs from Mongolia. The significance of this meeting was for both the government of Mongolia and the NGOs to reach agreement on the recommendations and questions made and asked on the previous day. Having introduced ourselves formally, both sides started expressing their views and concerns honestly. For now, both sides are acting diplomatically and respecting each other’s differing viewpoints. Although the meeting had to come to an end in only one hour, we managed to make our points and requests heard.  The government’s willingness and openness to collaborate with human rights and civil society organizations were explicitly stated. We hope that this attitude and these promises will be kept not only here in Geneva, but also back home in Ulaanbaatar.

As the UPR process is being reviewed, the States are discussing how to make it a more effective mechanism.  The European Union (EU), for example, stated that, “[t]here has also been a wide range of calls for clarity of outcome, which the EU regards as vital to the practical usefulness of the UPR in the world outside the HRC.” This is perhaps the most significant issue of this process, since all human rights and civil society organizations are concerned with how they will collaborate with their own governments upon their return from the UN.

The EU continued, “The EU believes that with an emerging clear view of where the 2nd cycle of the UPR should place its focus, there is no rationale for putting an artificial halt to the process by taking a one year break.”

As a human rights activist, I would ask the States what kind of human rights victims could afford a one year break while their governments keep violating and neglecting their international obligations.

This will be the real test of the effectiveness of the UPR process: On our side, we will do the follow-up advocacy to make the recommendations into tangible outcomes in Mongolia. Advocacy activity does not end here; it goes on and on, with ups and downs and going through various levels. Tomorrow there will be the adoption of recommendations at 12:00. One still hopes for the better future of human rights for ALL!

(A version of this post appears on the LGBT Centre's website here.)