Human Rights Open Days: 12 years of Linking State Duties to Rights of People at the Local Level
Steppe in south western Mongolia seems endless but blue-grey mountains faraway and changing grass patterns make the road colorful. For hours no vehicle was sighted, except the white Land Cruiser that we follow, which turned into brown because of dust. This is the National Human Rights Commission’s team who are travelling for Human Rights Open Days in Bayankhongor and Gobi-altai aimags.
Day 1. Human Rights Days began formally by meeting of Ms. P. Oyunchimeg, Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia, with the aimag Governor and heads of the local police, court, and the legal department. By that time, the human rights training for public servants was already underway, with provocative questions "is alcoholism the only cause of domestic violence” or “do people get discriminated because they are less educated". In parallel, the inspection team visited the aimag detention centre, checking physical conditions, records, and meeting detainees to see if they have any human rights related complaints.
- UNDP and the NHRCM implemented “Capacity Development of the NHRCM” project in 2002-2006. The second UNDP supported project “Strengthening national human rights oversight capacity in Mongolia” is ongoing since January 2012. Human Rights Open Days are an important component of the current project.
- In 2013, Human Rights Open Days are being organized for its 12th year, since its establishment in 2002. Over these years, each of the 21 aimags had Human Rights Days at least 3 times.
- Given the vast territory and scarce population, reaching out people living aimags, rural and remote areas has been a key challenge for the NHRCM. For example, Bayankhongor aimag is located 800 km from the capital city, and has a population of around 80,000 living in 19 soums.
The afternoon was even more packed with activities. At the meeting with local NGOs, the issue of domestic violence was raised again, and discussion was held on proposed changes to be made to the Law on Domestic Violence. Some of the NHRCM staff visited Bayan-ovoo micro-mining. It was encouraging to hear that tripartite agreement was signed between the soum governor, private individuals engaged in artisanal mining, and the mining company. However, there were many deep holes on the mining site which were not filled and which clearly presented danger to humans and livestock.
Day 2. In the morning, aimag law enforcement agency staff attended human rights training organized by the NHRCM. The chief of local police had some specific proposals for the revision of the Criminal Code, to be discussed by the Parliament this year, including criminal charges for legal persons. Due to absence of such charges, somebody who was employed by a company gets prison sentences while the owner of that company goes free without criminal charges.
The meeting with citizens was also intense and full of questions: a pensioner claiming his right to employment as he had retired early due to harsh conditions of work; and a mother asking about school for her disabled child.
Over the two days, many citizens came to the local Legal Aid Centre where the NHRCM staff provided free of charge legal advice. A man’s valuables were stolen, but the case is being delayed for so long, despite all evidences that had been submitted. A woman has a property dispute, but the other person lives in the capital city and she does not know how to submit the case to the court.
Day 2 work finished by mid-night after the Commissioner had visited the local centre for detaining drunken persons.
The NHRCM does not have any branch office in aimags (provinces), nor does it have sufficient budget for undertaking frequent travel to countryside. This is one of the reasons why the percentage of complaints from aimags to the NHRCM has always been low. Given the vast territory and scarce population, reaching out people living aimags, rural and remote areas has been a key challenge for the NHRCM. For example, Bayankhongor aimag is located 800 km from the capital city, and has a population of around 80,000 living in 19 soums.
Human Rights Open Days are not a ceremonial activity, where promotional stands are put on the main square and leaflets are distributed. This is a package of multiple actions of human rights at provincial level, which comprises human rights training, advocacy, inspection, advice, and meeting with citizens and specific groups.
According to the Law on National Human Rights Commission, Commissioners have the power to submit a demand and to issue recommendations, to relevant organizations, which in turn are obliged to take measures to implement them. For example, during the Human Rights Open Days in Bayankhongor aimag, the Police department reported that following the NHRCM’s earlier recommendation, the local council’s made a decision allowing the fees collected by the Centre for detaining drunken people to be used for improving the Centre’s services. While congratulating on this achievement, the Commissioner made another critical remark, as the aimag still does not have shelter place for victims of domestic violence.
The effectiveness of the NHRCM’s work depends greatly on support from law enforcement agencies. In turn, they need support from the NHRCM both in terms of ensuring compliance with human rights standards, but also in terms of putting pressure on local decision makers to allocate necessary funding. At the same time, NHRCM Commissioners and staff members get to know local human rights situation and specific challenges each aimag faces. Without such knowledge, it would have been impossible for them to prepare Annual Report on Status of Human Rights and Freedom – report that is submitted to the Parliament.
Recently, the NHRCM has introduced online submission of human rights complaints. It is also planning to introduce free of charge phone line for people living in rural and remote areas and who do not have access to Internet. For several years, the NHRCM has advocated the necessity of extending its presence to aimags. On 3 July 2013, the majority of the MPs supported the proposal to have one representative in each of the aimags. This was an exciting news for all those who are concerned about human rights situation in local areas, and a step forward in linking state duties to rights of people.