Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj: Mongolia will always say “YES” to human rights

On August 26-28, Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia, hosted the Twentieth Annual Meeting and Biennial Conference of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions. President of Mongolia Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj delivered a speech at the Opening of the Forum.

“I extend my greetings to the ladies and gentlemen who have assembled today in this venue. It is a matter of honor for Mongolia to host the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions. Asia and the Pacific is a big region. And human rights is the most important topic, I think. I am profoundly happy to welcome and meet with you, the distinguished guardians of human rights across this big region, Asia and the Pacific.

Once an eminent Mongolian poet said that the best of the professions is that of a teacher. Well, to me, the most respectable and the most responsible profession is the service for human rights.

Of all the jobs, the most important is safeguarding human rights. It is a tough job. You often interact with the state, government, and officials who are practically “armored” with and shielded by human rights. A human being must work for his human rights. Yet, working for others’ human rights is an amazing service. And when working to secure others’ human rights, you deal face to face with organizations which are or are highly likely to infringe upon, violate human rights. You deal with those who arrest – the police, the detention officers, the judges, the prosecutors and other law enforcers on a daily basis. And it often may be a case when serving for others, your own freedom is restricted; your own rights are disregarded and pressurized.

Mongolia is a unique country in our region. In this hall, there may be ones who were coerced or intimidated for speaking for and defending human rights. There could also be topics which are avoided, kept silent. Please feel free to speak up in Mongolia. Talk freely about what worries you, what challenges you. In Mongolia for speaking your mind no one will cause you any problem, any discomfort. Therefore, please enjoy freedom in Mongolia. Please be free and brave to advance your mission for human rights in Mongolia.

Mongolia’s path toward success in human rights wasn’t easy. And perhaps, it won’t be easy in the future as well. Even today we are facing tough challenges and difficulties. In our Constitution we enshrined the most important declarations and provisions on human rights. We are also working to revise and amend Mongolian laws to conform to the Constitution. Mongolia is a signatory to the important treaties, conventions, agreements and protocols issued by the UN. We abide by these laws equally diligently as we abide by our national laws.

It is hard to talk about human rights. I think, human right begins with the right to life. Since the day I swore in as the President of Mongolia, June 18, 2009, I initiated to abandon and announce a moratorium on capital punishment in Mongolia. As I entered my office room after the Presidential swearing-in ceremony, I saw two draft decrees on my desk – one on pardoning a death-penalty convict changing the charge to a life-long imprisonment and the other one – on execution. It was a tough decision for me. And I chose life. I chose pardoning. Since that day on I have worked to abandon death penalty in Mongolia, not to execute a single person in my country.

In the past Mongolia had recorded the worst practice in death penalty and had been one of the countries with highest number of execution. North Korea, Belarus and Mongolia were seen as the worst examples with the most brutal, secret practices, according to the Amnesty International. Today, Mongolia is a country free of capital punishment. If our people were asked if they supported abandoning death penalty, probably, they would have responded “no”.

Certain issues, certain decisions need leadership. If a human life is valued dearly as the most sacred virtue, this principle must be upheld at all levels of state institutions. That’s why we talk about those members of our society whose rights are being infringed upon – children’s rights, women’s rights, the rights of the physically challenged people etc. We have drafted and are submitting to the Parliament a law against violence against women and children. We are revising our Criminal Procedures Law.

Mongolia works to uphold high the rights of the most vulnerable in the society, of those whose rights and benefits are most frequently disregarded. Past May Mongolia hosted an international conference of the Freedom Online Coalition. Just think of it – such a conference is being held in our region, in this part of the world. Online freedom is a truly important right. Internet, social media have taken wide strides into our social life. There should not be censorship, no restriction here. Media freedom, freedom of speech and expression must have no barriers and obstructions. The fewer the restraints the more responsible the officials, the leaders become.

Human rights are violated not by ordinary citizens, but by officials, the power-holders. This upcoming autumn Mongolia will be running in the UN Human Rights Council elections. I do hope that the states and governments of the countries you represent will support Mongolia’s candidacy.

At the UN Human Rights Council Mongolia will make every effort to achieve and materialize the goals, objectives and ideas that you aspire to achieve in human rights frontiers. Please do support Mongolia, we do earnestly hope to enjoy your support.

What was the departing point for Mongolia to reach where we are today? People would be surprised to speak of human rights some 20 years ago in Mongolia. “What do you mean by “human” rights, we have only state, the government’s rights? We have only the “rights of the rulers, the rights of the officials”, have the ordinary people ever had any rights? Human rights are the rights that are exercised in the west only! – went on the public discourse.

Today, when we appoint our judges, we advise that the value they have to defend first is human rights. We urge our prosecutors, police to serve the humans, the society and not the government, the officials, the judges. And our laws are made consistently with this very principle. We do have incidences of violation of human rights; there are issues and challenges we face. Yet, what is good about Mongolia is that we are open and transparent.

Human rights are not about declaration; it’s not about meetings, conferences, organizations as well. Human rights are life. It is a job to do. This is a job of officials. Only after stepping down, after leaving the office, they tend to address human rights and justice. The same may be true in the countries you represent.

What we demand from our officials is to speak up and enforce human rights and justice while in office, while on duty. We demand them to make human rights the order of the day. Only then will we trust. There is an emerging challenge in Mongolia. Even in the most democratic country, human rights are challenged. Human rights violations disguised under security concerns occur in democracies around the world. Special courts, special prisons, months-long detention exist. In Mongolia detentions last for many days too.

To establish a felony the law enforcers try to detain first of all. We are now working hard to do away with this practice, and our human rights commission is making efforts on this front as well. What we tell our law enforcers is that arrest and detention must be the final acts in the trial process while in Mongolia the trial starts with an arrest. Law enforcers, police, I am saying this again - this practice must be stopped. A crime, a felony is established by investigating and other actions but not by arresting.

We will change this law. Twenty five years ago we lived in a system which for 70 years, in the course of three generations lifetime followed the Vishinsky method of coercion of recognition of guilt by the offender. A law can be changed. But we see, it is much harder to change people’s mentality, the way of thinking. And this struggle is still going on in Mongolia. And we are working hard to make these changes. Second, all have equal rights. But what is likely to emerge as a danger in Mongolia is that although all are equal in front of the law, those with more money tend to enjoy more rights. Officials in high seats tend to enjoy higher rights. And this is one source of human rights violations.

We do attentively listen to and examine the complaints by ordinary citizens. Our law enforcers are diligently working to attend every complaint of the people. And we do recognize that human rights are equally applicable to those jailed officials who stole public funds, who shout out loudly of infringement of their human rights, although the billions and billions of their stolen money rests outside of prisons capitalizing on the huge corruption web the official had weaved before his detention. So there are delicate nuances that must be clearly distinguished, which is a challenge in itself. Corruption, abuse of official power, official misconduct is a huge challenge for Mongolia. How do we cope with them, how do we solve them?

True, all are equal in front of the law. And this holds true for the thief of the hundreds of billions of public funds, who is jailed leaving behind his money and his corrupt web. However, that thief commands the power to coerce and intimidate the law enforcers, to paint himself white and innocent. What do we do about this? How to end this evil? For Mongolia, this is a grave challenge. But we must resolve it. The most important, our most sacred duty is to safeguard human rights. Be that an official, a soldier, an ordinary citizen – all have equal rights. And we must hold this right high. That policy line, that principle must be tightly upheld by our lawyers and law enforcers. So what we are going to do next is to comprehensively revise our criminal code and criminal procedures law. We have revised our laws on court, on prosecution service, on police. These laws have been made to serve the people, every single member of the society. Now we are trying to change the laws that people use.

We also must ensure the environment to secure the independence of human rights organizations. Our Human Rights Commission is capable and resourceful. It is very committed and is working very hard in spite of difficult circumstances. That is why recognizing the need and value of this organization in Mongolia, as the President I am working with the Human Rights Commission to initiate the renewal of the Law on the Human Rights Commission of Mongolia to strengthen the institutional set-up of this body to provide for genuinely independent in terms of finance, in terms of appointments and staffing, and in terms of operations, an institution. And we will work to achieve this goal. Human Rights Commission should not be the only human rights watchdog in Mongolia. Human rights will fully prevail in Mongolia only then when all - every citizen, every organization protects, respects and upholds human rights. Besides, we must address responsibility and accountability of officials. We might fight with irresponsibility and official misconduct.

We see corruption as official misconduct. But in essence, it is an abuse of human rights, it is an action against human rights. The money an official steals from public funds would have otherwise been paid as a salary to an honest public servant. Our people must demand from the corrupt officials: “Give me my money back. Give me my loan back, I can’t get it, you took it away, you stole my salary away. Following you, your accomplices are stealing my wealth away”. Such a way of thinking, such an attitude, such a treatment of corrupt behaviour is needed in Mongolia, and is being instilled. To promote intolerance to corruption, all, including the President, must denounce such acts. What I am speaking today from this rostrum is already known to my people.

This speech is my principle that I uphold in my life. In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that we must encourage the people and organizations working for human rights. We must promote such efforts in our region, Asia and the Pacific. Mongolia stands ready to host any international initiative, conference, meeting that addresses human rights. If you cannot address human rights in your country, bring up the issue and discuss openly in Mongolia. Mongolia does have good news, success, achievements. We do not intend to teach you, we are only sharing with our lessons. Mongolian democracy has brought good and bright to Mongolia. Yet, there are problems, difficulties, challenges too. You will see them too.

We are walking the hardest path in our region. Many say that Mongolia is a front-runner among the many countries of our region on human rights front. There are problems and difficulties of the front-runners too. We must not look back, we must only navigate ahead. We must shed light, we must set an example. Therefore, your ideas, comments are very valuable for us. We attended and hosted many conferences and meetings. Merely attending a conference is one thing, but we shall work to translate into reality all the constructive ideas and convey to our government and your respective governments the fruits of our meeting and deliberations, through notes and references.

Our meeting today is not only a two-day event hosted in Mongolia. This meeting must become a milestone achievement. Sadly, many today can only pronounce the words “human rights”. We must work harder to ensure that human rights become an established lifestyle. Thank you very much for coming to Mongolia. Thank you for your words, for your efforts and actions. Mongolia shall always say “YES” to human rights. Enjoy your stay in my country. I wish every success to the work of the Forum”.