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Mongolia’s election to the Human Rights Council

Since I am currently in Mongolia I thought it might be a good idea to blog something about the country. I promise not to include any patronizing asides to acknowledge Mongolia’s ‘rich culture and history’, a phrase that seems to be compulsory for any international article on Mongolia. And no trite references to Chinggis Khaan or eagle hunting. No, I want to look at Mongolia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) and specifically at the interview given by State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs D.Gankhuyag about what that election means.

Countries are elected by other member states for 3 year terms to serve on the UN HRC. Countries can serve for two consecutive terms. This means a country could serve for two terms, take a term off and then run again to serve for another two terms, if they so wished.

 This is Mongolia’s first ever election to the UN HRC which is definitely a positive thing for the country. However, it should be noted that a country’s human rights record is not an important factor when deciding who becomes a member of the UN HRC. For example, right now we have states like China, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia currently serving on the UN HRC (and that is just from Asia Pacific), hardly leaders in the field of human rights.

Part of the dilemma is that no States’ human rights record is good enough and to exclude States from being eligible to become members of the UN HRC based on their human rights record would only serve to make the UN HRC more political than it already is. Which leaves us with this non-credible body infiltrated with known human rights violators who are responsible for upholding and championing human rights around the world – its far from ideal.

Even though Mongolia’s human rights record leaves much to be desired, it certainly is better than some of the other countries on the list. However, it should be kept in mind that Mongolia’s human rights record does not receive the same kind of scrutiny as some other countries. This lack of focus may be leading some to think that things aren’t so bad. However, lack of attention speaks more to lack of resources, lack of strategic importance of the country, and lack of initiative on the part of the human rights community. Perhaps Mongolia’s accession to the UN HRC will have the (unintended but welcome) consequence of putting a greater spotlight on its own human rights record. That would be a good thing.

In the interview the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggests that Mongolia’s election was in part to a) careful planning and effective campaigning on the part of Mongolia; and b) because other countries highly evaluated:

Mongolia’s human rights practice, its achievements for promoting and protecting human rights, execution of its obligations to international treaties and conventions, as well as future goals related to human rights issues.”

I’m not convinced that there is any evidence to support this second point. As noted above, countries with terrible human rights records are consistently voted to the UN HRC. Second, many countries would not be fully aware of the full extent and nature of human rights violations taking place in the country (and probably don’t care).

I would also refute the assertion that Mongolia’s pledges played a role in their election victory. States seeking to be elected to the UN HRC often make ‘voluntary pledges’ ahead of the elections as a way of showing how serious they are about human rights. I’m too lazy to do a full analysis of these pledges but many pledges tend to be quite vague and non-committal. Also, mostly they are not implemented. (If a State implemented a pledge they would have to come up with new ones for the next election).

But here’s hoping that the experience is a valuable one for Mongolia and that they take the role seriously enough to a) make positive changes at home, and b) speak up about human rights violations around the world, particularly in relation to its neighbours China, Russia and North Korea.

ukok-plateau-mongolia-5029(Mongolia: a country with a rich culture and history and eagle hunters)

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