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Bank loans and court rulings

A story came out in Mongolia just before the end of 2015 that the Constitutional Court had ruled a program of 8% mortgage loans as unconstitutional. The Court found that the loans violate Articles 171 and 171.2 of the Mongolian Civil Code as well as the Constitution.

Civil Code

Article 171. Non-restriction of owner transaction right

 171.1. Transaction, obligating the owner not to use the immovable property serving as a hypothec, not to transfer it to ownership of others, and not to otherwise entitle rights to it to third party, shall be invalid.

 171.2. Validity of the transaction concluded by hypothec owner with a third party shall depend on the creditor’s permission.

After checking the dictionary, I learnt that hypothec means:

A mortgage or security held by a creditor on the property of a debtor without possession of it, created either by agreement or by operation of the law

However, neither the laws, nor the definition of hypothec were enough for me to understand why the 8% mortgage loans were deemed illegal/unconstitutional. It would seem that there are provisions in the loan scheme which I don’t know about and which run afoul of the law.

But the story doesn’t just end with people being denied cheap mortgage loans. It seems that the State Housing Corporation has built some apartment blocs on the basis that they would be able to offer people the 8% loan to buy new apartments. The sale of the apartments would then cover the construction costs. However, with the denial of the 8% loans, this whole scheme has collapsed and the State Housing Corporation can’t afford to pay for the construction.

(picture source)

In response to this set back the Speaker of the Parliament, while attending the official opening of the apartment blocs, announced that the government would annul the Court’s ruling and continue as planned without changing the law. Its unclear how he will do that in practice since all banks offering the loan scheme suspended them on the basis of the court ruling. Annulling the law would also, presumably, involve convincing the banks to offer the loan in violation of the court ruling.

The tussle between judicial and legislative powers could heat up, especially as we have just entered a parliamentary election year. Combined with the approved amendments to the election law, protests over the use of voting machines and the slump in economic growth, tensions are already running high.

Mongolia generally has peaceful elections. Although there is thought to be some amount of election mismanagement and fraud in each elections, most election pass without too much controversy. The exception was the 2008 parliamentary election which led to a violent protest, the first state of emergency declared since the transition to democracy and 5 people were killed. Nobody is expecting anything like that but we could be heading for a very feisty election period.



Books – 2015 and plans for 2016

I read 40 books this year, 32 fiction and 8 non-fiction. I might try to get a better balance between fiction and non-fiction in 2016. My favourite 5 for the year (first link is to the book, link on the author is to a review):

  1. The English MonsterLloyd Shepherd
  2. Strange Weather in TokyoHiromi Kawakami
  3. The State of Africa: A history of fifty years of independenceMartin Meredith
  4. Parrot and Olivier in AmericaPeter Carey
  5. Yellow, Blue, TibiaAdam Roberts

2016’s book theme will be banned books. I’ve got a long list from which I will read a minimum of 6. Turns out there are LOADS of banned or challenged books so there was lots to choose from:

  1. Brave New World
  2. Grapes of Wrath
  3. Slaughter-house five
  4. Cat’s Cradle
  5. Metamorphisis
  6. Lolita
  7. Ulysses
  8. All Quiet on the Western Front
  9. American Pyscho
  10. Catch 22 (already read it but might read it again because its so great)
  11. Gone with the Wind
  12. The Call of the Wild
  13. Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  14. Clockwork Organe
  15. Of Mice and Men
  16. Lord of the Flies
  17. Hunchback of Notre Dame (already got a copy ready to read as my first book for 2016)
  18. Farewell to Arms
  19. For Whom the Bell Tolls
  20. Grimm’s Fairytales

2015 in review

January: Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris

February: Temp job finished; several job interviews

March: Unemployed; more job interviews

April: start new job; got ridiculously and inappropriately drunk at a party

May: Birthday month; UK elections leading to Tory government (ugh); attended music festival in Helsinki, got job offer based in Mongolia

June: attend friend’s hen do

July: attend friend’s wedding

August: vaccinations for Mongolia

September: Week in Hong Kong and then onto Mongolia to start new job

October: Visa problems, went to Jeju for a week

November: Attacks in Paris, Nigeria, Lebanon, Mali

December: Christmas and work



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)


currently reading

Currently reading: “The Ghost Writer” by John Harwood


Human Rights Watch World Report 2015 – North Korea

Human Rights Watch has issued its annual report, including its entry on North Korea. HRW does not have entries for Japan or South Korea. Unlike Amnesty International’s annual State of the World’s Human Rights, which solely looks at events that happened during the previous year, HRW’s report gives an overall picture of the human rights situation in the country including events of the past year. In the case of North Korea, the big event in terms of human rights was the release of Commission of Inquiry (COI) report and subsequent lobbying and resolution passing at the UN level – UN Human Rights Council, General Assembly and attempts to get it on the agenda of the UN Security Council.

In many instances, the violations of human rights found by the commission constitute crimes against humanity. These are not mere excesses of the State; they are essential components of a political system that has moved far from the ideals on which it claims to be founded. (CoI Report)

The main topics of the entry, in addition to the COI stuff, are:

    • Torture and Inhumane Treatment – which obviously focuses on treatment of individuals held in political prison camps;
    • Executions, a short blurb about the death penalty in law in North Korea. Information on state use of trials leading to death penalty and execution and prevalence of extra-judicial killings might have been more interesting;
    • Political Prison Camps – with accompanying video of testimony from some of the regulars such as Ahn Myung-Chul and Kang Cheol-Hwan;

  • Freedom of Information – telling about how North Koreans aren’t allowed to access unauthorised sources of news or media;
  • Freedom of Movement, Refugees and Asylum Seekers – including a bit on exploitation and risks for North Korean women living in China
  • Labour Rights – a short piece on how North Korea isn’t a member of the ILO and how crappy labour rights are for North Koreans working at Kaesong
  • International Actors – more on the COI and North Korea’s attempts to deflect attention away from its human rights record

Notably absent was any talk about the food situation in North Korea. I thought we could’ve skipped the out-dated information on Kaeson for perhaps an update on access to health and nutrition for ordinary North Koreans. But overall, a nice summary of the horrendous situation in North Korea.


Thirteenth Korea-U.S. West Coast Strategic Forum – boy, oh boy!

My twitter feed advised me that a summary report of the thirteenth Korea-US West Coast Strategic Forum was now available. I had not been aware of the event or waiting for the report but it sounded like it might be interesting. However, I did not read the report. I was just doing a quick scroll down to see how long the report was and how it was formatted when I saw a photo of the participants – all men! Not a single woman in the group. The report also includes a list of participants – I’m not going to claim to be an expert on Korean names but that list also seemed to show that all participants from both Korea and US were male. If that is truly the case, that all participants were men, then it is truly depressing. Perhaps there is an explanation, though its hard to guess one that would be acceptable.

July 2018
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