Tsedendemberel Otgonbaatar at the United Nations in Geneva.
My name is Otgoo (Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel) and I am a gay rights activist from Mongolia. This blog entry shares my experiences during a recent trip to the United Nations in Geneva to advocate at the Human Rights Council on behalf of my organization, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
It took about three years to get our organization officially registered by the Mongolian authorities. Basically, the government argued that the name “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre” has a meaning that conflicts with Mongolian customs and traditions and has the potential to set a wrong example for youth and adolescents. Eventually, we were officially registered and handed our certificate in December 2009. We are now the first-ever Mongolian NGO mandated to uphold, protect and ensure the human rights of sexuality minorities. One of the highlights of our work since our official existence is that we submitted a sexuality minorities’ report as well as a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights report together with Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Mongolia in the Human Rights Council.
I came to Geneva to do advocacy activities relating to both the UPR process as well as the Committee Against Torture, to attend the UPR 9th Session and, most important of all, to make sure the often suppressed voices of the Mongolian LGBT community heard at the United Nations.
In 2008, during the 42nd Session of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW Committee), the rights and voices of LBT community of Mongolia were dismissed, silenced and ignored by the country rapporteur. And now the UPR is one of the only immediate opportunities for us to be heard by the human rights mechanisms of the UN. We did not want to miss this opportunity!
Civil Society Advocacy at the Universal Periodic Review
As soon as I got off the bus at Place des Nations, in front of the UN, I saw many tourists taking photographs of each other and of the flags placed in front of the security gate. The atmosphere makes one feel overwhelmed and nervous. On the first day, I was supposed to get my badge that will allow me to enter the UN buildings and to confirm the meeting room, date and time for tomorrow’s information session. People from all over the world stood in a line to get their badges speaking English, French, and other languages.
At 4:00 pm on October 27, 2010, I started my first informal briefing or information session in Room XXIV of Building E. I optimistically expected dozens of attendees on top of a few permanent missions we had invited in advance, but the missions were very preoccupied with the Council Review upstairs and I was informed that they would have little time to focus on other activities than the Review these days. Still, the Permanent Missions of Norway and Sweden, the Second secretary and his colleague from Permanent Mission of Germany in Geneva attended on behalf of their missions.
First, I expressed my gratitude to those who came to the session and introduced the agenda. Next, I introduced the LGBT Centre, our history, our fight for registration, and our activities and program focus. Afterward, I showed the documentary, “Lies of Liberty” (you can watch the shorter version of the documentary film online), made by the LGBT Centre. Finally, I addressed the main issues facing LGBT people in Mongolia, including discrimination, hate crimes, and violence in private and public sectors. These were the main focus of the UPR report our organization wrote with SRI. The issues and cases presented in our report included the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, liberty and security, the right to education, the right to work and adequate standard of living, the right to be free of violence and equal protection by law, the right to found a family and marry, the right to the highest attainable standard of healthcare and the right to freedom of association.
I thought it was quite effective to casually start conversations with early-comers while waiting for other people. The Second Secretary of Permanent Mission of Germany was a very friendly man who spoke about how much he wanted to work in Mongolia a few years ago, but was appointed to work in Ostana, Kazakhstan. The delegations from Norway and Sweden were also at ease. Ms. Giyoun Kim from the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development was there as well to facilitate the session and to support the advocacy activity of LGBT Centre.
The delegations carefully took notes and compared them with the points of two-page briefing paper we provided to the attendees. As these delegations will go back to their missions and share what they have learned, it is extremely important to deliver the most pressing issues to them and explain what kinds of questions you want them to ask from the government of Mongolia. Additionally, human rights activists who are doing advocacy activities should help these delegations to conceptualize the situations NGOs and their communities are facing. The question & answer session at the end of the briefing highlighted the interests of the delegations. They wanted to hear more about ultra-nationalist group, Dayar Mongol, government attitudes or ignorance towards the LGBT community, and the current situations of the sexuality minorities of the country.
These are some of the issues, questions and recommendations we suggested that the States bring to the attention of our government during Mongolia’s review:
Issues: Civil society organizations report on attacks against LGBT individuals ranging from rape, physical and sexual attacks, arbitrary arrests and physical and sexual assault while in detention, by law enforcement officials and in some cases family members. Discrimination against LGBT individuals has also been documented, including being fired from employment or forcibly evicted on the basis of their real or rumoured sexual orientation or gender identity.
The stakeholder report (paragraph 15, 17, 18, 28 and 38) paints a very worrying picture of the protection of the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons in Mongolia. Their rights are insufficiently enshrined in legislation and instances of violence and discrimination against LGBT persons seem to be on the rise.
Questions: Could the government of Mongolia elaborate on actions taken to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly, for LGBT communities in Mongolia? What concrete actions does the Government of Mongolia intend to take to guarantee the fundamental rights of LGBT persons in line with international human rights law and to promote their acceptance at all levels of society? What measures are the government putting in place to ensure that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity will be prohibited?
Recommendations: We recommend that the government of Mongolia ensure a thorough and impartial investigation into all allegations of attacks and threats against individuals targeted because of their sexual orientation, as in the case of LGBT individuals, and to bring justice those responsible in accordance with international standards for fair trials. We also recommend that the government of Mongolia promote the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly without discrimination against members of the LGBT community.
Even though there are some States who will ask questions of the government of Mongolia, it is in the best interest of sexual minorities in Mongolia to make sure that other States ask more in depth and detailed questions about our issues, so as to ensure the most specific recommendations and to push the discourse around our issues further.
That Monday, November 1, 2010, Forum Asia organized short briefings between us, a young human rights defender from the Maldives, and the missions from the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Norway, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Mexico. In terms of the UN advocacy, meeting places such as Delegates’ Lounge, Serpentine Lounge, and other social and open spaces create friendly, comfortable atmospheres for both activists and the government representatives.
NGO Forum representatives from Mongolia are talking to the mission delegation from Indonesia, while waiting for other mission delegations to come to the short informal briefing on November 1st, 2010
After the information sessions, I made my way to the Mission of Canada for another short briefing. This is my first time that I visited a particular mission office outside the UN premises. In fact, it was a valuable experience and the support on the mission side showed that they care about the issues we, the human rights activists, could bring to the table. Thankfully, the Mission of Canada specifically took interest in the LGBT rights situation of Mongolia. The meeting was effective and productive—they indicated that they would ask a question about LGBT rights of the government of Mongolia. It has been enlightening to know that there are various mission representatives who actually care about our concerns. And, they are not only thinking about this in terms of the UPR process, but also about the follow-up process and future collaborations in the near and far future.
The next day, Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010, the human rights situations of Mongolia would be reviewed for one hour at the Palais des Nations. I was extremely nervous and yet excited, praying deep in my heart that all we have been doing for our LGBT community members for the past few years would receive the much-needed attention at the international level.
(A version of this post appears on the LGBT Centre’s website here.)