Gay Mongolia News Reports

 (Note: our apologies for the predominance of non-gay stories here but there is very little gay news that comes from Mongolia. Meanwhile, there are other important issues in that fragile country.)

0 First Gay and Lesbian Group Opens Ulan Bator Office 6/99

1 Mongolian Sex Education 1/01

2 First Ever Hotline for/by the LBGT Community in Mongolia 12/00

3 Re: Term "gay" in Mongolian 12/00

4 Mongolian Women Typify a New Global Activism 2/00 (non gay story)

5 As Mongolia shows, nomadic pastoralism and private land just don’t mix 12/02 (non gay story)

6 Bridge to Nowhere: a symbol of bad development 1/04 (non gay story)

7 Many in Mongolia Nostalgic for Communism 5/05 (non gay story)

8 To Stop Dust Bowl, Mongolia Builds ‘Great Wall’ of Trees
(non-gay story)

9 No Quick End to Mongolia Political Turmoil In Sight 7/08 (non-gay story)

10 Mr. Beauty’ Revealed: A Glimpse Into Mongolian Gay Life 12/08

11 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 12/08

12 Mongolia Rebuffs Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Organization 7/09

13 Letter to The Minister of Justice and Home Affairs of Mongolia 7/09

14 Mongolia: Register LGBT Centre 7/09

15 Online art and poetry exhibition gives visibility to largely hidden LGBT 12/09

16 LGBT advocacy group in Mongolia gets official recognition 12/09

17 Report on Mongolia – Ninth Round of the Universal Periodic Review (2010) 2/10

18 Mongolia’s LGBTs face hate crimes and discrimination 7/10

19 Mongolian Transgender Woman Faces Death Threats 11/10

19a Mongolian LGBT Activists at the United Nations Human Rights Council 11/10

20 LGBT multimedia campaign is launched against discrimination 11/10

21 LGBT Activists Cheered by Potential Gay Rights Gain 12/10

June 30, 1999 – From Ulan Bator Post

First Gay and Lesbian Group Opens Ulan Bator Office: Group founders plan to fight harassment

Mongolian’s first gay and lesbian’s rights group, Tavilan or Destiny, formed this spring because of accusations of "police harassment and improper sentencing procedures that violated civilian rights." This past month Tavilan opened a small office in central Ulaanbaatar to begin building an organization to counter such problems. The accusation of harassment came in a Post interview with one of the group’s founding members. The member, one of 22 founders, asked not to be named for fear of intimidation.

Incorporated this past April, the group’s aim has been to protect and promote the rights of gay and lesbian people in Mongolia. Members intend to create a social network, link with gay rights groups overseas and encourage better understanding amongst the general public. Tavilan recently participated in the Run/Walk for AIDS and it regularly organizes a Sunday basketball/volleyball game and weekly social night. New Ulaanbaatar residents are welcome to attend.

Tavilan may be contacted by E-mail at: and by post at: Box
405, Ulaanbaatar 210644.


January 18, 2001 – From:

Mongolian Sex Education

Sex education in Mongolian schools does not exist. Many Mongolian parents, school teachers and education policy makers are too preoccupied with basic and more important subjects such as maths or English or Mongolian rather than sex education. Education is regarded as the most important way to get ahead in the social hierarchy (better jobs, higher income and better life) and therefore many people do not see any instrumentality in sex education. Our education system is designed in a such way that it provides technical knowledge and skills for job performance. The social aspect (so-called the nurturing future generations) is disregarded nowdays because we have no resources for "fancy" sex education and people assume the society (traditions, family or other groups) takes care of such things. It is sad to see such things however, I guess, the strategy is justified given the social and economic conditions we live in.

Homosexuality is not mentioned in schools and many people have no idea of its existence outside prisons and except a few "mad", outspoken transvestites. By the way, a couple of transvestites in Mongolia give such a bad name to gay-guys that many people think all gays in Mongolia like that. I mean gomo Haraa and manin Gambush. Both of them are targets of intrusive tabloids (we have more than 30 tabloids for 2 million people) and they often give interviews to these tabloids and journalists and the population make a fun of them. Gomo Naraa is a former criminal who served a prison sentence for theft. Manin Gambush is also a very negative figure in the mass media. It certainly does not help young guys to accept their sexuality when homosexuality has an extreme negative image among the normal population.

You will not find any information in Mongolian on homosexuality in public libraries in Ulan Batar (capital of Mongolia). Family is so far the best institution where every Mongolian gets basics of "sex education". It is not deliberate or organised western type education where parents with their children discuss male or female sexual organs. But everything is like a structured chaos: on the one hand, parents make sure that children get the basics and on the other hand they do not do it in an organised or planned fashion.

The most common routine is through gender line: mothers educate their daughters and fathers educate their boys. The usual way of explaining these sensitive things is giving a bath to their children. In teen years, parents explain simple things about sexual organs and its functions through a well-established set of concepts or phrases (BTW, there is a large number of special terms and phrases in Mongolian language which has indirect sexual meanings). Usually Mongolians do not discuss openly and directly about sexual actions such as masturbation or other things. In this sense, these double-meaning phases are very useful to transfer the knowledge about sex in this extremely conservative society.

Mr and Mrs Normal Mongolian: it depends on geography. Urban parents will not be too shocked of finding out if their teenage son is having sex with a girl. In rural areas, some parents may see this as a bad behaviour. However that question is debatable since some people argue that rural Mongolians actually more relaxed about these things and they see sex as a part of natural everyday routine. Homosexuality is a completely different story: all parents will be shocked and initial reactions will be that of anger, desperation and incomprehension. Father will be specially upset since boys are regarded in Mongolian families once who continue the family’s tradition and blood.

I hope it is helpful. best regards, Tsengel

December 17, 2000 – From:

First Ever Hotline for/by the LBGT Community in Mongolia

At the long awaited last, here we are with the first ever hot/help/line for/by the LGBT people in Mongolia. This milestone event has happened a month back with the financial assistance and funding from the National AIDS Foundation (Mongolia) on the basis of the needs assessment study of the lgbt coommunity in Mongolia accomplished this year June and July by the Tavilan, the human rights association for the LGBT people in Mongolia. Yes, the Tavilan has not been out and about for the last however many months due to many numbered restraints and internal issues, but it’s up and kicking again with new blood and new spirit, owing much to involvement of the queer women in the activities of Tavilan.

Having only a very short history of existence, Tavilan has nonetheless been able to achieve much in terms of community outreach and community evolution on the Mongolian gay scene. some of the fruitful ideas for the LGBT are still in offing, while a few of them are already being acted upon so that we are truly beginning to build the alliances among ourselves and create networks that are empowering and liberating.

Tavilan is striving to work with the similarly situated organizations of immediate abroad for sharing experiences and knowledge of queer organizing, the immediate abroad including, but not limited to, Russia and the former republics of Russia like Buryat, Kalmyik, Tuva, etc., which have the same Mongolian ethnic and cultural heritage, china and specifically, inner Mongolia and Tibet, Koreas and Japan. we are willing to learn from the western countries with decades of history behind their LGBT rights movement, and are open for the cooperation with other human rights associations with sexual orientation focus.

You can reach us for further information and/or networking at either the phone number of 976 95156075 or the following e-mail: we are here, we are queer, we are everywhere!

Yahoo Groups, Gay Mongolia

December 30, 2000 – From: Rick Smith

Re: Term "gay" in Mongolian

Shambalad – Thanks for an excellent introduction of the word "bandi." As a learner of Mongolian, I’ll simply attest that that word and its deriviatives are so rare that I didn’t actually hear it until this summer–five years since I first learned the language.

I was sitting at the Khan Brau (excellent microbrewery) in Ulaanbaatar with a group of mostly French anthropologists who were discussing a book on Mongolian sexuality picked up in the market. The book gave the same explaination. I verified this with some of my gay friends. In common use, "gomo" derived from the Russian word for homosexual, is used negatively by adolecent male Mongolians much in the same way it is used in the United States to gay bait. I’m afraid this is an urban phenomena imported from watching too many movies from the United States.

Young Mongolians learn that it’s cool to gay bait and gay bash. My experience with rural Mongolians is a complete lack of knowledge of sexual orientation and consequently men attached no stigma to expressions of affection between men. The more interesting word to me is "maning," which I did hear spontaneoulsy at least once a year. It can be used to describe someone who is transgendered, transsexual, transvestite or intersex. Occasionally it is used to describe persons who have sex with members of the same sex, but it is literally understood to mean, "not male, not female." Some communities have people who live thier lives publically as "maning" and are more or less accepted. I believe this is an indigenous Mongolian word and not an import from Russian, Chinese or Tibetian.

February 22, 2000 – Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, California

Mongolian Women Typify a New Global Activism

Society: Organizers at grass roots help set public agendas with greater effectiveness than elected officials.

by: Robin Wright, Staff Writer
Ulan Bator, Mongolia — Oidov Enhtuya never intended to go into politics. A tiny woman with a confident saunter and soft freckles across her round face, Enhtuya was front office manager at the Genghis Khan Hotel until the winds of political change swept across Mongolia in 1990, abruptly ending nearly seven decades of communism.

To fill the political vacuum, Enhtuya hastily mobilized her friends to launch the Liberal Women’s Brain Pool. At workshops in this sleepy capital of dilapidated, Stalinesque buildings and at rural meetings conducted by candlelight in nomads’ white felt tents, the female volunteers explained freedom, recruited candidates and taught voters about political campaigns and government lobbying. The groundbreaking group with the quirky name could help East Asia’s most dynamic new democracy survive the steep odds against it.

"We learned by doing," Enhtuya recalled. "Even the name was an accident. We didn’t know what ‘liberal’ meant. We had to run out to find literature, and there wasn’t much available here. We didn’t want to use ‘democratic’ because that’s what Communists used. And we wanted to be a think tank, but we didn’t know the translation. So when we had to register a name in 1993, we became the Brain Pool." Enhtuya and her Brain Pool symbolize one of the most aggressive ways women worldwide are evening the distribution of power: They are building "civil society," a richly diverse network of independent citizens groups that are perhaps less visible than women in government but are often able to set the public agenda with greater impact and originality than male activists or even elected officials.

"Before, women wanted space for themselves. Now they’re capturing a big part of the space that belongs to broader society. Once they defined their own agenda. Now they’re establishing an ethical framework shaping all society," said Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of the U.N. Development Fund for Women. Since 1993, the Brain Pool has opened 187 branches in Mongolia, launched an Internet site and inspired dozens of other women’s groups, which so dominate Mongolian society that men are joining up for lack of alternatives.

"Over the past decade, women’s groups have played the most impressive role in developing political and social issues that are critical in stabilizing a young democracy," said Louisa Caan of the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington. "Mongolia wouldn’t be the most promising democratic star in East Asia without them." Women in one of the world’s poorest and most isolated countries have been so enterprising in part because some traditions haven’t changed since the days of Genghis Khan, the 13th century Mongol warlord who united rival clans and created an empire stretching from Hungary to Korea–and whose face is still on the national currency.

"In a nomadic culture, women are managers and decision-makers in the family and community, while men go off for long periods to herd and hunt," said Enhtuya, who became so engrossed in explaining democracy to others that she ran for parliament in 1996–and won. Since half the population is still nomadic, Mongolia’s women account for 84% of university graduates, 80% of doctorates, 67% of vocational school students, 77% of doctors and 60% of lawyers, according to the Women’s Information and Research Center, a new Mongolian citizens group.

"Most dropouts are males who quit to work, while girls stay in school. So women have always been independent thinkers. Plus, we’re not influenced by Islamic or Confucian traditions, which give more power to men," said Mongolian Foreign Minister Nyam-Osorin Tuyaa, the country’s only female Cabinet member. "It’s not surprising that so many initiatives originate with women." Many countries now recognize both genders as equal under the law, but women worldwide are still far more likely than men to be poor, hungry and illiterate. They have less access to jobs, health care, property ownership, credit and training, according to the United Nations. Still Underrepresented in Elected Offices

And while they now make up the majority of voters virtually everywhere, women are still significantly underrepresented in elected offices, particularly at the top. Currently, women hold the position of president or prime minister in only seven of the world’s more than 190 countries–Bangladesh, Ireland, Latvia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Panama and Switzerland–although a woman will take office as Finland’s president March 1. New Zealand was the first state to grant women the vote, in 1893, and in November elections, both contenders for prime minister were female.

In 1999, women accounted for only 13% of the members of the world’s 179 legislatures–barely more than the 11% of two decades ago, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a Geneva-based organization of parliaments. Civil society not only provides a fast track for women searching for different routes to power; it can also transform politics by holding government accountable between elections. Operating from three small rooms in the back of the National History Museum in the Mongolian capital, Women for Social Progress has set up a television link to monitor the parliament’s activities, prompting Ratnaa Burmaa, the energetic executive director, to dub the movement "the CSPAN of Mongolia." It demanded the release of state telephone numbers, which had been classified secrets, and published them in a Citizen’s Guide to Government. It pressured three presidential candidates into the country’s first public debate in 1997. It is currently working on campaign finance reform.

"Women are also adding a sense of morality, putting big issues like corruption on the table. Only women can do that with credibility because we’re seen as not corrupt," said Sanjaasurengin Oyun, a female member of parliament with a doctorate in geology and a black belt in karate. For its efforts, Women for Social Progress was one of 50 organizations worldwide that in 1998 received the Democracy and Civil Society Award from the United States and the European Union to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. The group’s success is also the reason that 30% of its trainers and 6,000 volunteers are male.

There is no reliable estimate of the number of women worldwide who are pursuing empowerment by participating in citizens groups. But the pattern is reflected in participation in three women’s conferences sponsored by the United Nations. The 1975 summit in Mexico City attracted about 1,000 women. The 1985 Nairobi, Kenya, conference brought together 10,000. By 1995, 50,000 women assembled in Beijing. Experts contend that citizens groups have brought millions of women into the system over the past decade, many from grass-roots sectors never before involved in politics.

In Mexico, women’s activism did not make serious gains until a movement known as Diversa was launched in 1996, challenging the mainstream political culture. "Diversa is forcing the public to debate and embrace issues that wouldn’t otherwise be on the agenda–on indigenous people and minorities, the environment, women’s rights, gay rights," said Rachel Kyte, a Washington-based activist who trains women in Latin America and Asia. "But most of all, Diversa is proving that you can’t build a modern state without including women."

In South Africa, several women’s organizations assembled an alternative "women’s budget" in 1995 that assessed state spending on females; assigned monetary values to housework, care-giving and mothering; and calculated the cost of gender discrimination. The results were so startling that the government began its own gender analysis a year later. The "women’s budget" has since been widely discussed at the United Nations, and several countries, from tiny Barbados to giant India, now have similar projects.

Some female activists are mobilizing over emotional issues. In Russia, the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee was one of the first independent groups formed in 1989, as the Soviet Union was disintegrating and Moscow withdrew from a bloody decade in Afghanistan. During the 1994-96 war in the southern republic of Chechnya, the mothers exposed the use of raw recruits as cannon fodder. Some even went to the battlefront to reclaim sons from Russian commanders or negotiate their release by Chechen captors. Almost single-handedly, the committee transformed public opinion against the conflict. It was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and has since become the largest citizens group in Russia. In November, committee chief Natalya Zhukova won the release of 650 conscripts from the latest Chechen war.

In Japan, the Kanagawa Network Movement was founded by housewives in the mid-1980s as a consumer cooperative. It first lobbied local governments to ban the use of synthetic detergents in favor of natural soaps. When the network failed to convince city councils, the housewives formed a grass-roots political party to field candidates for office. Since then, 39 of its members, both men and women, have been elected to local councils, where they push for clean air, safer foods, campaign finance reform and decentralization of power. Women’s Participation Seen as Democratic Key

The new tapestry of civil society transcends borders. In 1997, the world’s legislatures issued a declaration saying that "the achievement of democracy presupposes a genuine partnership between men and women in the conduct of the affairs of society." " No one, 20 years ago, would have dared define women’s political participation as one of the keys to democracy. Now it’s a cornerstone," said Christine Pintat, assistant secretary-general of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Women’s forums have spun off from two trade blocs–the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group and South America’s Mercosur–to increase the presence of females at the economic negotiating table. To ensure that gender equality is mandatory in crafting a united Europe, the European Women’s Lobby–more than 2,700 groups from 15 countries–has launched a Talent Bank to promote female experts, created a regional database on gender issues and devised strategies to better integrate minorities and migrants in Europe.

And across Asia, women are turning to one of the region’s poorest countries, where per capita income is less than $400 a year, for ideas. From industrialized Japan to the former Soviet Central Asian republics, Mongolian women are coaching their counterparts to mobilize females, identify candidates and raise campaign funds. They’ve even visited isolated North Korea. Said Burmaa of Women for Social Progress: "We take credit for making this democratically elected government behave democratically."

December 20, 2002 – The Economist

As Mongolia shows, nomadic pastoralism and private land just don’t mix
(Not a gay story but relevant to Mongolian life)

It is what is underfoot that counts.

Very roughly, between the Ural mountains in the west and the Amur river on the Sino-Russian border, and between the latitudes of Lake Baikal in the north and the Chang Tang plateau of Tibet to the south, lies a land too arid usually for forest or even field. Some of it is mountain and much is desert, but most of it is steppe: the vast grasslands of Inner Asia.

The foot or so of soil below the steppe’s deceptive surface holds tens of thousands of years’ worth of fertility, the product of grasses’ ability to turn to biomass the energy of the fierce but brief summer’s sun. Squirrel-tail barley, needlegrass, a clutch of fescues, Tatary buckwheat, plains lovegrass and wild oats: the rooting networks of these grasses seek out and trap moisture and nutrients. Dead roots are broken down and added to the store of humus. Above ground, some grasses of the steppe, like needlegrass, are sod-forming: they put out surface runners that trap moisture and smother bare ground. Forbs–the non-grasses such as herbs and wildflowers–bring up nutrients from deeper down, or, if they are leguminous, fix in the soil essential nitrogen from the air.

An ungrazed summer pasture is no monotony: it is a riot of rippling grasses and flowering gentian, cinquefoil, yellow-rattle, motherwort and Syrian rue. In his history of grass, Graham Harvey describes the prairie, America’s equivalent of the Asian steppe, before settlers waged war on it by overgrazing or ploughing it up: it was a "biological powerhouse, rich in wildlife and with a productivity no modern farming system could match." Inner Asia’s steppes may never have boasted the 60m bison that white settlers on the prairies estimated there to be in the 1860s, quickly slaughtered to near-extinction. But rock-carved reliefs 11,000 feet (3,350 metres) up on one mountain pass in the Altai mountains, near to the modern Mongolian border with Russia and China, depict a presumably Turkic race following great herds of wild animals on their migration–gazelles, argalli sheep, reindeer, wild horses–much as American-Indians followed the bison.

Until as recently as the 1960s, Inner Mongolia, by then part of the People’s Republic of China, still had the huge herds of gazelle and wild ass that so astounded European explorers-cum-hunters at the end of the 19th century. Even today, the rolling empty eastern steppe of Mongolia proper looks like the prairie ocean must have done when it caused American settlers, heading west in their prairie schooners, to gasp and wonder about carrying on. The range of gazelle has shrunk greatly in recent decades, but in this part of the country 1.5m of them still graze, in migratory herds that run right round the horizon.

Such is the biological powerhouse of the steppe. It is a powerhouse that humans have long tapped by raising livestock; indeed, it is on the steppe that the sheep, the goat, the camel and the horse were all first domesticated. The rest of the world soon got to hear about the horse-bound nomads’ success at domestication, particularly after the invention of the compound bow made of horn, and of the stirrup, which allowed the mounted nomadic warrior to fire behind him and then escape–the deadly Parthian shot. Huns originating from modern-day Mongolia struck fear into the fifth-century Roman Empire.

From the 13th century, the Mongols founded dynasties in China, Persia and India. Stirrings on the steppe sent ripples around the globe. Edward Gibbon, in his "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", writes that: Genghis Khan’s homeland is in modern-day Mongolia, a country the size of France and Spain combined that sits at the heart of Inner Asia, with perhaps the world’s finest and most extensive remaining grasslands. Its pastoralists no longer strike fear near and far, but their household techniques for raising livestock would, in their essentials, be recognisable to a Mongol from the great conqueror’s time. Pastoral nomads in Mongolia still use a felt tent with wooden frame, a GER, which keeps out the heat in summer and protects from the cold in winter–Mongolia’s continental climate has the world’s greatest extremes of temperature.

A GER is perfectly round not only to create the greatest space out of the least material, but also to stand up to the fierce katabatic winds, which whistle round it rather than topple it over. The social divisions of the GER–left as you enter for the guests, opposite the door for the family head, right for the rest of the family–are unchanged, and so are the divisions of labour. Men are responsible for the raising of livestock: their herding, castration and slaughter, and (a job that the younger men relish) the breaking-in of horses. Women oversee the household, the raising of children, the milking and the making of dairy products: yogurt, butter, hard cheese, milk-vodka and the noble AIRAG, fermented mare’s milk. The 27m livestock in Mongolia–the cow has been added to the mix, with yaks on higher pastures–outnumber the population tenfold. Nomadic pastoralists care for the bulk of these animals.

Indeed, nowhere is the economy so tied to nomadic pastoralism as in Mongolia. And never have so many Mongolians–a third of the population, nearly double the number a decade ago–practised it as today. It is tempting to regard nomads as the medieval Europeans and Chinese did: fierce, free and independent of a constraining, higher authority. Such an impression is reinforced by the sight of any Mongolian herder at sunset galloping back to his camp, in full song; by the Mongolian marriage ceremony, which is a ritualised form of abduction; or by the sight of two young lovers’ horses by a cave or concealing rock, the man’s URGAA (his pole-lassoo) stuck in the ground to demand privacy but presumably also to boast of sexual conquest. Mongolia’s political history certainly seems to support a romantic notion of their independence.

Mongolia owes its political existence to a struggle by a pastoral society against the encroachments of an agrarian one, as David Sneath, a pastoral specialist at Cambridge University, points out. In the late 19th century, pastoralists in Inner Mongolia failed to stop the appropriation of the best land by Chinese agriculturalists; that failure prompted an armed struggle–led by many who had fled from Inner Mongolia–for the independence of Outer Mongolia. After over two centuries of subjugation by China’s Manchu rulers, and the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, Outer Mongolia declared independence. A revolutionary Communist state, the second ever, was created in 1924, under Soviet tutelage; it set about the destruction of feudal and monastic seats of power.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago, Mongolians embraced liberal democracy with gusto (albeit declaring the illiberal Genghis Khan as their refound hero). The Russians, whose stooges instigated genocidal purges in Mongolia of Buddhist lamas, intellectuals and rich herders in the 1930s, have largely been forgiven; the distrust of Chinese intentions remains as visceral as ever.

Today, the state and its citizens, even townspeople, still identify with nomadism and the horse. Witness the minister and the ambassador who, besuited, jumped up on horseback for a gallop after lunch with this correspondent just outside the capital, Ulan Bator, before heading back to the office. The official Mongolian tourism website , which lists ten reasons for visiting the country, says it all. Reason number six is "No fences". You can still ride the 3,000 kilometres (1,900 miles) from west to east without encountering a single man-made impediment.

Mongolia is a strange thing: a free-market economy with public ownership of land. But how long can the two continue to co-exist?

The Call Of The Wild
To understand how land ownership touches nomadic life, however, it is important to unpack the exaggerated notion of the nomads’ freedom from higher authority. For pastoralism has always depended upon a political authority to regulate access to pastures. As William of Rubreck, a 13th-century Franciscan monk, put it: Under the Manchus, Mongolia was split into 83 districts called HOSHUU, (meaning banner), within which herdsmen were assigned to smaller units, SUM (arrow), and sub-units, BAG. As Mr Sneath says: It was not such a great leap from the Manchu system to the pastoral collectives under socialism, called NEGDEL, that were set up in the late 1940s and 1950s.

In feudal days, most herders looked after animals belonging either to aristocratic or to monastic masters, while raising livestock for private consumption. Under collectivisation, the state was the master; a number of private livestock were still allowed. The shift from collectivisation to a market economy, Mr Sneath argues, was in many ways a far more wrenching change, one that undermined or destroyed institutions that had long sustained nomadic pastoralism, particularly ones that spread risk and reaped economies of scale. With democracy, the 300-odd NEGDEL were, at their members’ insistence, disbanded and turned into marketing companies. Herds were privatised and the two-dozen huge state farms dissolved. Prices were freed.

The western development specialists who flooded in predicted that market signals would allocate resources more efficiently, allowing dynamic enterprise–including in pastoralism–to break free from moribund old structures. It did not happen that way. Real income per head in Mongolia fell by half between 1990 and 1992, according to the World Bank, and by another third the next year. By 1998, a third of Mongolians were living below the poverty line, compared with none, at least officially, in socialist days.

In part, the decline was down to the collapse of trade with the Soviet block: new trade with China filled only part of the hole. It was also due to the loss of Soviet aid, which supplied perhaps a third of GDP. Western donors made up much of the aid gap (Mongolians get among the highest number of aid dollars per head in the world), but to dismayingly small effect. In the pastoral sector, the services that the NEGDEL provided for herders under socialism–the regulation of access to pastures, the upkeep of wells for watering animals, the provision of winter hay, a collective truck for transport to fresh seasonal pastures, and much more–collapsed, and little replaced them. Herding became more atomised. People increasingly took up subsistence herding to escape joblessness in the towns.

Traditional rights of use to certain pastures were eroded, as Robin Mearns of the World Bank puts it, by a spirit of free-for-all. Without decent transport on Mongolia’s roadless steppe, a ready market for livestock and processed goods was no longer assured, particularly for remote herders. The result was great hardship.

The herders’ response was to fall back on small, uneconomic networks of family or friends, to breed ever more animals with less regard to their quality (numbers rose to a record 34m in 1999), and to move closer to towns. This concentration has caused pastures near to the towns to be overgrazed, and more distant ones to be under-used.

There is a desperate need, says Mr Mearns, to restore mobility. Between the summer of 1999 and early 2002, an unprecedented series of meteorological disasters took place: great swathes of Mongolia were hit by drought, and by different types of ZUD, winter phenomena that prevent animals feeding either because of ice crusts or heavy snow.

Some 7m animals died, wiping out many families’ entire herds and so their livelihood. Under collectivisation, with fewer beasts, greater mobility and the state delivery of supplementary feed, such a disaster would not have happened.

The pastoral disappointments of the 1990s have led to a couple of alarming responses.

The first is to dismiss pastoralism as a backward pursuit, an embarrassment to notions of modernisation rather than a proven response to a harsh environment. The governor of Dornod, the easternmost province, says that herders "get in the way" of his ambitious plans for resource extraction. These include not just mining, but also inviting Chinese agriculturalists to farm great swathes of steppe.

The second response, more sympathetic to herding but as disturbing in its potential consequences, is promoted by, among others, the Asian Development Bank. This argues that market reforms in pastoralism cannot work without the private ownership of land. Who can argue with that? Without ownership, herders have no incentive to protect land from degradation and to invest in land improvements. The theory of the tragedy of the commons is well-known: it is in the interests of any individual to add to his stock of animals on common land, even if that leads to further degradation.

Enter The Free-Market Fundamentalist
Already, a 1995 land law, only recently being implemented, allows herders to apply for the rights to use certain winter shelters. Many interpret this as entailing the rights to winter pastures around those shelters too. Rich herders have rushed to stake their claims, leaving poorer ones at a loss.

A new land law, passed in mid-2002, sensibly gives Mongolians the right to own urban plots of land. But many see such ownership eventually being applied to pastures, and are laying claim now to the best ones. "Traditional unwritten law is not working any more," says Batbuyan, a specialist in pastoralism at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. "Younger herders don’t really know the traditions.

They want things written down." Yet privatisation, say pastoral experts (though not most economists), would be a disaster, undermining centuries of institutional best practice. Inner Mongolia offers a cautionary tale. From the 1980s, pasture was, in effect, privatised through contracting-out. One justification was the threat of a tragedy of the commons. Fencing has gone up to delineate the private land.

As a result, Inner Mongolia and Mongolia are distinguishable from the air: up to 40% of Inner Mongolia’s steppe is reckoned to be degraded; less than 10% is in Mongolia. Pastoral households, or even small groups of connected households, called KHOTAIL, form too small a unit to cope with the unpredictable weather and pasture conditions that characterise nomadic life. Proper mobility (sometimes the ability to move over 100 kilometres to a new pasture), and flexible access, are crucial to avoiding livestock losses and ensuring healthy herds.

Private herds might one day gain the scale of former collective or feudal herds, but that is a long way off. Of some 275,000 households that own livestock, fewer than 1,000 have more than 1,000 animals. In the meantime, ways need to be found to make herding more co-operative. One priority is to improve access. Outside Choibalsan, Dornod’s capital, one herder, Ovgii, said he moved a year ago from the better pastures around Sumber, 300 kilometres to the east, because he can get more for his livestock: 40,000 tugrugs ($39) for a cow in Choibalsan, compared with 26,000 tugrugs in Sumber.

Improved roads would lessen the discrepancy, and encourage more of the private co-operatives that are only now starting to take off, with groups of herders pooling resources for marketing and transport. Better roads would also improve distant herders’ terms of trade, by lowering the price of flour, tea and Chinese consumer goods. Already, better information about market prices of produce such as cashmere, broadcast by radio, improves herders’ bargaining power when traders come to buy wool.

Meanwhile, says the World Bank’s Mr Mearns, herders need to share better the risks that collectives used to bear. Partly, this involves organising fodder provision, water supplies and pasture management. It also means spreading financial risk. One idea being developed with World Bank support is livestock insurance, with pay-outs calculated from data on a district’s livestock mortality, weather and (using satellite imagery) vegetation growth. If growth failed, pay-outs to herders would be based on their livestock holdings.

Gankhuayg, a young former SOUM governor from Khentii province, argues for sweeping administrative changes, reshaping the artificial boundaries of the 300 SOUM set up under socialism, or even doing away with many of them; in effect, recreating HOSHUU, the banners of old. That, advocates say, would better reflect the way herding is more intensive nearer the towns. It would also allow for more traditional roaming in remoter areas, including reciprocal access, for something approaching the large herds of former times. "The people who remain in those remote places," says a Mongolian specialist in pastoralism, "will be Mongolia’s toughest."

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January 2004 – The Economist

Bridge to Nowhere- a First. A bridge in the middle of nowhere has become a symbol of bad development.

It may lack the fame of Africa’s Serengeti, but Mongolia’s Eastern Steppe, the size of Oregon or Britain, is the biggest intact grazing ecosystem left on earth, a stunning prairie ocean. It is also, as George Schaller, a zoologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, points out, home to Asia’s last great spectacle of migrating hoofed animals. Over a million Mongolian gazelles roam across this steppe, and the sight of these vast herds on their annual migrations is every bit as breathtaking as that of the Serengeti’s wildebeest.

Now, plans for development, of a kind, are throwing the Eastern Steppe’s uniqueness into doubt. A host of minerals is thought to lie beneath the steppe: coal, zinc, uranium, oil and even gold. No one knows how much, but neighbouring China has an ever-growing appetite for minerals of all kinds. A mining frenzy that has already gripped the rest of the country–American, Canadian and Australian mining companies are attracted by potentially big deposits and favourable investment laws–is starting to threaten Mongolia’s virgin east. This month, and for the third time, the cabinet of the ruling ex-communist party submitted proposals to parliament to degazette 3.1m hectares of national park, some of it in the Eastern Steppe, so that mining exploration could begin there. After lobbying by local environmentalists, parliament batted the cabinet’s proposals down.

But with an election coming this summer, an opaque government, and deep-pocketed mining companies keen to get going, the proposals are sure to return. Mining interests, and the Chinese, are also putting pressure upon the Mongolian government for a road and railway to cut eastwards through the steppe. Plans for this were first aired in 2002 by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as part of a regional development strategy. Now, a growing number of ADB staff have reservations. For a start, the government’s transport policy, in particular its proposed "Millennium Road" that will span the country from west to east (and of which the steppe road would form the easternmost spur), looks to have come straight out of a Soviet planner’s briefcase. It promises to be prohibitively expensive at a time when the government lacks the money to keep even the existing few roads under good repair.

Drawn as a nearly straight line, the proposed road seems to be trying its best to avoid connecting communities who would be better served by upgrading existing tracks. Choibalsan, the only city of any size on the Eastern Steppe, is, oddly, given a wide berth, despite its size and its proximity to existing border crossings to China. On the other hand, the eastern spur, as proposed, would run smack into the migrating gazelles. The World Bank and the ADB are adamant, at least in private, that they will not contribute towards such a surreal scheme. Undeterred, the government plans first to build an isolated bridge at the hypothetical road’s hypothetical end: across the Nomrog river that forms Mongolia’s eastern border with China.

This proposed bridge has fast become a lightning-rod for discontent among environmentalists in Ulan Bator and locals in the country’s easternmost province, Dornod. Not bad for a piffling structure 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the nearest Mongolian settlement, that of a nomadic herding family, and over 100km from Sumber, the nearest village. This is where the absurdities multiply, for the bridge is claimed by its boosters in the Mongolian and Chinese governments to be about to set the local economy on fire. When the bridge, which the Chinese are paying for, reaches the Mongolian bank barely a track awaits it.

Meanwhile, traders and local officials in dirt-poor Sumber say they are furious at the new plans. Two years ago, the prime minister, Nambaryn Enkhbayar, promised to improve the road and the bridge at their existing border crossing: but they fear that if the new one goes ahead, theirs will be closed. In addition, planners want to put the new bridge through the top of a supposedly-protected national park. The Nomrog park, where the Eastern Steppe ends, is a remarkable place of birch forests, river-willows, the rare Eurasian otter and the Urassian moose.

The busiest users of a bridge are likely to be Chinese poachers. So there is embarrassment at the ADB for putting its name to so flawed an idea. At least, staffers say, the American development consultants commissioned by the ADB to look into the plans made it clear that the prospects for commercial traffic did not justify a bridge. Yet the consultants greatly overplayed the potential for eco-tourism from China. That is "a complete fantasy", says a senior staff member.

There are red faces, too, at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It is intent on helping to create a free-trade region around the Tumen river, spanning China, Russia and North Korea. As a means of tying Mongolia into such a scheme–wildly optimistic though it might be–the Tumen secretariat in Beijing happily endorsed the Nomrog bridge and plans for all sorts of associated "growth triangles", "transport corridors" and the like. Within Mongolia itself, though, the UNDP’s biggest project is none other than conserving the unique biodiversity of the Eastern Steppe.

See this article with graphics and related items at

May 21, 2005 – The Associated Press

Many in Mongolia Nostalgic for Communism

Gachuurt, Mongolia – For most of her 53 years, she has lived as a nomadic herder under Mongolia’s wide blue skies, raising nine children, surviving snowstorms and drought, and hauling the family’s white felt tent to a new site each season in search of grass for their sheep. But never did Tsahiriin Daariimaa think life would be as hard as it is now, on the eve of Sunday’s presidential elections. With the end of communism in Mongolia 15 years ago, Daariimaa said she and her husband are no longer guaranteed monthly wages from a government farm, but must sell their wool in a market of fluctuating prices and nervy Chinese traders. Under communism, ”everyone worked for the collective farm,” Daariimaa said. Today, none of her children has a steady job.
”Communism was much better,” she said.

Nostalgia for the old ways might stun the founders of democratic Mongolia, who defied police and took to the streets in 1990 to bring down one-party rule. But polls indicate that on Sunday, many Mongolians plan to vote for the candidate of their former communist rulers — the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party. The MPRP says it is committed to democracy. Its candidate, Nambariin Enkbayar, leads a four-way race in this impoverished country of 2.5 million people wedged between Russia and China.

Free-market economics has brought poverty, Daariimaa said, as she served bowls of milk tea and yogurt in her tidy ger, a traditional round tent with wooden poles painted orange to symbolize the sun. Her husband, Sharaviin Baatar, nodded in agreement. ”We are loyal friends of the MPRP,” he said. That talk infuriates Sambuu Ganbaator, a member of the Democratic Party, who was building himself a simple Russian-style dacha, or summer house, just over the next hill. ”Too many people forget what the MPRP did to Mongolia,” he said. ”They kept Mongolia under a brutal dictatorship. You weren’t allowed to speak your mind.” Now, he said, ”you can say anything you want to say and do what you want to live a happy life.”

Ganbaator, a retired driller for a geology company, said he supports the Democratic Party’s Mendsaikhanin Enkhsaikhan for president. ”He was one of the founding members of democracy. He crushed communism,” Ganbaator said. ”To vote for the Democratic Party is to vote for more democracy.” But few of his neighbors have much affection for the Democrats. To them, rule by a coalition of anti-communist parties in 1996-2000 was chaotic, with a new prime minister nearly every year. As the coalition splintered under the weight of personal rivalries, the MPRP roared back to power in the parliamentary vote of 2000. The current president came from the MPRP. ”I will support the MPRP,” said Tseveenjav, a 70-year-old herder who uses one name. ”They always do the right thing.”

Wearing a traditional Mongolian felt hat and heavy boots, he sat atop his horse and watched over 500 sheep with help from his faithful dogs, Falcon and Tiger. A dead marmot hung from his saddle. While city dwellers say their main concerns are poverty and corruption, Tseveenjav’s worries were more pastoral. ”I would say my main concern is that I hope in the summer there will be good grassy areas, so my sheep will become fat enough to survive the winter,” he said.

Tseveenjav has little interest in government, but under communism he picked up the habit of always voting — for the MPRP. Myatav Choijav, also on horseback, greeted foreign visitors by shouting cheerfully in Russian: ”Hello!” and ”Mongolia is great!”
He, too, supports the MPRP. ”Everyone was equal under communist rule,” Choijav said. ”Now, some people are very rich and some are very poor.” When the country was under Russia’s influence, all schoolchildren learned Russian, and Soviet aid made up as much as one-third of Mongolia’s gross domestic product. That aid disappeared overnight with the Soviet Union’s collapse, and Mongolians miss it. ”In the old times, the government took better care of us ordinary people,” Choijav said. ”Now, the government is very far away from us, especially if you live in the countryside and take care of sheep.”

October 24, 2006 – Wall Street Journal

To Stop Dust Bowl, Mongolia Builds ‘Great Wall’ of Trees
(non-gay background story)
Planting Project Aims To Quell Gobi Sandstorms; Critics Cite Threat From Salt

by Patrick Barta
Dalanzadgad, Mongolia – The great Gobi Desert has camels with two humps, a rare breed of desert bear, and some of Asia’s last remaining nomads. One thing it doesn’t have is shade. Batchuluun Doorov is trying to change that. Each morning, he travels by motorcycle to a remote desert outpost, rouses his assistants, and begins watering thousands of scraggly trees rising up from the sand. Workers planted the trees months ago, and now they form a thin green line across the horizon in one of the most barren places on earth. "In the future, when this becomes like a forest, I will be proud," Mr. Batchuluun said one recent morning as he ambled between saplings and fished a cigarette from his pocket. Dry winds howled around him. A few hundred yards away, bleached bones baked in the sun.

More than 2,000 years ago, China began to build the Great Wall. Today, Mongolia is building its own seemingly implausible version: a zigzagging line of pines, willows, oleasters, junipers, hawthorns, aspens and other trees it hopes will someday stretch more than 2,000 miles across the desert. The so-called "Green Wall" is expected to take 30 years to complete and cost some $150 million or more.Batchuluun Doorov, a former economist who lives in Dalanzadgad, supervises a team of tree-waterers 45 minutes from town near a camp called Juulchin Gobi. The wall is necessary, Mongolia says, to protect itself and the wider world from an increasingly serious problem: Gobi dust, kicked up by Central Asian storms strong enough to rip the paint off Mongolian cars and then carried eastward across Asia and beyond. Dust storms from the Gobi, which spans southern Mongolia and northern China and is almost twice the size of Texas, have darkened the skies of China and Korea in recent years, closing airports and triggering widespread respiratory illnesses. A whirlwind this spring dumped an estimated 300,000 tons of sand and grit on Beijing, burying cars, houses and trees in a thick layer of sand.

According to Chinese records, big sandstorms reached Beijing only once or twice every seven years in the 1950s, and only every two or three years in the 1970s. Now they are an annual problem, with many arriving from beyond Chinese borders. While the storms usually happen in spring, many in China worry the Gobi gusts could cake the 2008 Beijing summer Olympics in sand, eclipsing the nation’s moment in the global sun. Gobi storms have even made their way to the U.S., where weather officials blame Mongolian soil for dust storms up and down the West Coast, including one that clouded Utah skies in 2001. Scientists have found traces of the Gobi as far away as Kansas. The amount of Mongolia’s land that is suffering from desertification — land that either has no vegetation at all or is slowly losing it — could be as much as 50,000 square miles, an area the size of New York state, according to a leading Mongolian environmental group called Sain Uils, which means "good will" in Mongolian. Mongolia’s Ministry of Nature and Environment says 683 rivers have dried up in recent years due to encroaching desert. Mongolia’s government and scientists say global warming is partly to blame. Average temperatures in Mongolia have climbed nearly 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1940s, according to the Ministry of Nature and Environment. At the same time, it says there is about 10% less rainfall in the Gobi itself now versus the 1940s — fewer than three inches a year in parts of the desert.

Changes in human behavior are also playing a role. Herdsmen have added more goats to their herds in recent years to boost production of cashmere, a valuable commodity in Mongolia’s landlocked economy. Unfortunately, the omnivorous goats do more damage to the soil than other livestock because they eat plant roots, too, contributing to desertification. The question is whether planting thousands of saplings can actually help keep the soil in place. Some countries have done it successfully. In the U.S., for instance, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration planted "shelter belts" of trees to block wind as part of its successful effort to rehabilitate the American Dust Bowl in the 1930s. But those efforts included other programs to boost their effectiveness, such as money for farmers who agreed to change their behavior to promote soil conservation. In the case of Mongolia, many international experts think officials are taking the wrong approach, in part because the country doesn’t have enough money to ensure a broad-based solution. It’s not an easy problem to solve. Not much grows in the Gobi, which unlike the sandy dunes of the Sahara is mostly a barren expanse of gravellike plains, mountains and valleys. Winter temperatures can drop to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by highs above 110 degrees in the summer.

Another problem is that the Gobi has fewer than three people per square mile. That means there aren’t many folks around to care for the trees, including protecting them from wandering nomads who might topple them for fuel — or for fun. It also means watching out for other threats to saplings like rabbits and cows. " I can think of a million reasons why there is just no reason this is going to work," says Jayne Belnap, a research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Utah, who has studied Mongolian soil extensively. "If you talk to any scientist, they will start laughing."

Difficult Changes
Ms. Belnap and others think Mongolia should focus on reducing the number of animals in nomads’ herds. But doing so could require difficult social changes in Mongolia, where some 40% of the country’s 2.8 million residents work in rural endeavors such as herding. For much of the 20th century, Mongolia was a communist state supported by the Soviet Union, which propped up the local economy. Central planners regulated the size of herds, which helped to prevent overgrazing. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, so did Mongolia’s economy, forcing many urban residents to flee to the countryside as herders. The result: too many animals. Many of the animals stayed thin and unproductive, which in turn encouraged herders to add more. Today, Mongolia has as many as 30 million head of livestock — more than 10 times its human population. The introduction of more goats for cashmere only added to the problem.

Foreign agricultural experts urge Mongolia to promote deeper changes, including adopting feedlot practices now common in the U.S. and other nations. The U.S. once had similarly wide-open spaces where animals roamed across big stretches of land, but those animals were eventually cordoned off into fattening lots and corporate farms. That process used less land and boosted productivity. Doing that, though, could ultimately mean the end of the road for many of Mongolia’s nomads. Much of the country’s rural population lives in small family units that have their own herds and move around in search of forage. The nomadic herder culture is critical to Mongolia’s identity, much like the cowboy once was to the American West. Mongolian officials are plowing ahead with tree-planting instead. The Green Wall project allows them to respond to foreign governments and local constituents clamoring for action on the dust problem. Mongolian officials also hope the idea will help attract money from foreign donors, and create jobs in rural areas caring for the trees.

Mongolia has declared the project a national priority and obtained support from a handful of sources, including Rotary Club chapters in Mongolia and South Korea. The government and volunteers together have planted more than 360,000 trees at various sites over the past two years, with the Rotary Club running some of its own tree-planting operations. Some volunteers sing Rotary Club songs as they work. But many foreign donors, including the United Nations, declined to contribute because they doubt the project’s efficacy. Avirmed Auyrzana, head of the Green Wall National Program at the Ministry of Nature and Environment, acknowledges that between 20% and 50% of the newly planted Gobi trees die and that the project is underfunded. He has just five employees and works from a 10-foot-wide cubbyhole in an old Soviet-style office block overlooking a parking lot in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar. " If people do not have any agricultural experience, of course they will be skeptical," he says. But he adds that he is certain the project will work. Down in the Gobi, enthusiasm runs high. This is especially true in Dalanzadgad, a desolate town of 15,000 people a few hours north of the Chinese border. Dalanzadgad could use some green. Wild dogs roam in packs, and dust regularly blows across city streets. A massive trash dump sits outside of town — a repository for everything from old tires to the discarded rib cages of livestock. And then the Gobi takes over, spreading out in all directions.

Rotary Club officials in Mongolia hired a 38-year-old former Mongolian stockbroker named Jambaldagva Yondonjunai to monitor their operations on the ground. Mr. Jambaldagva patrols town in a gray Russian van emblazoned with the words, "Keep Mongolia Green." During a recent visit, he complained of stomach pains from eating bad marmot, a groundhoglike creature common in these parts. " When I drive by, all the people recognize me," he said. "People say, you’re doing a good thing — you’re doing something for the motherland." Part of Mr. Jambaldagva’s job involves driving across the rocky landscape to visit the trees and crews who water and watch over them. After three years, the saplings should be strong enough to survive on their own, project supporters say. Sometimes the trees don’t make it. At Moltsog Els, a collection of golden dunes an hour or so from Dalanzadgad, workers trucked in hundreds of stones to pin down the sand and then planted trees between the rocks. Then a freak desert rainstorm struck, uprooting or drowning the trees. Now, stones lie scattered across the dunes with brown twigs poking upward from the sand. Other sites are considered a huge success, like one near Bulgan, a town two hours west of Dalanzadgad. Workers planted several thousand trees there, and about 90% have survived.

It has taken a lot of work. A half-dozen locals, including two watchmen, must water the trees daily with a hose fed by an underground aquifer. " Sometimes it’s hard holding the hoses," says 33-year-old Iderzaya Orgoi, a former nomad who gave away her herd to look for other kinds of work, and landed a job caring for the trees. Still, "I’m very sure" the project will work, she says.

Another Hurdle

Ms. Belnap, the U.S.-based soil expert, says she doesn’t doubt the trees will grow for a while, and that some of the trees may thrive. But she sees another potential hurdle: salt. Many of Mongolia’s underground water sources contain water that’s high in salinity, she says. As that water is tapped to nurse trees, it will accumulate in the soil and eventually poison the same trees it sustains. Work is proceeding anyway, with a variety of additional tree-planting schemes sprouting around the area. In Dalanzadgad, one local woman enthusiastically reports that the government has offered to pay her the local equivalent of $2.57 a tree if she nurses 10 of them to maturity over three years. Then there’s the patch of green headed up by Mr. Batchuluun, near a place called Juulchin Gobi, a tourist tent camp some 40 minutes overland from Dalanzadgad. Workers planted saplings for a stretch of two miles or longer. Using nearby wells and irrigation channels, Mr. Batchuluun and his team walked up and down the rows daily during the summer, watering each tree at least two times a week. Standing shirtless with a safari hat on his head on a recent day, Mr. Batchuluun said that about 80% of his trees have lived. Some are so tall, he added, that he sometimes can’t see other workers when they wander out into the foliage. While a few miles of trees isn’t much in the vast desert, Mr. Batchuluun thinks enough trees will flourish to make a difference. " The children will be very proud," he said. "They [will] look back and think: This was the beginning of everything."

–Jargal Byambasuren in Ulaanbaatar contributed to this article.
Write to Patrick Barta at

July 6, 2008 – The New York Times

No Quick End to Mongolia Political Turmoil In Sight

Ulan Bator (Reuters) – Private television was back on the air, alcohol on sale and restaurants open after the end of Mongolia’s emergency rule, but a week after a disputed election the country’s political problems were still far from resolved. Prime Minister Sanjaagiin Bayar urged citizens to avoid a repeat of last week’s riot, which was sparked by allegations of election fraud. That violence left the headquarters of Bayar’s Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) in flames and brought four days of emergency rule. "This is not easy. The dust has not settled after the election and people are still upset," Bayar said in an address on state television. "The parties are determined to solve the issues in a peaceful way and according to law," he said.

Preliminary results show the MPRP took a clear majority in the parliament, or Great Hural, but the opposition Democratic Party and several smaller parties dispute the outcome and are demanding recounts and possible fresh elections in some districts. The political uncertainty will delay formation of a government that would be tasked with passing agreements to allow Mongolia’s vast mining wealth to finally be exploited and tackling inflation running in the double-digits. The past week has been a test for the young Central Asian democracy which shook off Soviet influence in 1990 and whose residents were shocked by the rioting last Tuesday that left five dead and troops in the streets to enforce the state of emergency. "I followed the events through television broadcasts. Especially for our image abroad, this is very damaging," said Ulan Bator resident Hosbayar, out with his daughter for a stroll. "It’s a very uncomfortable feeling."

Some 200 people remained in detention in connection with the riot, though another 500 have been released. Responding to criticism in local newspapers, Bayar said those detained would have access to lawyers and human rights groups. Private television was once again on the air after a four-day ban, and in the streets of Ulan Bator, the only urban hub in the country of windswept grasslands populated by nomadic herders, life carried on as usual. But there was no early end in sight to the uncertainty that will be closely followed by foreign investors, including Ivanhoe Mines and Rio Tinto who are keen to sign a production deal and move forward with a massive Gobi desert copper and gold project.

Bayar said it was too early to discuss the formation of a new cabinet until Mongolia’s election commission announces a final result in the vote, a move that could come by Monday. He also said his party was not opposed to new elections in some areas if the election commission deemed it necessary. Residents were divided on what new elections, after the initial vote that international observers said was largely free and fair, might mean. "I don’t think it’s useful. People sympathize with the MPRP now that their building was burnt. That would mean they’d get more votes," said Hosbayar.

But others said action was necessary. "The MPRP has stolen votes," said Tuyaa, 50, a teacher. "To correct the situation we need new elections or at least a recount in some places."

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

December 04, 2008. –

Mr. Beauty’ Revealed: A Glimpse Into Mongolian Gay Life

by Brandt Miller
On November 15, an intentionally hidden and exclusive party was held at Amazon Club, in Bayazurkh Palace. Gay men, lesbian women, bisexual and transgender individuals (LGBT), and friends of these minorities, congregated to socialize with one another and to celebrate their sexual identities. The main festivity was the annual “Mr. Beauty’ contest. With a pool of eleven male-to-female cross-dressers, judges determined who made the most beautiful woman through a sequence of swimsuit, gown, and talent competitions. ‘Mr. Beauty’ is one theme in a series of monthly parties for the LGBT community of Mongolia. The event is hosted by two organizations focusing on gay male health issues: Youth for Health and Together. There are two additional LGBT organizations in Ulaanbaatar, We are Family and Support Group, whcih attract their own participants, adding to an unnecessary rift in the already marginalized community.

Youth for Health focuses on the health and emotional well-being of gay men through educational workshops, a support hotline, live counseling, and creating a safe-haven for sexual minorities. The organization receives funding from the National AIDS Foundation, Global Fund, and Mongolian Red Cross Society, and works in close conjunction with Together, another community-based organization that provides HIV/AIDS/STD testing and counseling. The project manager of Youth for Health believes “it is difficult for gays in Mongolia because they are not accepted by the public, and so they don’t accept themselves.” The organization’s aim is to “start with the individual, to make people feel they are not alone, and to develop outreach that will educate about gay life and prevent risky behaviors.”

The organization has 544 registered members, which is not indicative of the total LGBT population of Mongolia. Though it is commonly estimated that anywhere between 2-7% of any population is non-heterosexual, it is difficult to prove this figure because sexuality is to some degree a cultural construction, and the statistic includes the majority of participants in homosexual activities who do not define themselves as such.

Ideas on varying sexual preferences have taken years to become recognized in many industrialized nations, and with globalization sweeping across the planet, the LGBT definitions have taken root all over the world. An LGBT scene therefore only exists in Ulaanbaatar, where global influence is most pervasive. According to a member of Youth for Health, “UB is filled with gossip, and everyone is connected somehow. Most gays are not open to their families, and cannot be open in the public. Many people are scared to get involved with anything that could give them away, even the monthly party.”

The party’s secret location (which changes each month and is not released until a few days before the event) and the strict security guards, were not enough to maintain LGBT privacy in the insular capital. One week after ‘Mr. Beauty’, a post on a Mongolian website revealed the existence of the party, and disclosed names of attendees. Few positive, and many negative comments were posted in response.

One reaction read: “How disgusting! They should isolate these perverts from the society. If there are 500 open homos in this small population, there might be many more. Forget about talking about them!” The post represents prejudiced attitudes toward the self-defined homosexual, but does not address gay acts, which are historically part of Mongolian monastic and prison life. These situational occurrences have been ignored because they are considered circumstances that do not result in self-definition.
Members of Youth for Health were startled by the posts, but figured the majority of Ulaanbaatar would still be unaware of the event. Two weeks after the party however, three Mongolian newspapers printed stories about ‘Mr. Beauty’, which included sensationalistic gossip, and photographs of the pageant’s competitors taken with a hidden camera.

One member commented: “It is very scary for those boys whose photographs were taken. We hope that the darkness, the poor quality of the pictures, and the wigs and dresses will make it so people can’t recognize them.” According to the leader of the organization, the articles were filled with misinformation, bigotry and stereotypes. “They said that there were 500 attendants, but there were only about 200. The language was derogatory toward gays and said that there were five or six foreigners that looked like homos having a wild time.”

Public disclosure of ‘Mr. Beauty’ creates a new hurdle, one that may prevent individuals from attending the necessary unifying event. Although names and photographs from the party may slip past Ulaanbaatar’s public radar, the reality of being ‘recognized’ and revealed is a fate that could result in verbal abuse and physical assault. Most cases of homophobic violence occur between family members.

The turbulent environment for LGBT individuals makes it difficult to be open in Mongolia, and the scarcity of open individuals is slowing the progression toward acceptance. One gay man in Ulaanbaatar said, “homosexuality is becoming more understood with young people studying abroad and all the foreign exposure. But with more visibility, there is always more violence.”

Like many nations, Mongolia is struggling with new identities that clash with traditional ideals of gender and sexuality. However, all is not lost for openly gay Mongolian individuals. As one anonymous source believes, “It will take brave people, help from outsiders, and perhaps a few generations, but things are moving in the right direction.”

December 2008 – From: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

Report on The Status of Lesbian and Bisexual Women and Transgendered Persons in Mongolia, 2008

Prepared by Anaraa Nyamdorj and Robyn Garner Representing a Coalition of Mongolian LGBT Rights Activists
There is widespread societal and institutional discrimination against, and intolerance of, lesbian and bisexual women and transgendered persons in Mongolia which is manifested in varyingforms, from ostracism and harassment to physical and sexual violence. The discrimination is endemic in the public, private and non-governmental sectors and encompasses the police andthe judiciary, health services, education, the housing sector and the media.

There is a demonstrated need to practically redefine the concept of human rights in Mongolia toensure the inclusion of the rights of sexuality minorities in light of the State-sanctioned and social marginalisation to which they are subject. Because the LBT community has been prevented from engaging in meaningful interaction withthe Government on programming and policymaking in relation to sexuality minorities as a result of the victimisation and stigmatisation they face from the State agencies, and because the LBT community has been traditionally silent and largely excluded from mainstream social discourse, the breaking down of the barriers of silence and discrimination need to be guaranteed by not only the existing broad legislations and regulations pertaining to non-discrimination, but also through the creation of new laws and legislations that ensure human rights and dignity for sexuality minorities.

In essence, reform must be geared towards the mainstreaming of sexual minorities’ human rights. The members of the Coalition of Mongolian LGBT activists believe the Government of Mongolia has acted in contravention of the spirit of CEDAW through its direct engagement in,or systematic ignoring of, exclusionary practices that deny LBT persons their enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and has failed to provide an environment that isconducive for LBT persons to fully participate in life.

Read the full report

July 9, 2009 – Human Rights Watch

Mongolia Rebuffs Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Organization

New York – The Mongolian minister of justice should overturn a state agency’s decision to deny the official registration request of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center, a national nongovernmental organization, Human Rights Watch said in a public letter today. The center cannot operate in the country without this registration.

On June 23, 2009, the agency said that it was refusing the request because the name of the center "has a meaning that conflicts with Mongolian customs and traditions and has the potential to set the wrong example for youth and adolescents." In its letter, Human Rights Watch asked the Mongolian minister of justice and home affairs to protect human rights of all persons in Mongolia and uphold the rights to freedom of association, to freedom of expression, and to equality and nondiscrimination.

July 9, 2009 – Human Rights Watch

Letter to The Minister of Justice and Home Affairs of Mongolia

Dear Minister Nyamdorj,

On behalf of Human Rights Watch I write to express concern that the State Registration General Agency of Mongolia has denied registration to the Mongolian non-governmental organization "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre." In its rejection letter of June 23, 2009 (No. 7/694), the Agency justified its decision by claiming 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 the wrong example for youth and adolescents."

The Agency’s denial of registration to this organization is a violation of international human rights law, the Mongolian Constitution and the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations.

In 1976 Mongolia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and is obliged to apply its provisions. Article 22 of the ICCPR affirms the right to freedom of association; article 19 affirms the right to freedom of opinion and expression and article 21 the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. These are rights essential to citizenship and political participation. To restrict these rights on the basis of a judgment about the names under which citizens associate and assemble, is to strike at those democratic values. While these rights may be restricted for reasons of "public morals," international human rights law also requires that any such restriction be non-discriminatory in intent and effect. Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR affirm the equality of all people, and require all the articles of the ICCPR to be applied in a non-discriminatory way. In the 1994 case Toonen v Australia, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which is charged with authoritatively interpreting the ICCPR and evaluating states’ compliance with its provisions, found that both these articles should be understood to include sexual orientation as a status protected against discrimination. The Agency has clearly discriminated on the grounds of sexual orientation by refusing registration to the Centre, for the reasons it has given.

The denial of registration on the ground that the name "Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender centre" has the potential to set the "wrong example" for youth and adolescents means that the Centre will not be able to distribute information, including information that children could use in order to learn about their own sexual orientation. The denial is in violation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Article 13 paragraph 1 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, ratified by Mongolia in 1990, states that a child shall have the right to freedom of expression; "this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information of ideas of all kinds". The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has held in general comments 3 and 4 of the Convention that these protections include discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Furthermore, article 14, paragraph 2 of the Constitution of Mongolia grants everyone the right to act as a legal person, and prohibits discrimination. Article 16, paragraph 10 of the Constitution affirms that "the citizens of Mongolia shall be guaranteed the privilege to form a party or other public organizations and to unite voluntarily in associations according to social and personal interests and opinion."

Article 5, paragraph 1 of Mongolia’s Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, dated January 31, 1997 states that "citizens of Mongolia and legal persons except State bodies may freely establish, individually or collectively, non-governmental organizations on the basis of their interests and opinions without the permission of any State body." Paragraph 2 of the law states that "illegal restriction of the rights of citizens to establish non-governmental organizations is prohibited."

The denial of registration prevents the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre from pursuing their stated goals, to "uphold, protect and promote the human rights of sexual minorities, namely lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender persons" and "to promote the correct understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity within Mongolian society".

Furthermore, article 7 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders provides that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others to develop and discuss new human rights ideas and principles and advocate their acceptance." The 2007 report of the UN Special Representative on human rights defenders specifically mentions the denial of registration to organizations as a violation of the rights of defenders of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender rights, and cites articles 2 and 12 of the declaration to remind states of their responsibility to protect human rights defenders.

"Lesbian," "gay," "bisexual" and "transgender" are internationally accepted and recognized terms that have been incorporated into many languages worldwide and are understood in multiple cultures to refer to people who experience a gender identity different from their sex at birth, or who desire intimate relations with members of their own sex. To regulate the very terms by which people articulate their identity is to restrict their autonomy and human dignity in ways that are unacceptable, and inconsistent with the protections of human rights law.

On behalf of Human Rights Watch, I urge you to protect the human rights of all persons in Mongolia and uphold the rights to freedom of association, to freedom of expression, and to equality and non-discrimination. I urge you to overturn the State Registration General Agency of Mongolia’s decision and accord the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center legal registration.

Yours sincerely,
Dipika Nath
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Program
Human Rights Watch

July 20, 2009 – IGLHRC

Mongolia: Register LGBT Centre

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Centre in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia will be the first NGO in Mongolia dedicated to social, legislative and institutional change in relation to discrimination, persecution, and abuse against Mongolia’s LGBT community. Its mission is to “uphold, protect, and promote the human rights of sexuality minorities, namely lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered persons” and “to promote the correct understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity within Mongolian society.”

In 2009, the LGBT Centre made at least 10 attempts to register with the Legal Entities Registration Agency (LERA). In response, LERA made several specious and homophobic arguments against the groups registration, including objecting to the use of an English name transliterated into Cyrillic, arguing that the name is “not moral and the public would not accept it,” and stating that the name conflicts with “Mongolian customs and traditions and has the potential to set the wrong example for youth and adolescents,” in a rejection letter on June 23rd.

By denying this group registration based on its chosen name, based on its mission to promote the human rights, or arbitrarily, Mongolia is violating the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to assembly and association, and to promote human rights, without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

On June 17th, 2009, in response to requests from Mongolian LGBT activists, IGLHRC sent a letter to the Minister of Justice and Home Affairs of Mongolia, the State Secretary of Justice and Home Affairs of Mongolia the Director of Policy Implementation Coordination Department of Mongolia, and the Chief Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia explaining Mongolia’s human rights obligations under international law to register LGBT human rights NGOs and asking that the LGBT Centre be allowed to register under that name, with the hope that this situation will be investigated and that an appeal will reverse LERA’s previous decision.

December 2009 – Beyond The Blue Sky

Mongolia – Online art and poetry exhibition gives visibility to largely hidden LGBT

Click Here

18 December 2009 – Fridae

LGBT advocacy group in Mongolia gets official recognition

by International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission
A LGBT organisation in Mongolia has finally succeeded in having its application to be officially recognised accepted by the government after at least ten attempts.

The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission reported on Dec 16, 2009: After three years of effort and at least ten attempts in 2009, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) human rights organization, the LGBT Centre, has been officially registered and recognized by Mongolia’s Legal Entities Registration Agency (LERA).

Located in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the Centre was previously denied registration because LERA declared that the name conflicted with "Mongolian customs and traditions and has the potential to set the wrong example for youth and adolescents." The Centre will be the first NGO in Mongolia dedicated to social, legislative and institutional change in relation to discrimination, persecution, and abuse against Mongolia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

On June 17th, 2009, in response to requests from Mongolian LGBT activists, IGLHRC sent a letter to the Minister of Justice and Home Affairs of Mongolia, the State Secretary of Justice and Home Affairs of Mongolia the Director of Policy Implementation Coordination Department of Mongolia, and the Chief Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia explaining Mongolia’s human rights obligations under international law to register LGBT human rights NGOs and asking that the LGBT Centre be allowed to register under that name. The combination of in-country LGBT activism and international pressure helped reverse the government’s earlier resistance to the Centre. Another key reason for the reversal was the direct intervention with LERA by Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, advisor to the President of Mongolia on human rights and civil participation on behalf of the LGBT Centre.

The stated mission of the Mongolian LGBT Centre is to "uphold, protect, and promote the human rights of LGBT people and promote the correct understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity within Mongolian society."

In Mongolia there is widespread societal and institutional discrimination against, and intolerance of, lesbian and bisexual women and transgendered people. This discrimination is manifested in different forms including ostracism and harassment and physical and sexual violence. The discrimination is endemic in the public, private and non-governmental sectors and encompasses the police and the judiciary, health services, education, the housing sector and the media.

Find out more about LGBT human rights in Mongolia in the CEDAW Shadow Report (PDF) submitted by a coalition of Mongolian LGBT Rights Activists in the 42nd Session of Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2008.

February 28, 2010 – GLTB Mongolia

Report on Mongolia – Ninth Round of the Universal Periodic Review (2010)

This report is submitted by the Mongolian LGBT Centre NGO and the Sexual Rights Initiative (a coalition including Mulabi – Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights; Action Canada for Population and Development; Creating Resources for Empowerment and Action-India, the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning, and others). The Mongolian LGBT Centre NGO, established in December 2009 after a three-year fight for registration, is the first LGBT human rights NGO in Mongolia. The NGO’s mission is to "uphold, protect, and promote the human rights of LGBT people and promote the correct understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity within Mongolian society."

This report documents the widespread societal and institutional discrimination against, and intolerance of, sexuality minorities, herein meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in Mongolia, and the lack of institutional, legislative and constitutional frameworks for protection against, and the redress of, violations against them. Discrimination against LGBT persons is endemic in the public, private and non-governmental sectors and encompasses the police and the judiciary, health-care services, education, the housing sector and the media. Despite Mongolia’s stated commitment to the upholding of human rights, it is a country where intolerance of LGBT persons is manifested in varying forms, from ostracism and harassment to discrimination in employment to physical and sexual violence. So prolific is the level of prejudice and hatred that few LGBT persons have escaped some degree of harassment and/or violence when their sexual orientation and/or gender identity has become known . These human rights violations are addressed thematically in this report.

Read Entire Report

8 July 2010 – Fridae

Mongolia’s LGBTs face hate crimes and discrimination

by Sylvia Tan
Robyn Garner, Executive Director of the Mongolian LGBT Centre, tells Fridae more about the new documentary which highlights the under-reported threats and hate crimes taking place against the LGBT community.

The Lies of Liberty is a 20-minute documentary which highlights the challenges of the Mongolian LGBT community and features a transgender woman, two lesbians and three gay man who spoke of the realities of their lives. Although there are no legal prohibitions, LGBTs face possible violence on a day-to-day basis by members of ultra-nationalists parties. The transgender woman in the documentary, who related an incident in which herself and two other transgender women she knew were bundled into a car and taken to a desolate place where they were assaulted, had since received serious death threats since the documentary was shown.

Fridae speaks with Robyn Garner, co-founder and Executive Director of the Mongolian LGBT Centre, who is originally from Australia but has since called Mongolia home after moving there in 2004 to work in development communications/advocacy.

æ: How did you come to be involved in the Mongolian LGBT Centre?

I hadn’t initially planned to become involved in LGBT activism; however I did want to outreach with the local LGBT community. That proved extremely difficult as the community, such as it was back then, was very much underground. Trying to make any contacts was an exercise in patience and trust-building. Eventually I was able to break through and meet up with some people. It was at this time that I met my now wife, Anaraa, a long-time Mongolian LGBT activist – one of only a handful in the country. She had established the Mongolian Lesbian Information Centre (MILC) and had set up a website providing information for LGBT people in Mongolia. Together we decided to take LGBT activism to new level, which we have been doing for a number of years now, locally, regionally and internationally. As part of that, we wanted to set up a LGBT human rights NGO, a process we began back in 2007. We, and our small but dedicated band of co-founders, had no idea at the time that it would take until the end of 2009 to realise that dream. But our persistence and our commitment eventually paid off and Mongolia now has its first LGBT human rights NGO.

æ: What motivated the Centre to produce the documentary?

In February I was asked to be a guest speaker at the annual "Through Women’s Eyes" forum organised by the National Network of Mongolian Women’s NGOs (MONFEMNET) and was held on International Women’s Day. Rather than just stand in front of people and talk about LGBT human rights, we thought it would be more effective to make a documentary in which the LGBT community themselves spoke of the realities of their lives. It was the first time such a documentary had been made here. We had planned to make it ourselves on our old handycam, but in a fortuitous piece of timing I was contacted by Amelia Wong, an Australian television producer who is volunteering in Mongolia for a year. I asked her if she would be interested in making the documentary, and thankfully she was. She was able to take our idea and turn it into something truly special.

æ: There’s talk that the transwoman who appeared in the documentary received a death threat after the documentary was shown. Where was the documentary shown? If it was shown to the public, what has the response been so far?

The documentary was first shown at the March 8 forum, and we were unsure of the reaction it would elicit. By and large there is little interest in LGBT human rights and little concern about the hate crimes taking place against the LGBT community. There was a large crowd in attendance, and I remember we were all watching them closely to see how they responded. To our surprise, we received very strong and positive feedback. A number of people shed tears when they heard of the violence being suffered. There were a also number of media in attendance at the forum.

Some of the television stations filmed and later broadcast those segments in which the transwoman featured spoke of the abuse she and two other transwomen had endured at the hands of a particular group of ultra-nationalists last year. In response, those ultra-nationalists issued a death warrant against her and there were instructions to hunt her down and kill her. It was a real and extremely serious threat.

æ: Can you describe the level of social acceptance of LGBTs?

Almost nil. There is discrimination in every conceivable sector of life. Discrimination against LGBT people in Mongolia is endemic in the public, private and non-governmental sectors and encompasses the police and the judiciary, health-care services, education, the housing sector and the media. So prolific is the level of prejudice that few LGBT people have escaped some degree of harassment and/or violence.

æ: Are there any particular groups that pose the most threat to LGBTS?

At present, ultra-nationalists are probably one of our greatest threats. There is one particular ultra-nationalist group that is very powerful, very well organised, has branches in every district and operates throughout the country. According to the human rights groups we have spoken to, they operate like an army. They are incredibly violent, with their brutality driven by a racist and heteronormative agenda. And thanks to their cosy relationship with the police, they are largely acting with impunity. We have had our own close encounter with them. On the day before the "Through Women’s Eyes" forum, three of us from the LGBT Centre met with our film-maker at a restaurant to preview the final cut. We played the documentary on a laptop, pretty much unaware of the people around us. However, unbeknown to us, members of this group were in the restaurant. Despite the volume being down low, they overheard what was being said on the video, and before too long there were five of them watching us, calling us homos, and generally acting aggressively. When we packed up and left, they came after my wife and I, and attempted a very public abduction on a very busy street. We were fortunate to escape thanks to a car pulling up and opening its doors for us just as they came within reach of us. So they mean business. And now we have to be extremely careful.

æ: Can you briefly tell us more about the centre and the work you all are doing? How many staff and volunteers, etc?

We have identified a number of key areas in which we are currently working: Advocacy both locally and internationally; legal reform, including the development of a law on non-discrimination; the promotion of non-discriminatory and inclusive environments in the education and health-care sectors; the promotion of safe workplaces; the provision of legal, psychological and support services and resources for the LGBT community; and ongoing research into LGBT issues in Mongolia. The LGBT Centre has four staff, although until we secure funding we are all working on a voluntary, although full-time, basis. We also have a small group of young volunteers who produce our weekly radio podcasts focusing on relevant issues and topics for our community, which we upload to our website.

æ: The Centre finally won legal recognition as the very first and only LGBT Centre in the country last December after making at least 10 attempts to register with the Legal Entities Registration Agency (LERA) over a three-year period. What were the biggest obstacles?

The biggest obstacle was actually the Mongolian NGO registration system itself. Decisions on whether or not to register NGOs are arbitrarily determined according to the whims and personal preferences of just a handful of people. If those people find an NGO, or its name or activities (in our case all three), in some way objectionable, it is vetoed, irrespective of their views having no legitimate or legally prescribed basis. We struck this problem with first the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs and later with the Legal Entities Registration Agency (LERA). We dealt with one man in particular at the LERA who had no intention of registering our NGO, and who indeed tried to make the process as painful as possible. He had us running backwards and forwards to the registration centre for months, demanding that myriad changes be made to our registration papers. More often than not those changes would be contradictory. One week he would tell us to change our wording a certain way, only to return the following week to be told that we had to change it back. It was very frustrating. To compound the situation, if an NGO is denied registration – as ours officially was in June 2009 – and an appeal is launched, it is adjudicated by the very people who make the initial decision; there is no independent appeal process. It’s a lose-lose situation. We were able to raise the issue of this inherent systematic bias at a national panel discussion on NGO Law reform in November 2009. The law is currently under review, so hopefully the amendments that are made will rectify this problem.

æ: Having achieved legal recognition, what’s the most immediate agenda of the Centre?

Our first task on being registered was the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Mongolia is undergoing its first UPR later this year. We have been working on UPR advocacy since the middle of 2009, outreaching with different international human rights bodies to ensure LGBT human rights issues are firmly on the agenda. We have been extremely proactive in this. I am the national coordinator of a working group of NGOs focusing on minority issues (sexuality minorities, ethnic minorities, people living with HIV/AIDS and sex workers). We have submitted a joint minorities’ UPR report as well as a separate UPR report in conjunction with the Sexual Rights Initiative. Since then, we have been working on advocacy both nationally and internationally, and on media campaigning on the issues raised. The UPR has been an important step forward for us in terms of recognition and acceptance by other civil society organisations. Through this process, we have been able to forge good links and develop networks with a range of different NGOs. We have a number of other priority areas that we are currently working on. We want to see the enactment of a law on non-discrimination, so this is something we are starting the push for.

Our first step is the convening of a national working group to help develop the legislation. We are also working on an LGBT non-discrimination media campaign that we are linking to the need for such legislation. Filming for that began last weekend. We have also spoken to other human rights groups about establishing a joint emergency-response unit to address human rights violations when they occur. We have implemented a Safe Workplace Initiative, through which we are promoting non-discrimination in the workplace and are building up a network or safe workplaces for LGBT people. We have also started an LGBT Parents’ and Friends’ support group to help foster greater understanding and acceptance of our community. Our NGO is also part of a human rights education coalition working to promote human rights concepts in the education sector. We will also be working with the National Human Rights Commission in the future on LGBT human rights trainings and advocacy.

There are so many areas in which we need to make changes; societally, politically, institutionally, legally. And there are so many services and support structures that our community needs. Our eyes are on the long term. We know that we are dealing with changes that will likely take generations, and we want to ensure that everything we do is part of a long-term strategy, not simply an endless succession of ad-hoc projects that have little, if any, sustainable impact. We want to look around in 20 years’ time and see a more accepting environment for LGBT people in Mongolia. We want to see our community living their lives free from fear and discrimination.

November 2010 – Leona’s Blog

Mongolian Transgender Woman Faces Death Threats After Appearance in Landmark Documentary

Here’s the email from Carla LaGata from Transgender Europe’s “Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide” (TvT) research project:

The TvT research project receives a lot of information on the situation of trans people worldwide. At the moment we are particularly concerned about the situation in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. GBT people in general have to live under extreme conditions and at the moment especially the transwomen of Ulaanbaatar are subject to physical violence, gang rapes, abductions, and death threats. They are being told that they will be killed if they continue to be who they are. The perpetrators belong to a well-organized ultranationalist group, which is protected by the police. We received all this information from the Mongolian LGBT Centre, the only group that cares for LGBT people and especially for the transwomen in Mongolia. They managed to get two transwomen out of the country after they received death threats. In February they produced a really shocking documentary. You can watch it
in Youtube with English subtitles:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The transwoman appearing in the documentary has received a death threat after the documentary was shown. The Mongolian LGBT Centre managed to get her out of the country. The Mongolian LGBT Centre has no funding and its activists are working voluntarily and under extreme conditions as they are threatened by the ultranationalist group, too. They already tried to abduct an activist.

I think it is absolutely important and urgent that we support them, exchange with them and include them in our networking and movement.

At present the Mongolian LGBT Centre is leading the development of non-discrimination legislation. This will be a long-term process, but it is a much-needed step forward in terms of the protection of human rights in Mongolia. Last weekend they started filming an awareness campaign for LGBT rights, using high-profile people from a range of different fields, which will be broadcasted over a series of months with accompanying informational and promotional material.

If you have any means to support them (financially, knowledge-wise, contacts etc), please do so and contact them at:

Other gay Mongolia information:
The First GaLlesbian and Bisexua lwebsite
Leonalo Blog
Gay Mongolia
Yahoo-Gays Mongolia
Yahoo Gay_Mongolia

November 10, 2010 – International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Mongolian LGBT Activists at the United Nations Human Rights Council

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!

Read the entire story here.

15 November 2010 – LGBT Asylum

In Mongolia, a LGBT multimedia campaign is launched against discrimination

LGBT Centre – On November 16, 2010, the LGBT Centre NGO – Mongolia’s first NGO working for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – will be launching a multimedia “End Discrimination” campaign. The campaign is aimed at ending the ongoing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity taking place against Mongolia’s sexuality minorities and is pushing for the enactment of a broad-based Law on Non-Discrimination.

As part of the campaign, the LGBT Centre has produced six “End Discrimination” public awareness advertisements that will air throughout the country from November till mid-March 2011. The advertisements focus on six separate areas of concern: hate crimes against LGBT people, discrimination in the workplace, discrimination and violence in the home, discrimination in schools, discrimination in the health sector, and the delegitimisation of and discrimination against LGBT relationships.

The LGBT Centre has enlisted tremendous support from a range of respected and well-known human rights advocates from a range of different sectors who all share the one common belief: Everyone is equal. Moreover, the campaign is made possible by the funding from the US State Department under its Democracy Support Small Grants.

As part of the campaign, the LGBT Centre will also be releasing an LGBT media reference guide and the official Mongolian translation of the Yogyakarta Principles, which are principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. The LGBT Centre will launch the campaign on 11am, November 16, 2010, at the Press Institute of Mongolia. 16 November is a significant date as it is observed every year in many countries as an International Day for Tolerance, declared by the UN in 1995.

December 14, 2010 – EurAsianet

Mongolia: LGBT Activists Cheered by Potential Gay Rights Gain

by k_kumkova
When 25-year-old Zaya first discussed her attraction for women with her sister after breaking up with a girlfriend two years ago, she never expected the violence that followed.
During a heated argument at the family home in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s sprawling capital, her sister shouted at their father that his youngest daughter was a “pervert” and a lesbian. “When he heard this, my father beat me up so bad I had bruises and cuts all over my face and my back and could barely move. After this I left home to live with a friend,” Zaya recalled.

Her father eventually apologized to her but asked her to promise she wasn’t a lesbian. “So I told him I wasn’t and went back home. I’ve been living a lie with my father ever since.” Despite the trauma she endured, Zaya feels many other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people living in Mongolia have had it much worse. She proceeded to recount a series of stories of friends who have been physically attacked and even sexually assaulted.

The situation may be grim now, but there are signs that things may soon improve. Activists are hailing the recent signal sent by the government concerning LGBT rights. Their optimism is rooted in the fact that, for the first time, Mongolian officials discussed LGBT issues at a Geneva meeting of the UN Human Rights Council’s first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the country. At the November 2 gathering, seven member states offered Ulaanbaatar recommendations for passing anti-discriminatory legislation that would enhance legal protections for sexual minorities.

Discrimination and human rights abuses against sexual minorities are widespread in Mongolia, according to the Mongolian Minorities Report that was presented at the UPR.“LGBT people have been viciously targeted, beaten and raped; they’ve been kicked out of their homes and lost their jobs. Rampant discrimination has also forced people to seek asylum to escape constant threats to their lives,” said Robyn Garner, executive director of the LGBT Centre, Mongolia’s first LGBT human rights NGO.

Highlighting the uphill struggle, the LGBT Centre had to wait three years to obtain official permission to operate. Some officials had refused to register the NGO, due to what they considered as the “immorality” of LGBT lifestyles. The name of the organization “conflicts with Mongolian customs and traditions and has the potential to set the wrong example for youth and adolescents,” an official rejection letter stated. The NGO was finally registered in December 2009 after various appeals from international human rights organizations, as well as the direct intervention of the Mongolian presidential advisor for human rights and public participation policy, Oyungerel Tsedevdamba.

Prejudice against LGBT individuals is frequently fanned by local media outlets, which suffer from a lack of professionalism, activists at the LGBT Centre contend. The US Government’s 2009 Report on Human Rights in Mongolia asserted that “some media outlets described gay men and lesbians with derogatory terms and associated homosexual conduct with HIV/AIDS, pedophilia, and the corruption of youth.” The LGBT Centre recently launched an effort to raise awareness about LGBT issues, calling its campaign End Discrimination. As part of the initiative, the center published a style guide with neutral terminology concerning LGBT issues. Only a handful of media outlets have adopted the preferred terms so far, Garner noted.

Attempts to bring LGBT issues out into the open have had severe repercussions for some activists. In a LGBT Centre production called The Lies of Liberty, posted on the video-sharing site YouTube, a transgender girl who declined to keep her identity hidden described the harrowing details of her abduction and sexual assault with two other transgender friends. Naming an ultra-nationalist group as perpetrators of the crime, the transgender girl felt compelled to seek asylum abroad after the documentary was broadcast on local television.

Activist blame Communist-era influences for the present-day mood of intolerance. “Our ancient Buddhist and shamanistic beliefs tolerated and accepted sexual diversity. But the very tolerant traditions have been lost just like our monasteries … and with time people have forgotten,” said Tsedendemberel, an activist at the LGBT Center. Tsedendemberel added that most Mongolians view homosexuality largely as a Western phenomenon. One of the few Mongolian gay men to come out in the open and actively campaign to end discrimination against LGBT persons, Tsedendemberel admitted he and his family are increasingly anxious about his safety.

Though the Universal Periodic Review and the government’s agreement to consider an anti-discrimination law buoyed human rights advocates, activists see a need to maintain pressure on authorities. “What’s important now is to make sure it [the promise of a new law] is not something that came up at the spur of the moment because they were put on the spot,” says Garner.