United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Mission to Mongolia 2 - 7 December 2012


Members of the press, ladies and gentlemen,
I am addressing you today at the conclusion of my official mission to Mongolia, which I undertook at the invitation of the Government from 2 to 7 December 2012. My objective during this visit has been to evaluate the situation of those living in extreme poverty in the country, and the following statement contains my preliminary findings and recommendations. I will present my final report to the 23rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2013.

I would like to begin by thanking the Government of Mongolia for its excellent cooperation during my visit. I very much appreciate the spirit of openness with which I was able to engage in dialogue with the authorities. During my stay I met with various Government representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Population Development and Social Protection, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Labour as well as a number of Government agencies including the General Office for Social Welfare Services, the General Office for Social Insurance, the National Authority for Children, the National Rehabilitation Centre and the National Committee for Gender Equality. I also met with the National Statistical Office, the National Human Rights Commission along with representatives from international organizations, donor agencies, financial institutions and a range of civil society organizations. In addition, I visited communities living in poverty in the Erden soum of Tuv province, and Darieh and Unur areas from Bayanzurh and Somginokhairkhan districts in Ulaanbaatar.

I am also very grateful to the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator for providing logistical support during the visit and for its assistance in coordinating these meetings. I would like to offer my sincere gratitude to everyone who took the time to meet with me as their contributions have been invaluable to the success of my visit. I am especially grateful to all those who shared their personal, and sometimes tragic, experiences of struggling with the plight of extreme poverty.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Mongolia is currently experiencing a major resource boom and the country is on the brink of one of the most dramatic transformations in its history.

The discovery of vast quantities of untapped mineral wealth combined with foreign investment in a number of massive mining projects and the projected extraction of coal in the southern region of the country is expected to triple the national economy by 2020. Still, Mongolia ranks disappointingly among the worse countries in the international human development index (110 out of 187 according to the 2011 Human Development Index).

In recent years Mongolia has rapidly risen to a lower middle income country, with a National GDP of $8.558 billion USD in 2011 (World Bank). The poorest sectors of Mongolian society have yet to benefit from the country’s new found wealth. Poverty is becoming entrenched not only in rural areas but also in urban centres as the income gap widens.

The daily struggles experienced by those living in extreme poverty in Mongolia extend beyond limited access to income, they are living in an extremely precarious state and are forced to deal with food insecurity; lack of employment opportunities; limited access to health care; inadequate housing conditions (including no running water or sanitation facilities, and inadequate heating); unequal access justice; lack of political power, disproportionate exposure to natural disaster and health hazards. These circumstances prevent them from realizing their rights and exacerbate their poverty. Persons experiencing extreme poverty live in a vicious cycle of powerlessness, stigmatization, discrimination, exclusion and material deprivation, all of which mutually reinforce one another.

Extreme poverty is not inevitable. With a significant growth rate of 17% in 2011 and 16.7% in the first quarter of 2012 (World Bank), it is disconcerting that according to the official numbers 29.8% of the population still lives in poverty and that inequality has increased. In fact, in 2011, consumption by the top 10% of the population was 7.7 times higher than that of the lowest 10% of the population (National Statistics Office). This clearly shows that the growth triggered by the mining and extractive sector has not benefited the poorest sectors of society who have been left behind.

Increasing internal migration, as a result of limited livelihood opportunities as well as the impacts of droughts and winter dzuds in some rural areas, is rapidly changing the face of major urban centres. Unfortunately this has resulted in an increase in poverty in some of these districts in the cities. I have witnessed huge disparities in Ulaanbaatar. While some people have access to all the commodities and comforts of modern cities, others, including families that I visited, are living in extremely precarious conditions.  In households where there are unemployed, disabled persons, single mothers, or those recently arrived from rural areas, they struggle to provide their children with nutritional food, warm clothing and are often unable to meet the basic costs of providing uniforms and materials for school. Without a steady income, they cannot afford access to health care, the payment of medication or any other out of pocket payment. They not only live in difficult physical conditions, but they also live in a constant state of uncertainty and stress. No-one deserves to live in such conditions and their plight should be addressed as a matter of priority.

I commend the steps already taken by the new Government to tackle poverty and inequality; increase employment generation and improve the effectiveness of poverty reduction measures. The Government has been in office for a relatively short period of time, and there are many challenges that they will need to overcome. They must show their political will with results. 

I have found that, for the most part, Mongolia has put in place a robust legal framework. However, legislation does not always translate into reality for many Mongolians. There are severe implementation gaps in almost all social policies, ranging from domestic violence to trafficking.

Over the years, a number of initiatives have been developed to tackle poverty still, these policies have not been effective in significantly reducing poverty and inequality. There are still huge disparities in accessing basic services among urban and rural populations, between the have and the have nots. Thus, while some progress has been made, often it has not been reflected in rural areas or has not reached those who have migrated to cities and who continue to have the worst indicators.

For example, although overall maternal mortality has been reduced as a result of a lack of adequate infrastructure, a shortage of doctors, midwives and emergency equipment, maternal mortality  still remains quite high in geographically remote areas and has even increased in some areas during the last few years (2011 MDG Report). Similarly, according to reports, tuberculosis is worsening in the country with 4,200 new cases reported in 2011, principally affecting the urban poor, the homeless population and the unemployed (WHO).

In the last two decades, poverty and inequality has been addressed by subsequent governments particularly through a variety of social protection schemes. However, these programmes have not produced the expected results as they have been politically motivated, too fragmented, ad-hoc and not well targeted to the poorest sectors of the population.

Moreover, there have been major flaws in the implementation of poverty reduction policies, without impact assessment, analytical research, sound disaggregated data, long term vision, coherency and continuity; and no financial and environmental sustainability. So far, no government body has shown sufficient ownership and leadership in the fight against poverty and no-one has been held accountable for the lack of progress. All these factors have greatly contributed to a failure in achieving a significant reduction in poverty, despite the substantial amount of resources invested to this end.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
During my visit I have identified several segments of Mongolian society which are particularly vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion, such as women, children and youth, persons with disabilities, older persons, internal migrants, herders and nomadic communities, ethnic minorities, LGBT, persons living with HIV/AIDS, and stateless persons. While my report will address in more detail the specific human rights issues and deprivations affecting these vulnerable groups, I would like to take this opportunity to voice particular concerns about the situation of the following groups.

Although the rights of women in Mongolia are protected through the country’s Constitution and a comprehensive legal framework, many face significant challenges, including: unequal access to employment and decent work, lack of representation at the political and decision-making levels, exposure to domestic violence and trafficking. Households headed by women continue to be especially vulnerable to poverty.

Despite the legal framework, the incidence of gender based violence in Mongolia remains high and new forms of violence against women is on the rise, such as sexual harassment in the workplace and trafficking. It is also of concern that domestic violence continues to be seen as a private matter, including among the law enforcement personnel. Reports that I have received suggest that the lack of implementation of key laws such as the Law on Domestic Violence and the Law on Gender Equality are preventing women from enjoying their rights. In addition measures to ensure protection of women and girls who have been the victims of trafficking need to be adopted and implemented. I was very impressed by the work of the National Committee on Gender Equality, however they are significantly understaffed for the amount of work that they are undertaking. I call on the Government to show its political will with regards to gender equality by ensuring the implementation of the relevant laws and increasing the resources of the Committee to ensure it can effectively undertake its tasks.

While Mongolia’s population is young with 59% population under 25 years old (UNICEF), the State is not making appropriate investments in children and youth. Of particular concern is the high level of youth unemployment which is twice the national average. Additional efforts must be made to ensure that appropriate educational, vocational and job opportunities are provided for the youngest generations, and to strengthen measures for eliminate the worse forms of child labor which still affects the country.

Reports also indicate a high prevalence of violence against children. The physical and psychological abuse of children has a negative impact on their development. Measures must be taken to prevent and protect children against violence and to change the attitudes of adults both at home and in the school environment (UNICEF SITAN Report, 2009).

Persons with disabilities
Reports I have received indicate that there is a high level of discrimination and stigma against people with disabilities and thus they are largely kept behind closed doors. A lack of infrastructure, equipment, trained health care and educational professionals prevent people with disabilities from participating equally in society. Children with disabilities are prevented from enjoying their right to education due to insufficient educational facilities and trained teachers that cater for their special needs.

I would encourage the Government to implement the necessary policies to ensure that people with disabilities are not excluded from society and that they, and their families, receive the adequate economic and social support.

Ethnic Minorities
Reports that I received indicate that despite Mongolia's commitment to constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, minority groups are often subjected to discriminatory practices that directly impact their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. 
I would encourage the Government to implement policies to ensure that ethnic minorities in the country can enjoy their rights on an equal basis with the rest of the population.

Rural poor people are scattered, isolated and highly mobile in Mongolia. As a result of climate change the livelihoods of many of them who are dependent on the nation’s natural resources are threatened.  Living in very isolated conditions herders and nomadic communities face significant challenges in accessing basic services such as health care and education. Without livelihood opportunities in rural areas, herders are forced to move to the city, where they are in an extremely vulnerable situation due to the lack of registration documents and necessary skills. 

It is essential to guarantee quality basic services in remote areas of the country to ensure that poor families have the opportunity to enjoy the same conditions as those living in urban areas.

Internal migrants
I am extremely concerned about the situation of internal migrants. The lack of opportunities as well as the negative impact of natural disasters such as devastating winter storms and droughts, are forcing many people living in rural areas to move to the cities in search of employment where they are facing dire conditions. Often without registration and appropriate skills to find employment they are unable to access essential services and are left uncovered by the social welfare system. There is also an issue of adaptation whereby those who move to the city from rural areas find it difficult to cope with the change, particularly the elderly.  Local authorities must be allocated with necessary resources to enable them to provide basic services to migrants arriving in urban areas and additional measures must be taken to ensure that no-one is denied access to essential services due to a lack of registration. 

Ladies and gentlemen,
The Mongolian Government has declared its commitment to ensure that persons living in poverty enjoy all their rights. I welcome the fact that the Government has identified the fight against poverty and inequality as one of its key focus areas; however, more can and must be done.

Recognizing that much more could be said on a range of issues, including commending positive Government policies and programmes, let me finish with some preliminary remarks that will be addressed in more detail in the report.

In order to fully meet its human rights obligations with regards to persons living in poverty, Mongolia must:
1. Devise and adopt a poverty reduction strategy framed on human rights. Such a strategy must establish time-bound benchmarks and effective implementation plans for each region, aimag and soum. It should also include the necessary budgetary and fiscal measures to ensure sustainability in the long term. It should clearly designate the authorities and agencies responsible for implementation and establish appropriate monitoring and accountability mechanisms to ensure authorities comply with their mandates.  Any poverty reduction strategy must be implemented with a strong cross-sectorial coordination and be led by a ministry or an agency with the capacity to convene and coordinate all ministries and relevant stakeholders.

2. In order to maximise the impact of poverty alleviation measures, the State must better target its resources, design policies on the basis of disaggregated data, up-to-date information on poverty and poverty impact assessments. Due priority must be accorded to the most disadvantaged groups in society when designing and implementing public policies and allocating resources.

3. Consider entrusting an independent national body with the task of monitoring the quantitative and qualitative aspects of poverty from a human rights perspective, and provide analytical research on poverty.

4. Ensure that the establishment of a comprehensive social protection system. I welcome the commitments made by the government to improve and depoliticize the social assistance schemes. While the Government is seeking to better target the schemes, I would urge the authorities to ensure that the poorest of the poor are reached as a matter of priority. In this sense, the proxy means test methodology must be assessed carefully. In addition to the higher administrative expenses, the costs of proxy means testing—as with other forms of targeting—can go beyond the financial and include social and political expenditures that should be included when considering targeting options.

5. Consider undertaking a comprehensive budget analysis to facilitate the assessment of the impact on poverty of government budgets.

6. Comply with its duty to protect individuals and communities against human rights abuses in the context of economic activities; and to ensure access to effective remedy for victims of human rights abuse in the context of economic activities, particularly within the mining sector. In addition efforts should be made to ensure development of a range of strategies that enhance the country’s ability to conserve and protect its environment and to empower local communities.

7. Finally, in the short term, I call on the Government to expedite the Legal Aid Bill and to allocate the necessary budgetary and human resources for its effective implementation. The Legal Aid Bill will bring national legislation in line with Mongolia’s international human rights obligations. I also take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on the broad consultation carried out during the drafting of the Bill, which should serve as a model for public consultation in the development of important legislation in future. In addition I recognise the establishment of Legal Aid Centres in various parts of the country, increasing access to justice for the poor. However, I would urge the Government to ensure that these Centres are adequately equipped with the resources and capacity necessary to serve the poorest members of society.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
While I have highlighted the responsibilities of the State, I would also call on the international community to continue its cooperation with Mongolia, including through financial and technical support. Despite the fact that in terms of economic growth Mongolia now enjoys the status of a middle income country, the high level of inequality necessitates continued support from the international community. Meanwhile, I call on the Mongolian Government to increase its efforts to take ownership over services currently provided with the assistance of the donor community and international agencies. I am particularly concerned about the work related to HIV/AIDS and the health care provided for those living with tuberculosis. I would encourage the Government to take steps to ensure that when funding stops for the services provided for HIV/AIDS (Global Fund) and for tuberculosis (GAVI Alliance) that procedures are in place to continue the services provided for both groups.

Finally, I would like to end on a positive note, through my exchanges with various interlocutors, at the State and non-State level I observed that Mongolian society is extremely concerned about the levels of poverty and social exclusion in the country. This is of course, extremely important in the fight against poverty. If the Government gives priority to designing and implementing effective policies on poverty reduction and civil society closely monitors them, I am convinced that Mongolia could reverse the current situation and make impressive strides in the fight against poverty in the near future.

I will finish by reiterating my commitment to continue the dialogue initiated during this visit. I look forward to working with the Government in a spirit of cooperation on the implementation of my recommendations.