CIVICUS speaks with two civil society activists, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, about restrictions experienced by civil society in Mongolia and proposed new laws affecting civil society.
Mongolian youth protest in Sukhbaatar Square (Photo Credit: Anand Tumurtogoo)
What’s the problem with the Associations and Foundations bills, currently under discussion in Mongolia?
The drafts of the bills on associations and foundations have been under discussion since 2019 and were submitted by the Ministry of Justice and Internal Affairs to parliament in November 2021. The bills are meant to govern the work of civil society organisations (CSOs), including the processes for registration and reporting and the types of activities allowed, among other issues.
If passed, these bills will impose undue burdens on CSOs, particularly regarding the ways they will have to report to meet government requirements. It is estimated that more than 90 per cent of CSOs, three-quarters of which are non-membership CSOs, may have to stop operating because of failure to comply with various undue burdens. These include increased and burdensome reporting criteria that apply to all CSOs regardless of their size, capacities and activities as well as internal requirements related to management and organisational structures that are not suitable for many informal groups.
The provision establishing a Civil Society Development Support Council, an independent body to oversee CSOs, is also problematic because it comes with sweeping powers to dissolve organisations arbitrarily and allocate funding among CSOs, deciding which get government funding. This carries the potential of shrinking funding opportunities for many CSOs, particularly those working to further rights. The risk of arbitrary deregistration is also high, given the vast powers conferred on the Council and the broad and vague provisions on prohibited activities.
How has civil society reacted?
CSOs have tried to review and refine the bills several times to ensure they uphold fundamental civic freedoms, but to no avail. The attempt now is to block the laws.
In November 2021, Mongolian civil society, together with several international CSOs, launched a campaign calling for the bills to be scrapped immediately, given there had been no consultation with civil society and there was no time or space to do so. The campaign managed to halt the progress of the draft bills and parliament announced that further discussions would be held.
As of April 2022, it seemed likely the bills would be postponed and undergo further consultation. However, the speaker of parliament issued a decree to establish a working group to draft an alternative bill, the Professional Associations Bill.
This draft had also been circulated in 2019 and was deemed problematic because it would tarnish the independence of CSOs by requiring CSO workers to have professional licences. At the moment, the discussion of this bill is suspended.
What can the international community do to support Mongolian civil society?
Although parliament has said the bills are currently suspended, there is no guarantee they will be dropped. Past experience shows the government often makes decisions on policy matters without proper consultation. Therefore, continuous scrutiny, including at the regional and international levels, would be very helpful.
Access to resources and connection to international platforms such as the United Nations system would also be useful to help local civil society continue its struggle.
Civic space in Mongolia is rated ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.