Bolor Lkhaajav. Analyst of Mongolian Institute for Geopolitical Studies, M.A. in Asia-Pacific Studies at the University of San Francisco,
Mongolia’s democratic status and its people power have been well-recognized and well-respected around the world. Former U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry hailed the country as an “oasis of democracy.” Since its peaceful democratic revolution in 1990, the Mongolian government has pursued a constitutional democracy that aims to promote human rights. On March 27, 2019, the Mongolian government took a sharp turn in tackling high-level corruption in the Office of the Prosecutor in violation of human rights. This move has stirred a heated debate between constitutional defenders, judicial actors, and the government.
On March 27, 2019, the Office of the President, the Parliament, and the National Security Council (NSC) coalesced an irregular parliamentary session and passed a bill, 82.1% vote to amend the existing prosecutorial system. The new bill allows the removal of judicial authorities, such as judges and prosecutors involved in secret deliberation of human rights violations. This move was triggered by a torture film lasting about 25 minutes (the actual video is 2 hours long.) This atrocious film shows human rights violations of suspects convicted in the murder case of MP, S. Zorig in 1998. Mongolian Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Prosecutor had refused to release the video to the Cabinet Secretariat, adding fuel to the fire. However, due to concerns pertaining to the violations of human rights and utilization of torture devices, the agencies were forced to release the video to a strictly limited audience consisting of the President, NSC, Parliamentary members, and few selected journalists.
The government’s action started a controversy in the realm of constitutional and prosecutorial law, some calling it “slicing away from Mongolia’s democracy.” The so-called constitutional defenders argue that the new bill will ultimately diminish parliamentary power, therefore, allowing the President’s iron fist in the independent court system. The cautionary aspect of this perspective is that the bill may become a gateway for President Khaltmaa Battulga to pursue Putin or Xi like authoritarian governance. While these are valid and considerable legal concerns, there is an exaggerated politicization to these arguments, which does not take into account the very reason to amend such a law. Because the case has involved both domestic and international observers, such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the releasing of the torture film is no longer a politicized issue. The author strongly believes that the government, past and present is obligated to protect human rights, especially when those rights are broken. Thus, the amendment of the law should be viewed from the perspective of 1) reform of the corrupt judicial system in the office of the prosecutor, 2) seeking accountability and responsibility, and lastly, protection of human rights.
Due to the controversy on this critical matter, the author had an opportunity to speak with the Member of the Parliament, Chairman of the Cabinet Secretariat, Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai. In a brief discussion, he stated: “The President, the Speaker of the Parliament, and Officials from the NSC, and MPs have seen the torture film of the incarcerated individuals implicated in the case of S. Zorig’s murder. After watching such a shocking film that spoils Mongolia’s democratic values and diminishes citizen’s rights, the leadership had to be united and come to a resolution.” Moreover, MP. Oyun-Erdene stated that in order for the country to move forward, the government will need to discuss constitutional issues separately, so Mongolia’s democracy is not diminished under a one-man rule.”
Although controversial, the Mongolian government’s attempt to reform its judicial system, highlighting its unjust behaviors is a source of democratic institution. In the following months, the leadership will appoint appropriate judges and prosecutors. Since these positions are not elected by the public, the “one-man rule” fear monger remains. However, since the current government took over, number of high-level corruption cases have been re-opened. For example, Erdenet Mining, 60 billion dollar corruption, which involved the former Speaker of the Parliament, M. Enkhbold, who has been recently ousted by his own government. On the other hand, from a greater perspective, the government’s anti-corruption efforts have clearly revealed the problem of a small population.