In The News

Mongolia Marks Passage of Landmark Anti-Trafficking and Corruption Legislation

February 15, 2012

As Mongolians prepare for next week’s Mongolian Lunar New Year festivities, government and non-governmental organizations are celebrating the passage of two long-awaited pieces of legislation that the Parliament of Mongolia passed in January. The passage of a standalone Law on Combating Trafficking in Persons marks a milestone in Mongolia’s anti-trafficking efforts, and signifies the culmination of more than three years of intense advocacy.

Mongolian city street scene

On the same day the anti-trafficking law was passed, Mongolia's Parliament also passed another ground-breaking law: a Law on Preventing Conflict of Interest in Public Service. This is particularly critical now in Mongolia; with mining investment continuing to pour into the country, Mongolia is predicted to have the second fastest growing economy in the world in 2012. Photo by Kristin Colombano.

Passage of the legislation comes at a crucial time in the country’s efforts to end trafficking in persons. Over the past decade, hundreds of trafficking victims have been identified. Many are young women who, lured into false promises of employment and study abroad, instead end up in China, Macau, South Korea, and other Asian countries, either sexually exploited or forced into labor with little to no wages. In 2010, the State Investigation Department of Mongolia’s National Police Agency established a specialized counter-trafficking unit to focus on investigating cross-border trafficking. Now, the law further clarifies the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in anti-trafficking activities, including government agencies, civil society, the private sector, and media. The landmark law also includes a critical provision for a state shelter and victim support for both Mongolian and foreign victims, as well as victim confidentiality and compensation.

Last week, to commemorate the law’s passage, more than 100 guests, including members of Parliament, senior government officials, and civil society representatives, gathered at a ceremony held in Ulaanbaatar organized by the Human Security Policy Studies Center (HSPSC). Despite temperatures reaching -25 degrees Celsius outside, spirits were high at the ceremony, with some guests even dressed in traditional Mongolian deels. During the ceremony, several dignitaries reflected on the importance of the law, and highlighted the strong collaboration between government partners, local NGOs, and the international donor community both during the development and drafting of the law and advocacy for its passage.

In 2010, with support from the U.S. State Department, The Asia Foundation partnered with the Mongolian Women Lawyers’ Association (MWLA) to advocate for passage of the new law. The work included collecting signatures from all 21 provinces, developing educational fact sheets with the latest statistics and trends on trafficking in Mongolia and getting them in the hands of MPs, and reaching out to decision-makers to inform them on the significance of the law. Under close partnership with HSPSC, we also co-supported a national conference on the need for a standalone law to combat trafficking, and conference recommendations were delivered to legislators. The drafting and advocacy of this law is a brand new model in Mongolia’s legislative development process, one that gathered input transparently from a wide range of stakeholders, including government, civil society, and international organizations. Now it is up to these same partners to ensure successful implementation of this ground-breaking law.

On the very same day the anti-trafficking law was passed – January 19 – Mongolia’s Parliament also passed another ground-breaking law: a Law on Preventing Conflict of Interest in Public Service. This is particularly critical now in Mongolia; with mining investment continuing to pour into the country, Mongolia is predicted to have the second fastest growing economy in the world in 2012, but also an environment ripe for corruption. While surveys have shown that incidences of petty bribery are decreasing, corruption remains an enormous challenge for Mongolia. Policy-makers, NGOs, and the media hailed the legislation as a landmark in anti-corruption reform, introducing new standards and requirements for public officials, increasing transparency and accountability, and creating a legal basis for managing and restricting public officials’ private interests that are in conflict with their official duties. Thanks to a group of anti-corruption reformers in Parliament who started pushing for it in 2010, the new law brings Mongolia further into compliance with the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).

Working with a local NGO called Open Academy, and with USAID’s assistance, we launched a campaign of university lectures, newspaper articles, and television programs to help get the public interested in the conflict of interest law and to try to convey its importance.

On the afternoon of January 19, word of the law’s passage quickly spread on Mongolia’s growing Twitter presence, with Members of Parliament tweeting the vote results from the Parliament floor. One of the law’s main champions in Parliament was flooded with congratulatory tweets from some of his 8,600 followers. Attention now turns to the implementation of the law, which comes into effect on July 15. The law strictly prohibits situations of conflict of interest, including using official information for private interests, abusing official power, and influencing decision-making for one’s own interests. Public officials will be required to submit annual conflict of interest declarations, which will be made available to the public. The law also outlines restrictions on acceptance of gifts and services, donations, other employment, running business activities, activities after resignation/retirement, and on earning income. Administrative penalties are stated in the law, and some serious violations will fall under the criminal code.

With political parties jockeying for position ahead of the upcoming Parliamentary elections in June, the passage of these two new laws provides a critical legal foundation to fight trafficking in persons and combat corruption in Mongolia.

Josh Friedman is The Asia Foundation’s program development & coordination manager in Mongolia. He can be reached at jfriedman@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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