Posts Tagged ‘profile’

Kailash Satyarthi, the man who defends children

January 23, 2018

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” 
Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa

 

 conducted the interview (excerpts): 

P.K:   Namaste Kailash ji! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with India Currents. As a mother, as an Indian American, it is a matter of great pride to be able to do this interview with you today! Looks like you are back after a lot of travel?

K.S:   Yes. Once the Nobel Prize committee gives you a medal of peace, they take away your ‘peace’ for the rest of your life! (laughs) I am quite used to travel, having been involved in multiple causes, working across 140 countries. As the founder of two largest societal coalitions, Global Campaign for Education & Global Marketing against child labor, my life does involve a considerable amount travel.

……

P.K:   And now with the Nobel Peace Prize, you have a bigger voice, a further reach, a larger umbrella naturally. I looked up your biography online as research for this interview. Born in Madhya Pradesh as Kailash Sharma, subsequent change in last name to Satyarthi , the recipient of several awards etc etc… but I’d like to know about the ‘Man’ within these details.

K.S:   I don’t think of myself as a man – I still consider myself a child! (laughs) For me, childhood does not mean just the age factor. Childhood means so much more… transparency, thirst for learning, curiosity… all these are related to childhood. I feel strongly that there is a child inside each of us. But we keep suppressing him/her all the time and try to be more mature. And maturity brings artificiality, diplomacy, sometimes falsehood. A child does not care to do things only to make others happy. A child is very straight forward. This quality is something to be preserved. And it is my inspiration & learning.

P.K:   I’m looking at the list of awards you have received over the years, starting from 1993 – Elected Ashoka Fellow Award, the Robert. F. Kennedy Human Rights Award – to name a couple. Obviously the Nobel Peace Prize is a distinct honor. It is a matter of pride for India, for Indians abroad and for activists all over the world. Can you speak about how this award is helping to carry your voice?

K.S:   Yes, it has definitely helped me spread my message further. But I do not consider this award solely in my honor. The Nobel Peace Prize has been a major recognition for those most deprived, neglected and marginalized lot of humanity – the children who are enslaved & trafficked. I always say that I represent the ‘voice of silence’. They are my children who are hidden under the cloak of invisibility. So now that people have started to recognize my children – it is the greatest award for me!

…..

P.K:   What made you pick up the mantle as the person who speaks for children? Tell us something about the journey so far.

K.S:   When I started my work in 1981, there was never a question that I do anything other than what I chose to do for children s’ rights. It was a non-issue for me. The conventional wisdom was to collect money or help with charity. And it stopped there. I realized something more should be done. The denial of freedom and human dignity was so deeply rooted. It was non-negotiable. So this inspired me to give up my career. At that time no one was talking about child slavery and child trafficking. As a country, India did not have any laws to address these issues. Even on the international scene there was no legislation that provided me with a path to undertake. The U.N convention on the Rights of Children was adopted by the General assembly in 1989. So in 1981 I started fighting a lonely battle! I had the beginnings of a vision but had no idea about how to make it a reality. I faced total ignorance about these issues and when we brought in strong activism, ignorance turned into denial. People did not want to believe that this problem existed among them. We even faced opposition in the form of local mafia being set against us. So it was a long journey as you can imagine!

P.K:  How does your family, your wife Sumedha, your children – handle the dangers associated with your work? Obviously the values your have imparted have made a big effect on them.

K.S:  Sumedha was part of the whole movement right from the beginning. We did not have much money or materialistic wealth to give our children. There were dangers of course. When we finally got a telephone, it came with death threats made against me and my family! Slowly they gained courage and understood what my wife and I stood for. They helped with the children in the Ashram during their free time. That is how they grew up. My son Bhuvan is a lawyer and he handles most of the legal work for our cause. The cases he has handled have made a huge impact in the legal and judicial discourse in India.

…..

P.K:   Bharath Yatra was a massive social ‘wave’ which happened recently. Could we hear your thoughts on that movement?

K.S:   Bharath Yatra has been an unprecedented success! About a million people took to the streets to condemn and speak out against child sexual abuse. This has never happened before in India. They also demanded strong policy measures to be enforced. This was a turning point. Bharath Yatra’s preparation process began about a year ago before we launched it. The idea behind the Yatra was to take up the initiative and see how people’s response to something this large scale would be.

The most encouraging response came from the youth. Thousands of young girls and boys in schools and colleges across India marched with us. Some even came up to me to say “you are telling MY story”! Many appeared on the stage before hundreds of people and said they were breaking their silence to speak out about their own experiences. This was the most satisfying part of the Yatra for me personally. I consider this the beginning of my ‘war’ on rape.

……

The first incident was the rescue of a group of people which had children, men and women, in 1981. I had started a magazine titled Sangharsh Jaari Rahega – The Struggle Shall Go On – dedicated to educating the public about the problem of child slavery and the struggles of marginalized people. One day a man, Wasal Khan, knocked on my door in Delhi. He was a desperate father whose 15 year old daughter, Sabo, was about to be sold to a brothel. He told me how he, along with his wife and a few others from his village were ‘”taken to work with the promise of good salary and a good life,” to a place about 400 km. from his village in Punjab. The hours were long and the conditions were deplorable. So they ended up in slavery, no money, no freedom, working on brick kilns for close to 17 years. In these conditions, children were born, people lived and died. It was shocking that in the year, 1981, in the largest democracy in the world, people were being subjected to this sort of slavery!

I felt very strongly that I should not limit myself to simply writing about his case. I managed to raise a little money by mortgaging my wife’s wedding jewelry, gathered a group of people and went to the site. The poor man was caught by the owner of the kiln and I was thrown out of the compound along with my people.

I returned empty handed but not with an empty heart. With the help of a friend who was a lawyer we took the matter to the courts. And we managed to secure the release of all those men, women and children – including 15 year old Sabo. 36 people were freed that day! This was the first documented incident where children were freed from slavery through a private/voluntary initiative. And this gave me a clear path that I started charting. Within a few weeks after this incident, people started bringing other cases to my notice. And I never looked back.

The most recent one was only few months ago. This was the rescue of children locked inside bathrooms and held on roof tops in a factory in Delhi. The conditions were unimaginable. The children ranged in ages from 7 – 10 or 11 years. They were working – making toys. When I sat with them and asked about their working and living conditions, they claimed they were very happy, and I could see that they were simply repeating what they had been told to say. They were threatened that the police would come and arrest them if they said anything else.

When I asked the youngest child if he got a chance to play with the toys he helped make, he said no – he was not allowed to. If they made a mistake like that, they were beaten up. Apparently the last time he had played was in his village, with sticks and stones, which were his toys! He also said he missed playing with those stones! What was ironic was that in this day and age, when we claim to have made so many advancements in technology, these children were living in such deplorable conditions right in Delhi.

We conducted a second raid on the same day and also managed to free a bunch of children from a neighboring factory where they were sewing jeans. And they were brought to our ashram – Mukti Ashram – also in Delhi. The next morning we noticed these children were trying to shade their faces and eyes in the sunlight. That is when we discovered that for 3 years that they were kept inside a basement of the factory! They were forced to live, work, eat and sleep in that basement. And they had not seen daylight for 3 whole years! Imagine that!

……

P.K:   You also have the Bal Mitra Gram concept. Can you speak about that concept?

K.S:   Sure. It has been my dream to make the whole world child-friendly, which is easier said than done! Very often the village communities are where child marriages and trafficking etc take place. So the whole idea behind Bal Mitra Gram was to transform the community at the village level – to make them child-friendly.

The first condition is – all children are free from the fears of abuse and exploitation of any sort.

The second condition is – all children irrespective of gender, caste or community are enrolled in schools.

The third condition is – all village children have a chance to form a governing body – called Bal Panchayat. This helps shape them as responsible individuals and to solve their problems through positive governing methods. 

The fourth condition – that the Village Panchayat – the elected assembly of village elders – agrees to not just recognize the Bal Panchayat, but also work hand-in-hand with them, by inviting youth leaders to official Panchayat meetings and vice versa.

When these four important conditions are met, the whole village becomes child-friendly.

P.K:   That sounds idyllic! Have you implemented these four conditions? Are there villages that are truly child-friendly?

K.S:   We have about 560 villages where we have managed this to date! In many cases the youth leaders are the very children who have been freed from child labor. We have about 400 girls who have been elected as Heads of the Bal Panchayats! This is a matter of pride for us! It is my belief that if politicians, leaders, NGOs, corporate bodies, all come together and resolve to protect one generation, then there is no need to worry about the generations of the future.

P.K:   Now Kailashji, when you undertake the kind of work you have done, there is always equal parts reward and criticism that you will face. It has been said that your work is a case of altruism gone wrong, that the children are being freed against their will – because the money they are bringing in makes a huge difference to their families. That is is acceptable for the children to learn the trade the families engage in. How do you respond to things like this?

K.S:   There are micro and macro level issues –  At the micro level, we try to explain to the families of these children how their lives would change when their children can better themselves, with education, with vocational training. We also try to connect them with Government schemes that are already in place. We have volunteers and former child labor victims who take social messages to the villages through street theater staged using local dialects and languages to create awareness. So these are two ways in which we can sensitize the village population to see things differently.

We have a very strong argument that there is a direct relationship between adult unemployment and child labor. Globally 216 million children are engaged in economic activities. Out of this, there are about 152 million children engaged as full-time child laborers. If you draw a comparison with the existing number of youth/adult unemployed globally, the number is 210 million. It is a proven fact that 71% of children are working in the agricultural sector globally. And there is a direct correlation to the number of jobless, unemployed adults! This vicious circle must be broken.

In today’s digital economy, we cannot think of social justice, equality, growth or ways to get rid of poverty in personal or social life without an education. These 216 million children are being denied their chance at escape, by denying them education. So I have been advocating a triangular paradigm to show that – child labor, poverty and illiteracy – form a three way relationship. This is a cause and consequence relationship.

The criticism is part of my work. But the numbers speak for themselves.

….

https://indiacurrents.com/kailash-satyarthi-representing-the-sound-of-silence/

 

 

 

Interview with Karla Avelar, human rights defender from El Salvador

November 10, 2017

A former ISHR trainee, Karla Avelar defends the rights of LGBTI people. She is a finalist of this year’s Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. In an exclusive interview with ISHR, on 6 November, she talked about her award nomination and what it means to be a trans woman and human rights defender in El Salvador. See also the THF film on her work:

 

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/16/trans-defenders-karla-avelars-life-is-under-constant-threat/

Profile of Father Rosaleo Romano who disappeared 30 years ago in the Philippines

August 6, 2017

Human rights defender Mary Aileen Bacalso in the Philippines published a blog post in La Croix International of 3 August 2017 entitled “The imperative of more shepherds for the Lord’s flock“. It describes the case of  Redemptorist Father Rosaleo Romano who disappeared 3 decades ago and makes the point that pastors like him are now needed more than ever.
Victims of enforced disappearances in the Philippines, including Redemptorist Father Rosaleo Romano, are remembered during a memorial in Manila. (Photo by Rob Reyes)

The Philippine human rights community has not forgotten Father Rosaleo Romano more than three decades after his disappearance during the dark years of the dictatorship. A “man of the cloth”, Father Romano, “Rudy” to his friends, one of the staunchest human rights defenders during those years, was forcibly made to disappear by the military…Father Rudy did not live his spirituality in the confines of convent walls. He meaningfully lived it out through his apostolate with poor farmers, with striking factory workers, with the poor whose shanties were demolished in the name of development, and with students struggling for academic freedom. The priests consequently suffered persecution during that most obscure time of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

In his white cassock, Father Rudy would confront soldiers with their batons and shields. He would link arms with protesters, and suffered arrest and stayed behind the bars of prisons several times. The persecutions did not cow him from following the footsteps of the “Most Holy Redeemer”. It strengthened his resolve to fully embrace the consequences of his actions. “If I die, you will know who killed me,” he told his parents from the province of Samar. He paid the price for concretizing the church’s teaching of preferential option for the poor. He became, and remains to be, one of the more than 2,000 documented cases of disappearances during the Marcos years. The disappearance of the Redemptorist priest brought thousands of people in the central Philippine province of Cebu out in the streets during those years. The perpetrators’ act of cowardice of abducting a committed pastor resulted in an outrage not only among the organized masses in the country but even among international solidarity groups.

More than three decades have passed. There is no trace of Father Rudy’s whereabouts. In a country battered by burning human rights issues, and with the silence of Filipinos who continue to place their trust in a president who openly attacked human rights defenders, the Catholic Church in the Philippines needs to relive the example of Father Rudy. It is sad that there seems to be a dearth of people with the Redemptorist’s zeal and commitment these days. Have we given justice to Father Rudy’s very ideals that earned for him the status of one of the most well-known desaparecidos during the Marcos era? Have his sacrifices in opting for the poor, the deprived, and the oppressed borne fruits for freedom and democracy? Has his exemplary life multiplied a hundredfold through the proliferation of people who are following his footsteps?

Father Rudy’s name is carved on the “Flame of Courage” built by the Redemptorist congregation in Manila in 1994. With hundreds of names of Filipino desaparecidos, the monument of a mother holding a torch and a child holding a picture of his disappeared father manifests the never-ending hope against hope that one day, the long-awaited reunification of families will be realized.

The dream of a “new heaven and a new earth” is far from being realized in this predominantly Catholic country where the teachings of love and justice are blatantly ignored. The “people of God” need, more than ever, pastors who are willing to offer their lives so that others may live.

[Mary Aileen Bacalso is secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/23/filippines-hrd-wins-emilio-mignone-award-for-work-against-enforced-disappearances/]

Source: The imperative of more shepherds for the Lord’s flock – La Croix International

Mexican bishop Raul Vera ‘s continues his dangerous battle against organized crime

August 3, 2017

La Croix International carried a story on the work of bishop Raul Vera: “A Mexican bishop’s dangerous battle against organized crime“. Samuel Lieven described on 14 July, 2017 the priest as “an indefatigable defender of human rights in one of the most violent countries on earth,..[who] … has for thirty years denounced collusion between the Mexican government and the drug cartels. He has stood up to drug lords, traffickers and paramilitaries despite narrowly escaping death several times.” Bishop Vera, a Dominican who was awarded the Rafto Prize for human rights in 2010, has often taken risks in denouncing endemic corruption in Mexico, where the violence has reached record levels. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/02/11/mexico-activists-convene-first-peoples-constitutional-assembly/]
Archbishop Raul Vera arrives at the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City on December 26, 2016. / Alfredo Estrella / Afp

At a press conference on Tuesday, 11 July, Bishop Raul Vera of Saltillo in Coahuila province in northern Mexico directly accused the Mexican government of complicity in organized crime by facilitating the crimes committed by the drug cartels “by terror”. Bishop Vera’s statement accompanied a complaint lodged on July 6 with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for crimes committed by Mexican security forces in collaboration with the powerful Las Zetas cartel. For Bishop Vera, this violence, particularly the violence that has spread in Coahuila province, “is not due to chance”.

In order to establish his complaint with the ICC, Bishop Vera drew on the work of more than 100 civil society organizations as well as reports prepared by the Legal Clinic of the University of Texas. He made particular reference to prosecutions under way against “members of organized crime in American courts which illustrated close collaboration with the government of Coahuila”. In addition, there were dozens of testimonies from victims of crimes committed by Mexican forces between 2009 and 2012 as well as by armed groups of Las Zetas. Overall, 32 recorded cases illustrated the links between the authorities and the cartel with a total of 562 victims involved.

A longstanding and indefatigable defender of indigenous people, prostitutes, homosexuals, prisoners and all oppressed minorities in his own country, Bishop Raul Vera is no beginner in the field of denouncing injustice. In testimony published in 2014, he highlighted the difficulties faced by a bishop standing up to the daily pressure and death threats from local drug lords, paramilitaries or traffickers who respect neither law or religion… Bishop Vera has narrowly escaped death several times….. In the space of ten years, more than forty have been killed. Priests, seminarians, deacons and religious have all become targets. According to an observatory established by the Mexican bishops, violence against the clergy increased by 275% between 1990 and 2015. Mexico also figures along with India, Pakistan or Turkey among the countries where religious freedom is most regularly violated.

Source: A Mexican bishop’s dangerous battle against organized crime – La Croix International

Maldives’ Mohamed Nasheed: from human rights defender to president to exile

June 26, 2017

On 23 Jun 2017 the Human Rights Foundation published the above video from its May Oslo Freedom Forum. Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was first arrested for founding an underground newspaper when he was just 17 years old. This, however, wasn’t the last time the former president would be punished for his activism. Describing his journey from democracy dissident to president of the Maldives to ousted leader championing human rights in exile, President Nasheed shares how he perseveres despite the many challenges he has faced. Although the fight for freedom is difficult, he tells us not to give up – because that’s exactly what the dictators want you to do: “Giving up is exactly what the dictators want you to do. It’s why they jail, beat, and torture. It’s why they fine newspapers and murder people who speak out. We can only beat them by not giving in.”
https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/10/16/amal-clooney-speaks-about-the-maldives-at-ai-side-event/
see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/maldives/

Ecuador’s “Bonil” continues to cartoon for freedom in spite of threats

June 26, 2017

On 20 June 2017, the Human Rights Foundation published the above video from its May Oslo Freedom Forum. It is an unusual day when anyone receives a personal phone call from their country’s president; it is especially unusual if that call is a veiled threat against a cartoonist. Xavier “Bonil” Bonilla pushes the boundaries through his cartooning in Ecuador, a country where journalists, cartoonists, and supporters of freedom of expression are deemed enemies of the state. Though he has been personally attacked by President Rafael Correa for his efforts, Bonil continues to denounce Ecuador’s slide into competitive authoritarianism and reminds us that humor is an incredibly effective tool against dictators.
see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/

Silencing of Miriam Rodriguez Martinez in Mexico: a loud voice for the disappeared

June 21, 2017

Since December 2012, on average two human rights defenders have been killed every month in Mexico. During his recent visit to Mexico (25 January 2017), United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, highlighted the particular dangers faced by indigenous rights defenders and those campaigning to protect the environment from the impact of mega development projects. The situation of human rights defenders in Mexico is conditioned by the criminalisation of their activities through the deliberate misuse of criminal law and the manipulation of the state’s punitive power by both state and non-state actors, to hinder and even prevent the legitimate activities of defenders to promote and protect human rights,” said Forst. “The failure to investigate and sanction aggressors has signaled a dangerous message that there are no consequences for committing such crimes. This creates an environment conducive to the repetition of violations”Two major contributory factors are the impunity enjoyed by organised criminal gangs and the failure by state authorities to provide protection to HRDs or to bring the perpetrators of attacks to justice. Nothing demonstrates the problem better than the work and life of Miriam Rodriguez Martinez, who was gunned down on 10 May 2017.

The obituary in the Economist of 20 May 2017 tells the sad story of this enormously courageous woman in detail: http://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21722139-campaigner-mexicos-disappeared-was-50-obituary-miriam-rodr-guez-mart-nez-died-may

see also: https://socialistworker.org/2017/05/18/justice-for-miriam-rodriguez

and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/

New York Times profiles Saudi defender Manal al-Sharif

June 19, 2017

Manal al-Sharif, an activist for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, in Central Park during a tour for her new memoir. Credit Nathan Bajar for The New York Times

Manal al-Sharif was 14 when she burned her brother’s Back Street Boys cassettes, then her mother’s fashion magazines. She gave up drawing human figures and reading her prized Agatha Christie novels — forbidden, she had learned, under the puritanical strain of Islam sweeping through her native Saudi Arabia at the time. All kinds of things were forbidden for women and girls, she had also learned: no plucking your bushy eyebrows, no parting your hair fashionably to the side, no revealing your face in public. The one thing she could not destroy was a plastic bag of family photographs that her mother had stashed in her bedroom. She found them, years later, after her mother had died. There was a photo of herself, in a red dress for Eid; another of her mother, in a calf-length skirt she had stitched herself; another of her dad, barechested, for the hajj. “I’m so happy she hid them from me,” Ms. al-Sharif said the other day, scrolling through the images she had uploaded on her phone. “I thought we didn’t have any.”

Ms. al-Sharif, 38, has undergone a radical change of heart since those Salafi firebrand days. She is now best known for challenging the laws and mores that keep women down in Saudi Arabia, including what she considers the kingdom’s infantilizing restrictions on the right of women to drive. Her first book, “Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening,” published this week by Simon & Schuster, is a memoir of her political coming of age. It is equally a portrait of tumult and tyranny in Saudi Arabia over the last four decades — and the kingdom’s vexing relationship with the United States……..

..

…………..She lives in Australia now, with her husband, a Brazilian, and their 3-year-old son. She has applied for the Saudi government to recognize her second marriage and has yet to receive it. Exile is frustrating. “When you’re there you don’t just talk. You take action,” she said. “I feel little bit helpless now, being outside.”

And then there’s her firstborn son. He lives in Saudi Arabia, with his father. Ms. al-Sharif visits as often as she can. He asks her all kinds of questions about all kinds of things, like whether to talk to a girl.

“I say: ‘Abdalla, you’re a very intelligent boy. I’ll give you two answers. An answer that I believe in. And an answer that’ll keep you away from trouble,’” she said.

He is now 12, and she hopes he will one day read the book and understand her choices. “It tells my whole story.”

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/13/five-women-human-rights-defenders-from-the-middle-east/

Betty Barkha from Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development about her training in Geneva

June 9, 2017

On 8 June 2017 the International Service for Human Rights published this video of Betty Barkha from APWLD (Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development) giving her views on the HRDAP training [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/27/ishrs-human-rights-defenders-advocacy-programme-2017-starts-on-monday/]

Human rights defender profile: Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel from Mongolia

March 10, 2017

Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel has advocated for the rights of LGBT persons in Mongolia for many years. On 6 March 2017 the ISHR published the following interview with him:

I am a co-founder of LGBT Center of Mongolia and worked as Advocacy Program Manager and then Executive Director from 2009 to 2014. We conducted workshops and training on LGBTI rights to raise awareness among the general public and  law enforcement officers, health professionals, NGOs, public and private schools, etc. LGBT Center also worked hard in cooperation with other organisations to become one of the leading rights-based civil society organisations (CSOs) in Mongolia, contributing to the overall civil society development in the country and the mainstreaming of LGBTI issues into human rights issues as a whole. One of the highlights of what we have done collectively is the successful use of UN mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Committee against Torture (CAT) and Human Rights Committee to make the Government of Mongolia acknowledge its sexual minorities for the first time, express its political will to protect our rights and commit to implement the UPR and treaty bodies’ recommendations.

What motivated you to become involved in human rights work?

Having lived, studied and worked in Japan for 7 years, I felt that I needed to contribute to the development of my own country. As a young gay man who has seen the world, I was optimistically ambitious and daring enough to slip my hand into a tiger’s mouth, as the Mongolian saying goes. However, the situation for the LGBTI community was quite bleak with no rights-based NGO for the community operating. Then I joined the Mongolian Red Cross Society and where I met other co-founders of the LGBT Center. My personal desire for a better future for LGBTI Mongolians, the invincible passions of the co-founders Robyn Garner and Anaraa Nyamdorj, and the remarkable feminists and human rights defenders of vibrant, active Mongolian civil society motivated and still inspire me to work on LGBTI issues at home and abroad.   

What risks, challenges or threats do you face as a human rights defender in your country? 

Together with fellow activists I appeared on TV shows and gave interviews especially before, during and after UN and domestic advocacy efforts. Personal risks involved automatically “outing” my friends, family members and everyone around me, and in the process passively encroaching upon their right to privacy. They were so understanding and loving that they endured the negative attitudes, threats and attacks. Most of these threats come from a lack of information and misconceptions about LGBTI people and issues, as well as fear of being associated in any way with sexual minorities. I had to deactivate my Facebook account a few years ago to protect my family and what’s left of my privacy. Nevertheless, the situation is getting better after all these awareness-raising activities and LGBT Center’s work with the government and civil society, and I think now the private sector needs to join the cause for the sake of a better future for all.     

What is the legal situation for NGOs and human rights defenders in Mongolia? What changes would you like to see to create a fully enabling environment for their work?

The NGO Law of Mongolia allows many NGOs to emerge and operate. The LGBT Center struggled initially to be registered as a legal entity back in 2007-2009. Since then we have not had any issues with the authorities in terms of the NGO registration. However, there is no law that enshrines the rights of human rights defenders (HRDs). In addition to the challenges of engaging in human rights work, LGBTI activists further suffer verbal and physical abuse and intimidation, family pressure and violence, financial obstacles, housing difficulties and even terrible treatment by landlords of NGO offices. Therefore, we desperately need a state policy and legislation on human rights defenders.

Can you give some examples of how you have engaged with the UN Special Procedures?

Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, made an official visit to Mongolia in 2012. I met her towards the end of her visit and updated her on the situation of the LGBTI community. Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda observed that “the recent economic achievements made in Mongolia has not benefited the country’s poor” and highlighted vulnerable groups, including people living with HIV (PLHIV) and LGBTI persons.

In 2013, the Special Rapporteur’s report was released, concluding that “there is a high level of inequality at a time when the country is experiencing a major economic boom.” Given the pervasive inequality affecting the LGBTI community and the government’s recently expressed political will, the Center was encouraged to collect our own data on how poverty affects the LGBTI community and its root causes so that our advocacy efforts would be better informed and effectively targeted. 

What have you achieved through this engagement? 

The study – “Poverty and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community in Mongolia” – was conducted in 2014. Its main author Dr. A. Bulbul discovered that the unemployment rate of survey participants was 10.4%, higher than the official rate of 7.8% among the general population, and approximately 22% lived below the national poverty line. The study concluded that enabling a legal environment to ensure equal access to education and employment and changing public perception and attitudes was necessary. This study – inspired by the Special Rapporteur’s visit – was significant since we got to utilise the UN Special Procedures and started to gather evidence to better inform the public and the relevant officials in the government and international organisations for better advocacy.  

How do you think using the international human rights system assists in achieving domestic advocacy goals? 

International human rights norms and standards definitely guide defenders to identify gaps, to better use the mechanisms established and available for us and to network with other like-minded activists, scholars, diplomats and UN officials. I would also like to thank organisations such as ISHR, ARC International, OutRight Action International, ILGA, COC Netherlands, OSCE, Open Society Foundations and FORUM-ASIA which act as a bridge between us – local and national activists – and the international and regional human rights systems, allowing us to lobby our government and make our advocacy more effective through their financial and technical assistance and support.      

What if anything could the UN do to make the Special Procedures system easier/safer for you to engage with?

From experiences of working as an activist at the UN in Geneva and New York, I know that the UN is a political institution. However, it has been reformed to genuinely ensure the representation and participation of civil society. The UPR is a prime example because it brought LGBTI issues to the attention of our government, leading to legal reform. I would like to see those who work in the Special Procedures’ teams be present both online and offline. Country visits by Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda and meetings with diverse stakeholders were truly amazing and productive. Online presence of UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association Mr. Maina Kiai, who listens to activists’ voices from the ground is absolutely impressive. And most importantly, I wish the UN work at the headquarters could be translated into the UN country offices as swiftly, effectively and efficiently as possible.  

Source: Human rights defender profile: Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel from Mongolia | ISHR