Tapan Mishra: We must create a culture of zero tolerance to violence and harassment in all society
Interview by Daily New with Tapan Mishra, UN Resident Coordinator on human rights issues in Mongolia
We would like to speak with you on human rights issues in Mongolia. How satisfied are you with the implementation of human rights measure by the Government?
Human rights are one of our key mandates and remain front and center of the foundation of inclusive and sustainable development. I am most pleased to have this opportunity to reiterate our commitment to promoting human rights in Mongolia.
I must commend Mongolia for taking some concrete actions in promoting and upholding human rights in the country. The latest development is the adoption of the Law on the legal status of the Human Rights Defenders, making Mongolia the first country in the region to provide legal protection for Human Rights Defenders.
In addition, I would like to bring up here, the issue of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) - a unique process that involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. Mongolia was engaged in UPR three times, in 2010, 2015 and 2020.
Please allow me to highlight here several examples of numerous achievements and commitments made by Mongolia as reported to the UPR. For instance, moratorium and abolishment of the death penalty; the existence of National Action Plan for Human Rights and National Human Rights Commission; commitment to gender equality including the fight against gender-based discrimination and violence; legal guarantees such as Law on Gender Equality, Law on the promotion of youth development, banning the use of children in winter and summer horse races; amendments to the Constitution, revision of Labour Code, Law to Combat Domestic Violence, Law on National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia and establishment of National Preventive Mechanism against Torture.
From the last UPR session held in March 2021, Mongolia received 190 recommendations and accepted 170 of them. The latest recommendations mainly focused on further strengthening of legal framework and protection for specific social groups such as women, children, sexual minorities, persons with disabilities and youth. Major concerns were around violence against women, in particular sexual and gender-based violence, domestic violence, exploitation, sexual harassment and abuse of power, as well as support to victims, survivors and witnesses, legislative protection of rights of girls and women through revision of Criminal Code and Labor Code.
You just mentioned the issues related to sexual violence and harassment. I am sure you are following local media about recent incidents in relation to abuse of authority in the military, sexual and other types of harassment allegations, which are now leading to the current outcry of the society. What is the UN’s position on this matter?
Yes, we are very aware of these incidents. Let me reiterate that the UN has a policy of “zero tolerance” to violence and abuse. The UN strongly condemns all forms of violence and harassment including gender-based violence, sexual harassment and exploitation and workplace harassment. Here, I would like to reiterate the UN’s position that it is fully committed to addressing this hideous phenomenon through a four-pronged strategy: (a) prioritizing the rights and dignity of victims; (b) ending impunity through strengthened reporting and investigations; (c) engaging with the Member States, civil society and external partners; and (d) improving strategic communication for education and transparency.
In our joint UNDP and NHRCM study on workplace sexual harassment in the public administration in 2018, it revealed that 98 per cent of the victims are women. Furthermore, the recent nationwide study among 3000 civil servants by UNDP with the NHRCM showed that one-third of the respondents received some form of sexual harassment at the workplace. This is alarming and unacceptable.
So then, what shall we do to hold the perpetrators accountable, and how do we ensure to prevent such violations of human rights in the future?
We see a great need for strong advocacy for raising awareness of such crimes and human rights violations. We learnt that there is a strong gap amongst various age groups on a clear understanding of what sexual harassment and violence and harassment are. Definitions vary and lines are often blurred. For example, sexual “harassment” is often classified as a form of gender-based “violence”. This is why the ILO convention defines violence and harassment in the world of work as “a range of unacceptable behaviours and practices” that “aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm”. This potentially covers physical abuse, verbal abuse, bullying and mobbing, sexual harassment, threats and stalking, among other things.
We must create a culture of zero tolerance to violence and harassment in all society at large, including private and public places.
We are happy that the Mongolian public is becoming more aware and rightfully demanding an appropriate course of actions to address this issue. Organizations must have their policies to prevent violence and harassment including sexual harassment at their workplaces. This can be done through essential training and awareness-raising campaigns.
Coming forward with stories of sexual harassment and abuse can be very difficult and re-traumatizing, so survivors who come forward must be able to trust that the system will protect them from retaliation and further harm and that their claims would be properly investigated if they wish to pursue legal action. This includes empowered and effective, safe, victim-centred complaint handling institutions with legislative protective guarantees in all sectors including public service and private sector.
We must also give a much bigger emphasis on going after perpetrators, shifting the burden of proof from victims/survivors to perpetrators to further encourage information about the crimes to come out.
Government must ensure law enforcement for the perpetrators and take swift and due actions with a thorough investigation of alleged cases, regardless of who the victims or the abusers are.
Women coming out should be protected and stereotypes and stigmatization should be prevented. We should create an environment where people trust the Government’s actions to protect the victims. The government must continue to invest in mechanisms that provide much-needed services to survivors of harassment and violence.
What are UN roles and engagement in addressing these issues?
The UN has been doing a lot in this field. In fact, the majority of our work is embedded human rights and gender equality principles. However, we must do more and join forces with the government and all partners to combat these inhumane treatments to our women and girls.
Over the years, UN agencies have been strongly advocating for gender equality and addressing gender-based violence in Mongolia. We supported the generation of data and evidence on GBV through the National GBV Survey and other research endeavours, which have been crucial in policymaking and public awareness-raising. Much of our work has been devoted to the creation of a supportive policy environment that protects the rights of women and girls to live without violence, while also setting up mechanisms to protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. We also work to prevent sexual exploitation by raising public awareness and have been protecting and providing assistance to victims of trafficking since 2008. We also work on women empowerment, by ensuring equal representation through special measures and quotas and supporting women participation in social and political spheres as envisaged in SDG-5.
We also provide support to Mongolia’s tripartite social partners – the Government, employers and workers - on the revision of labour law, and has recommended that the law provisions be in line with ILO Convention C190. Although not ratified by Mongolia, the convention focuses on prevention and protection, enforcement and remedies and guidance and training and adopting an inclusive, integrated and gender-responsive approach. The Parliament is discussing the draft labour law and we hope it will be approved in its spring session.
Taking the opportunity, I would like to say that the United Nations stands ready to support the Government to ratify the ILO Convention concerning violence and harassment in the world of work, C.190.
Thank you for your time and invaluable information.
This is a translation from the interview in Mongolian that was originally published on Daily News on 26 April 2021.