13 December 2020
Tapan Mishra: I am truly convinced that the world will be a better place if people, irrespective of where they live, stand up for Human Rights.
Every year, 10 December is celebrated as Human Rights Day. In this context, the United Nations urges countries to focus on a specific theme each year. Given the current global pandemic, this year’s theme is "Recover Better – Stand up for Human Rights!” In this regard, we spoke with the UN Resident Coordinator Tapan Mishra around human rights issues. --75 years ago, after the Second World War, in order to recover from the ashes, the countries joined together and committed to establish the international community for peace, development and human rights, and that was the UN. How has the United Nations changed and reformed since then? Looking at the historical chronology of the development and human rights, in 1945 the international community emphasizing the inherent dignity, equality and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, agreed to respect the fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, gender, language, or religion, and approved the UN Charter. Thereafter, the UN Commission on Human Rights was established, and in 1948 by the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community’s grounds were founded. Further, the establishment of a regional human rights system in 1946-1986 and the recognition of the right to development led to the assessment that the country's development was not just a matter of economic growth, but also of human rights. You may also be aware of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That was adopted in 1989 to comprehensively regulate the relationship between rights and obligations while the 1986 Declaration of the Right to Development considered the person to be placed at the center of development. Following this, the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights set the standard for relating human rights to development. In the same year, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was established. Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasized the importance of human rights in all UN systems when he introduced UN reforms in 1997. Since then, we have been working effectively by issuing the Human Development Report in 2000 followed by the Millennium Development Goals, the Second Reform in 2002, the Human Rights-Based Approach in 2003. In 2006, the Human Rights Council was established, conducting the UPR or Universal Periodic Review of human rights in 2008, the Global Human Rights Program in 2004-2008 and setting up the UNDG Human Rights Working Group to support the UN Resident Coordinator and UNCT in 2010, etc. When UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took office in 2017, he launched major reforms in the areas of development, peace, security and governance. As part of this reform, my current position was created. In the past, the UN Resident Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative positions were combined in one role, but now from 2019 based on the recommendations of Member States and UN General Assembly Resolution, the functions have been separated. An independent and empowered office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Mongolia has been established to facilitate effective achievement of the SDGs and enable the UN agencies to more efficient to deliver as One UN in Mongolia. Along with that, this year, as part of the UN75 initiative of the United Nations, the voices of countries and peoples were heard around the world, discussing what is the Future they would like to shape in the next 25 yaers and what would the world and UN be like in 2045. In this context, we have been able to hear the voices of the representatives of all segments of the Mongolian society with the support of the UN Youth Advisory Committee and other collaborators and partners. We compiled together the views and voices of all parties on the future reforms of the United Nations and forwarded them to the Office of the Secretary-General which was also discussed in the UN General Assembly. --You mentioned the UN75 Initiative of the United Nations. What activities took place during this anniversary? How effective was this initiative? What did our country and the world want to pay attention to? We celebrated the 75th anniversary of the United Nations with great success. As mentioned, the worldwide campaign to listen to citizens was launched by the UN Secretary-General. For example, 16,000 people from China - a country with a billion population, responded to the online survey, while 1,400 people from Mongolia took part in the survey showing the country’s active participation. Through 12 different consultative dialogues with about 500 people, we were able to listen to the voices of diverse groups. The final results of these global conversations gave us an idea what the countries and peoples of the world are wishing for in the next 25 years. For example, regardless of the continent, the first priority is to provide health, water, sanitation, education; secondly, to support the vulnerable people through international solidarity and cooperation during the pandemic, and to ensure that no one is left behind from the economic, social and cultural development; thirdly, to eliminate inequality, focusing long-term on education and women around the world, the fourth, to address on climate change and environmental issues, and the fifth, to respect human rights, end conflicts, and eradicate poverty and corruption. It was noted that poverty, corruption in developing countries, violence among their citizens have become a major concern or a painful "toothache”. It is noted that for young people it is important to be optimistic about the future as well as more involved and supportive of the development cooperation. I think all these issues can be solved if we are able to provide equal participation and inclusion of all. In the end, I am truly convinced that the world will be a better place if people, irrespective of where they live, are engaged in inclusive and sustainable development, become more responsible towards climate action, ensure compliance to Human Rights and follow the rules of transparency, and ethics. -What steps do countries need to take to join Human Rights Day's call for "Recover Better - Stand up for Human Rights”? Human Rights Day's slogan this year, "Recover Better - Stand up for Human Rights”, calls for action especially in this current challenging situation. The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced two fundamental truths about human rights. First of all, human rights violations harm us all. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups including frontline workers, people with disabilities, older people, women and girls, and minorities. It has thrived because poverty, inequality, discrimination, the destruction of our natural environment and other human rights failures have created enormous fragilities in our societies. At the same time, the pandemic is undermining human rights, by providing a pretext for heavy-handed security responses and repressive measures that curtail civic space and media freedom. The second truth highlighted by the pandemic is that human rights are universal and protect us all. An effective response to the pandemic must be based on solidarity and cooperation. - What should an individual do to protect his or her rights? As I mentioned, in 2003, the United Nations introduced a human rights-based approach to all its systems, linking all its projects, programs and activities to human rights. To state it simply, on the one hand, everyone who has rights must be aware of their inherent rights, rightfully demand and participate in exercising them, and on the other hand, all those who have obligations must work responsibly to respect, protect, promote and ensure human rights. In this regard, human rights education is very important. The civil service, private sector, civil society, national human rights organizations, and academia should all disseminate human rights education through formal, informal, and real-life learning within the framework of their specializations and topics. The National Program for Improving the Universal Public Legal Education of the Government of Mongolia is a clear example of this. As a citizen, you must participate in the life of the society knowing your rights and demanding them. If you don't know, my request would be to all citizen to enhance their awareness and ensure that human rights is protected for themselves and all others. -The United Nations Human Rights Council reviews the human rights situation in its member countries every 4.5 years. On November 4, our country’s review was discussed. What progress has been made in Mongolia and what issues need to be addressed in the future? The Human Rights Council discussed the human rights situation in Mongolia three times, in 2010, 2015, and 2020. Mongolia was praised for making significant progress in the human rights area in the past. For example, the abolition of the death penalty, and the fact that the discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity started to be considered criminal offenses. The legal basis have been established for creating of a national mechanism for prevention of torture. The laws focused on gender equality, child rights, protection, youth development, the rights of persons with disabilities, and the elderly have been passed. Progress has also been made with regard to adoption of a number of norms to ensure citizens’ participation and action, and the drafting of the law on protection of human rights defenders. Every review and discussion on the human rights situation continue to bring up the issues of discrimination, violence, the problems caused due to inequality, climate change, human-induced environmental degradation, migration, development, good governance, and the rule of law. -What would you do if during your tenure you had the opportunity to address five issues which cause human rights problems? Why? One, the pandemic. Second, the health, humanitarian, socio-economic and governance challenges posed by the pandemic. Third, issues of domestic violence, violence against girls and women, gender-based violence as well as all forms of violence and discrimination. Four, inequalities such as access to water and sanitation as well as safe and nutritious food for all. Finally, climate change. Because a person needs a healthy and safe environment, conditions for growth and prosperity, and opportunities to live peacefully and free without fear and suffering. -What human rights issues are you focusing on right now? The focus right now is on health, humanitarian, social and economic challenges caused by the pandemic, government response, migration, child protection, e-transition, education, health services, resources, assistance and support. We are trying to ensure that inclusive and sustainable development of all citizens of Mongolia is a priority, leaving no one behind, especially the most vulnerable populations. We are also trying to ensure that there are no violations of Human Rights, including violence against Women and Children as well as other vulnerable groups like elderly and persons with disabilities. We are working with Government Counterparts to prevent any discrimination or stigmatization, especially with COVID victims. With regard to legislation there are draft laws related to the issues such as the budget, taxes, local government, the package of laws of judiciary, protection of human rights defenders, water, and corruption. -You mentioned civil society. What do you think about the conditions for human rights defenders in our country? Mongolia's democracy is very dynamic and has its distinct positives, which is directly related to civil society. Civil society differs from the public and private sectors by freely speaking, expressing views, associating, and, if necessary, turning into the voice, eyes, ears, hands and feet of vulnerable ones. Those who strive for civil society, especially people who expand the civic space, promote societal values are by all means human rights defenders. They work, professionally or voluntarily, once, sometimes continuously, alone or together with others, to exercise human rights. For example, children and youth advocating for quality education, parents against air pollution, people trying hard for gender equality, journalists investigating corruption and power abuse, trade union members fighting for decent work, youngsters demanding civil and democratic space, impartial judiciary, social workers facing violence and many others are human rights defenders. Michelle Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Mary Lawlor, who just started her mandate, noted that it is important to coordinate human rights defenders protection in Mongolia, pay attention to the fact that many incidents are occurring, and pointed out that the provision of legal guarantees by the state will help to build a humane, democratic civil society, expand the civic space and strengthen democratic institutions. --Why should human rights defenders be protected by law, and especially should the state be responsible for protection? The Constitution states that everyone has the right to legal guarantees for the full enjoyment of their rights and freedoms. In addition to national law, international human rights treaties are enforced internally. Therefore, it is the duty of the state to protect everyone in civil society from being vulnerable to harassment, pressure, from being attacked, discriminated against, or victimized. The draft law, worked out by the National Human Rights Commission in collaboration with the civil society, legislators, sets out who should be considered as human rights defenders, what they should be. It stipulates the criteria including constructive regulations on which government entity is responsible if the above-mentioned issues and problems occur and how to deal with them. -The Human Development Index, the Millennium Development Goals, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be described as action plans for exercising human rights and freedoms. In its Voluntary National Report, the Mongolian Government reported on the challenges and issues surrounding air pollution in the implementation of the SDGs in 2019. What should we focus on in the remaining decade? It would be very efficient and effective to have National SDG Targets and Indicators that are in conformity with the Sustainable Development Goals. It would be very useful to prepare and compile information on 17 goals, 169 targets and hundreds of indicators for the local governments, to create a unified database, and elaborate additional plans to implement and contribute to the SDGs from soums, aimags, districts and the capital city. All Stakeholders have to work together to estimate, evaluate, issue policies, plan and make adequate investments to achieve the SDGs. We also need to focus especially on the six groups such as children, girls and women, youth, people with disabilities, herders, and migrants who are at risk of being left behind in moving forward shoulder by shoulder. Furthermore, no other social group should be left out. A closer look at each SDGs can provide solutions to many of the human rights issues, problems and violations I have outlined above. There is a need for well-coordinated long, medium and short-term national development policies and programmes with a clear set of indicators and targets and are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. Even the monitoring system has to be in place. We need to pay attention to three things to achieve the SDGs. Firstly, SDGs need to be aligned with the national development policies. Secondly, development financing should be geared towards the priority areas of the policies. Third point is that development results are to be monitored against the set SDG indicators. In addition, more attention should be given to vulnerable segments in order to leave no one behind from development. We must give an adequate attention to the people who are engaged in informal sector and are barely meeting the ends, especially during this pandemic crisis. If we pay a close look at the each SDG, the ways to solve many of the above-mentioned human rights issues. -The National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia has been newly composed. Human rights activists are urging the establishment of a national mechanism to prevent torture. How does this mechanism benefit society? The National Human Rights Commission, which has about 20 years of experience, has recently expanded. According to SDG Objective 5.5, the appointment of three women members is a step forward. The commission was chaired by a woman, and now a new composition chaired by a woman will set an example of gender equality among other senior government officials. The establishment of a national mechanism for the prevention of torture will provide an opportunity to put an end to inhumane, cruel, abusive and punitive practices in the country. In particular, the government will be able to prevent and stop such abuses. -2021 will mark the 60th anniversary of Mongolia's membership in the United Nations. What are the plans to celebrate this event? Mongolia joined the United Nations on 27th October, 1961. Over the past 60 years, the United Nations and Mongolia have enjoyed very strong, mutually beneficial relationships. Today, Mongolia's peacekeepers with blue helmets and humanitarian workers are at the forefront of conflict and natural disasters. Mongolia is an active member of the United Nations on the world stage, contributing to UN peacekeeping operations. The Government of Mongolia plans to develop a special action program. We aim to widely celebrate this historic day of joining as a member, the international community involving the globe. -How do you wish to see Mongolia in 2030? Not only me but also all the people of Mongolia and the world wish to see inclusive and sustainable development of all citizens, leaving no one behind, to have a just, equitable, stable and resilient society living in a healthy, safe and favorable environment. I also wish to see Mongolia leveraging it valuable human resources and its rich cultural heritage as well as modern education and innovation to lead a strong and sustainable recovery with a diversified economic growth portfolio that benefits all Mongolians. -Do you envision significant positive changes in the adherence and protection of human rights? Most certainly, I would like to say that such changes are indeed possible when everyone, regardless of whether they represents civil service, private sector or civil society, knows, understands, is conscious of, and rightfully demands human rights and as a result enjoys them and enables others to do so. Thank you for your time and the interview! O. Ariuntsetseg This interview was first published on Daily News (dnn.mn) in Mongolian, on 10 December.