The Advocates Leads Momentum in Mongolia to Keep Women Safe

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The Advocates at work in Mongolia
on a fact-finding mission.

The Advocates for Human Rights is in Mongolia this week to release a report and to lead presentations on that country’s efforts to combat domestic violence.

One in three women in Mongolia was a victim of domestic violence in 2010, according to an estimate of the National Center Against Violence (NCAV), headquartered in Ulaabaatar, Mongolia. This statistic mirrors the United Nations’ finding that as many as 70 percent of women are victims of violence at some point in their lives.

Developed by The Advocates and its partner, NCAV, the report, “Implementation of Mongolia’s Domestic Violence Legislation,” analyzes the real-life results that followed the Mongolian government’s enactment of the Law to Combat Domestic Violence (LCDV) in 2004. The report’s findings and recommendations are being discussed this week with Mongolian parliamentarians, Ministry of Justice officials, prosecutors, judges, and the U.S. ambassador to Mongolia and embassy personnel.

“Yesterday’s meeting at Parliament was extraordinary,” says Helen Rubenstein, deputy director of The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program and the report’s lead researcher and author. Seven parliament members were present, including chair people of the key committees that will be hearing proposed domestic violence legislation. Representatives of every government sector participated, and there was an impressive turn out of police, prosecutors, judges, social workers, teachers, and others.

“In particular, officials recognize the need for government agencies to be given specific responsibilities for the law’s implementation,” she says. “There was also recognition that the cause of domestic violence is attitudes toward women, not alcohol or the other ‘reasons’ typically given.”

The timing of the report’s release and the presentations is fitting; a particularly gruesome domestic violence murder shook the nation in December. Responding to the brutality, the president of Mongolia, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, delivered a powerful speech in which he labeled domestic violence a “scourge,” and pointed to the need for government sectors to take responsibility for combating it. President Elbegdorj reasserted his pledge in his New Year’s greeting to the country, promising that work to eliminate domestic violence will be a priority in 2014.

Also on the docket is a meeting with the United States Ambassador Piper Anne Wind Campbell and other U.S. embassy officials.

“It is so gratifying to see how our work is contributing to the sweeping momentum to make the necessary changes to finally achieve safety for women in Mongolia,” says Rubenstein.

To study the LCDV’s effects, The Advocates and NCAV led two fact-finding missions in January and March 2013, traveling to seven cities in Mongolia and conducting 137 interviews, including with ministry officials, non-governmental organizations, victims, social workers, police, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, governors, and health care workers.

The report outlines additional steps needed to protect women and to hold perpetrators accountable. Specifically, it points to challenges obtaining restraining orders; the consequences of domestic violence not being directly addressed by penal legislation; the barriers the country’s Family Law poses to obtaining a divorce; and the consequences of the lack of shelters and essential social services and support for women.

While the LCDV contains many provisions for restraining orders to protect women, only a few restraining orders have been issued in Mongolia since the law took effect in 2005, according to the NCAV. Barriers impeding the issuance of restraining orders include:

  • Pervasive lack of knowledge about domestic violence;
  • Legal and procedural hurdles that make the restraining order process difficult, if not impossible;
  • Lack of process for enforcing restraining orders and a lack of consequences for violating them.

In addition, offenders are not held accountable because domestic violence is not directly addressed by current penal legislation. Moreover, government actors do not place a priority on pursuing domestic violence offenses.

The report goes on to say that “[t]he futility of restraining orders and the lack of an effective criminal justice response lead victims to seek alternatives to be safe. Many women see divorce as a primary, and often the only, solution to domestic violence.” However, Mongolia’s Family Law poses barriers for a woman trying to obtain a divorce to escape domestic violence, including:

  • Divorce is not an option for women who are pregnant or have a child under the age of one year;
  • Many women find the cost of divorce prohibitive;
  • Before granting a divorce, judges are allowed to impose a three-month reconciliation period for a couple. The reconciliation is eliminated by law where there is threat to life, however, judges do not consistently screen for domestic violence, nor is domestic violence necessarily discovered when a screening is conducted. Moreover, some judges impose a reconciliation period even if domestic violence is reported, creating serious safety concerns for victims.

“Now is the time to take the additional measures set forth in the report to more fully achieve victim safety and to ensure offender accountability,” Rubenstein states. “We urge the government of Mongolia to execute the report’s recommendations to continue this vital work.”

Working with Rubenstein in Mongolia is Aviva Breen, a board member with The Advocates.

The Open Society Institute and the Sigrid Rausing Trust provided financial support for the report’s production.

By: Helen Rubenstein, deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Women’s Human Rights Program, and Susan L. Banovetz, the organization’s communication director.

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