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Mongolia: The OSCE’s Newest Participating State
Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Mongolia became an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) participating State in 2012, the most recent country to freely undertake all OSCE commitments. Previously, Mongolia—like Australia, several countries in Asia, and a number of Mediterranean nations— had been an OSCE Partner for Cooperation, states in formal dialogue with the OSCE, though not taking on OSCE commitments. This transition—from partner to full-fledged participant—is the first time such a transition had been made, and marks the first ever enlargement of the OSCE region. It signaled the strong commitment of Mongolia to the values articulated in the Helsinki Final Act.

Recently, Helsinki Commission staff visited Mongolia to meet with interlocutors in government, civil society, and the private sector. The delegation found entrepreneurial partners committed to democratic values and fundamental freedoms. This was particularly impressive given that the country is located between Russia and China—large authoritarian powers known for their use of economic and other forms of coercion to achieve foreign policy goals.

However, Mongolia also faces emerging challenges regarding public corruption and the rule of law. While Mongolia remains the sole strong democracy in the region, recent developments and trends may threaten its democratic achievements and its potential to be a model for other nations in the region.

The OSCE is based on an idea of comprehensive security: the concept that military security, economic security, and human security must all be considered when engaging in international relations. Mongolia can be analyzed through a similar lens, with its military situation, economic situation and human rights situation all informing policy toward the country.

First Dimension: Political-Military Affairs

Mongolia is in the quintessential bad neighborhood. No two countries have acted as aggressively toward their neighbors Russia and China. Russia currently is in violation of all ten Helsinki principles as a result of its occupation of Crimea and continuing destabilization of Eastern Ukraine.

Luckily, neither of Mongolia’s neighbors has yet opted to invade the country. Historically, Russia has acted as guarantor of Mongolia’s sovereignty against China, the much more likely candidate of the two to pose an immediate security threat. However, recently Russia has increased its cooperation with China, as demonstrated by a recent Russia-China joint military exercise.

While Mongolia continues to purchase arms from Russia, this new trend of Russian-Chinese cooperation poses the most important threat to Mongolian security. Already, Mongolia has been pressured to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a China-centric political alliance—to which Russia also belongs—based on authoritarianism and dedicated to the eradication of the so-called three evils of terrorism, extremism, and separatism.

However, there are also reasons to doubt the future of Russia-China cooperation. Mongolian national security experts seem certain that the scope of cooperation has a low ceiling and that much of the collaboration—like the recent military exercise—is just for show. These experts argue that Russia has no desire to subordinate itself to Chinese interests in the long-term, which it would be required to do to enhance cooperation; China is the much stronger partner.

Second Dimension: Economic & Environmental Issues

While a military invasion of Mongolia by China remains unlikely, China has found other ways to exert its influence in the country, largely through economic coercion. China’s economic weight and importance as a market for Mongolia—a commodity-based economy heavily reliant on its much larger neighbor—means that China can dictate terms on contracts and agreements. It can also leverage this economic power for political purposes as it famously did when it closed a key China-Mongolia border crossing for truckers after the Dalai Lama visited Ulaanbaatar.

As a result, Mongolian policymakers have begun to search for new markets, products, and opportunities that could diversify their economy. One key product is cashmere. Currently, most cashmere exports to the United States originate from China, which, thanks to its enormous market, largely determines the global price of cashmere. This enables China to purchase Mongolian cashmere cheaply and prevent it from posing a challenge to the Chinese cashmere industry.

The Mongolia Third Neighbor Trade Act (H.R. 2219 and S. 1188) currently being considered by the U.S. Congress would remove U.S. tariffs on Mongolian cashmere goods and increase the demand for raw cashmere within Mongolia, empowering domestic producers and eroding China’s quasi-monopolistic control of the market. In doing so, the Third Neighbor Trade Act would help to diversify Mongolia’s economy and make it more resilient against its large, aggressive neighbor to the south. It would also serve to empower women in the country, who are employed disproportionately to men in cashmere factories.

However, sustainability remains a problem. The goats from which cashmere is derived feed on grass in a destructive way, pulling out root and stem. This can lead to the desertification of the environment. As demand for cashmere increases and nomads enhance their herds with additional goats, one can expect this tragedy of the commons to become worse. Though producers of cashmere goods within Mongolia have attempted to build sustainability into their business models, the U.S. Congress may wish to consider this aspect of the business to prevent any unintended environmental consequences of increased demand for Mongolian cashmere.

Corruption

Mongolia is currently struggling to address an ongoing public corruption problem, in part through the Independent Agency Against Corruption, an independent investigative law enforcement agency designed to fight graft. Still, reporting shows that bribery and abuse of public office remain a problem in the country and one that should be of concern as an OSCE participating State.

Mongolia was recently added to the grey list kept by the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF). The FATF is the premier international governing, rulemaking, and peer evaluation body for financial conduct. Its most potent tool is the FATF black list, which identifies countries that do not comply with its list of international financial standards designed to prevent threat financing and money laundering. The price of landing on this black list is immense—banks will not do business with blacklisted countries, or entities located within them, leading to enormous losses in potential revenue. The grey list serves as the warning list prior to inclusion on the black list.

Though grand corruption may have gotten in the way of completing the necessary reforms to avoid a designation on the FATF grey list, in Mongolia’s case, it appears that the problem may be primarily one of capacity. Mongolia has never had to establish the anti-money laundering framework of a more developed country and lacks the training and expertise to bring itself in compliance. The U.S. Department of the Treasury is already providing assistance to Mongolia to build robust anti-money laundering systems that will get it off the grey list.

An OSCE field mission could also assist with these and other capacity problems; however, all participating States must agree to allow Mongolia to host such a mission. Russia continues to block this move.

Rule of Law

While lack of capacity explains many of Mongolia’s compliance problems, signs indicate that certain powerful political players are seeking to roll back rule of law safeguards in the country. Recently, a law was passed enabling the National Security Council of Mongolia—a small body consisting of the President, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker—to dismiss judges due to claims of corruption. While the council argues that reform necessary to take down corrupt judges who would otherwise be defended by the patrons they serve, it is not hard to imagine how this power could abused. At least 17 judges have been dismissed in this fashion.

The National Security Council claims that this power will no longer be necessary once they have completed reforms that should weed corruption out of the judiciary. This reform includes new bodies to both select and discipline judges.

Third Dimension: Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues

Media Consolidation

Media consolidation is a growing problem for journalism in Mongolia. The major media outlets of the country are owned by a handful of individuals who use this ownership to further their political agendas. As a result, journalists are at risk of self-censorship or even pushed to promote stories that further the political narratives of the media tycoons. Media consolidation breeds a problematic information environment in Mongolia and contributes to a lack of opinion diversity.

Closing Space for Civil Society

Mongolia also seems threatened by the potential for the ruling elite to close the space for the operation of civil society. A draft law proposes creating a public fund that would serve as the exclusive funding source for all civil society operations. This would mean that civil society would be forced to comply with the conditions put on this fund or cease to exist. While this approach is not yet law, interlocutors warned that the next election will be one to watch and could lead to the consolidation of power should certain elements be victorious.

Conclusion

Mongolia is a country with great potential to contribute to the Helsinki Process if it is empowered to do so. By joining the organization in 2012, it proved that the OSCE could grow. Now, it seeks to demonstrate its leadership once again by receiving an OSCE field mission at a time when many of its neighbors are trying to close theirs—like Kazakhstan—or have successfully closed theirs—like Azerbaijan. With the right combination of ambition and caution, Mongolia could lead the way to a future of democracy in the steppe.

However, there are warning signs that Mongolia could be heading in the wrong direction. The United States should do everything in its power to prevent this—both via diplomatic engagement and economic assistance. The clearest way for Congress to do this is through the passage of the Third Neighbor Trade Act.

The OSCE too should focus its efforts on Mongolia as a far-flung state with immense potential. Mongolians could take up leadership positions in its institutions, potentially even serving as a Chair-in-Office in the near future. By becoming more visible in the organization itself, Mongolia can build its profile as a leader and the OSCE can take advantage of its expertise in preserving democracy in a hard neighborhood.

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    WASHINGTON—On the conclusion of the December 4-5 OSCE Ministerial Council in Basel, Switzerland, U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following statement: “The OSCE Ministerial this year has been exceptional. I welcome the fact that an overwhelming majority of OSCE countries condemned the unlawful occupation of Crimea, defended the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and called for Russia to end its support for violence in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s illegal activities in Ukraine have violated the most fundamental principles of the Helsinki Final Act, on which the OSCE is based. “Moving forward, the OSCE must focus on the implementation of its core commitments. The OSCE PA has spoken to this issue by passing a resolution I introduced in July, calling on Russia to cease its clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of Helsinki principles, not only in Ukraine but regarding other neighbors and at home as well. “Other serious human rights concerns in the OSCE region were spotlighted by the absence of some leading figures from this year’s Ministerial meeting. “While Turkmenistan’s current ambassador to the OSCE addressed his counterparts in Basel, the fate of his predecessor, Batyr Berdiev – as well as some 100 other prisoners – remains unknown. I welcome the Swiss Chairmanship’s efforts to address the issues of torture and enforced disappearances during their chairmanship and call on Turkmenistan to tell the families of Ambassador Berdiev and the other disappeared persons what has happened to their loved ones. “In addition, Rasul Jafarov was prevented from leading a civil society discussion on freedom of expression in Basel. Jafarov remains imprisoned in Azerbaijan in retaliation for his activism. Eldeniz Hajiyev, another human rights activist, was unable to travel to Basel because she is under house arrest in Baku. I commend the 43 OSCE countries which worked to advance an OSCE decision on freedom of expression and urge Azerbaijan to cease its flagrant persecution of independent civil society activists.”

  • Bipartisan U.S. Delegation Defends Ukraine, Raises Concerns about Russia at OSCE Parliamentary Session

    From June 27 to July 3, 2014, a bicameral, bipartisan delegation of eight Members of Congress represented the United States at the annual session of the OSCE’s 57-nation Parliamentary Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan. The delegation, which was organized by the U.S. Helsinki Commission, also made side visits to Georgia and Moldova. The congressional delegation was led by the Commission Chairman, Senator Ben Cardin (MD), while the Co-Chairman, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04) was head of delegation at the Assembly session. The Commission’s Ranking Senator, Roger Wicker (MS) and House Commissioners Robert Aderholt (AL-04) and Phil Gingrey (GA-11) also participated, along with Senator Tom Harkin (IA) and Representatives David Schweikert (AZ-06) and Adam Schiff (CA-28). A central concern at the Assembly meeting, as well as during bilateral interaction with the authorities and people of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova, was Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea and its incursions into eastern Ukraine. The congressional delegation was highly critical of Moscow’s attempt to reassert its domination over the affairs of its neighbors more than two decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse, and it reassured friends and allies of the deep and continuing commitment of the United States to security and cooperation in Europe and throughout the OSCE region.

  • Statement on Tragic Synagogue Slayings

    Mr. President, I know I express the sentiments and outrage of every Member of this body about the tragic events in Israel this past Tuesday where those in a synagogue were brutally slain. It was a shock to all of us--in a synagogue, in a place of worship, people there praying and studying, and their lives were brutally ended. Let me just mention the victims. Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, Rabbi Kalman Levine, Avraham Goldberg, and Zidan Saif, a police officer. I particularly want to mention Rabbi Kupinsky because there is a connection here to Maryland. Three of the victims had U.S. citizenship. Rabbi Kupinsky is a cousin of a distinguished constituent, Judge Karen Friedman of Baltimore. So this affects all of us. I know first and foremost our prayers are with the families and we express our deepest sympathy. I also express our resolve to eliminate such extremists and to work with the international community so there is no refuge anywhere in the world--anywhere in the civilized world--for such extremists. Then I would hope we would all recognize and speak out for Israel's right, indeed its obligation, to defend its people from such brutal attacks. The Baltimore Sun said this morning in its editorial there could be no excuse, no explanation, no reason or even plausible justification for the horrific attack on a Jerusalem synagogue Tuesday that left four Rabbis and an Israeli police officer dead. I know we all believe in that statement. There is no justification for such actions. Yet Hamas--and again I would quote from the Sun paper--"Hamas, the militant [extremist] group that controls Gaza, hailed the attack in the synagogue as a blow against Israel's occupation. ..... '' This just points out the difference between Hamas and Israel. I have been on the floor many times talking about Israel's legitimate right to defend itself and Hamas's desire to put innocent people in harm's way. It is our responsibility to speak out. If this event would have happened in the United States, I think we all know what the reaction would have been. So our resolve goes out to the people of Israel that we will stand by them and that we stand by their right to defend themselves. This is in the backdrop of a rise of anti-Semitism. We have seen these violent attacks in Brussels and Toulouse earlier this year, a brutal slaying in Antwerp, Jewish schools and community centers and synagogues being targets of attacks, extremist parties gaining political support espousing anti-Semitism. We saw that in Hungary and other countries. I want to mention once again the role this Congress plays in the Helsinki Commission. I have the honor of being the Chair of the Helsinki Commission during this Congress, and the Helsinki Commission implements the commitments we made almost 40 years ago--the Helsinki Final Act; the core principles of human rights and tolerance. Our bedrock principle is that in order to have a stable country you have to have a commitment to basic human rights, and it is not just your obligation but every country that is part of Helsinki, including the United States, that has the right to challenge any other country in its compliance with those basic human rights. We have made progress. Ten years ago I was privileged to be part of the U.S. delegation in the Berlin conference. The Berlin conference was established to deal with the rise of anti-Semitism, and an action agenda came out of that conference 10 years ago. It put responsibility on us--political leaders--to speak out against anti-Semitic activities in our own country or anywhere in the world. It set up an action plan to deal with educating, and particularly dealing with Holocaust education, to deal with the Holocaust deniers. It dealt with police training because we understand a lot of criminal activities are hate crimes and the police need to be able to identify when hate crimes are taking place in their own community. We decided to share best practices by providing technical help to countries to do better, and we established a special representative to deal with anti-Semitism. Rabbi Baker is currently that special representative. But we went further than that, we expanded it to all forms of intolerance--not just anti-Semitism but xenophobia, anti-Muslim activities--because we recognized that the same people who are extremists and who deny individuals because of their anti-Semitic acts would do the same against Muslims, would do the same against any people because of their race or ethnic background. I was very pleased to see commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Berlin conference. There was a reconvening in Berlin--Berlin plus 10. Ambassador Powers, our Ambassador to the United Nations, led the U.S. delegation. She did a great job. I want to acknowledge that Wade Henderson, representing the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also participated because there is unity here. It is not just the anti-Semitic activities, it is the intolerance we have seen grow too much in our world community today. The concluding document said we need to increase our political and financial support for civil societies, and I agree with that. Transparency and supporting the NGOs, supporting civil societies, is critically important. The bottom line is we must work together to root out all forms of anti-Semitism and all forms of intolerance. Let us work together to make all our communities safer by embracing diversity and recognizing basic human rights. 

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Combating Corruption

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Combating Corruption in the OSCE Region: The Link between Security and Good Governance” Wednesday, November 19, 2014 10:00AM U.S. Capitol Visitor Center Room SVC 203-202 Combating corruption is increasingly recognized as the critical factor in ensuring long-term security, because corruption creates fertile ground for social upheaval and instability. The change in government in Ukraine earlier this year is a prime example of how corruption can fuel legitimate popular discontent. Although the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has created new tools to address corruption, tackling the problem requires more than raising awareness and sharing best practices. In many OSCE participating States, systemic issues including lack of media freedom, lack of political will, and lack of an independent judiciary contribute substantially to persistent high-level and low-level corruption. The hearing will draw attention to the work of the OSCE in combating corruption in all 57 participating States, with a particular emphasis on the need to build effective institutions and the important role played by civil society in combatting corruption. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Halil Yurdakul Yigitgüden, Coordinator for Economic and Environmental Affairs, OSCE Khadija Ismayilova, Host of "Isden Sonra" ("After Work"), RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service Shaazka Beyerle, Visiting Scholar at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and Senior Advisor with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict Anders Åslund, Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics

  • Annual OSCE Human Rights Meeting Dominated by Russia and Ukraine

    Representatives of governments and civil society from OSCE participating States met in Warsaw, Poland, from September 22 to October 3, 2014 for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The meeting was organized by the OSCE office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) under the leadership of its newly-appointed Director Michael Link. This year’s annual OSCE human dimension implementation meeting drew 1,225 participants from 53 countries, including 700 NGOs.  There were an unprecedented 82 side events on specific countries or issues.  The session on tolerance and nondiscrimination was the most oversubscribed of the three-hour sessions with 85 people vying for the speaker’s list. Other specific topics for HDIM sessions included violence against women, rights of migrants and right of national minorities. In this issue: About the U.S. HDIM Delegation Russia Takes Propaganda Campaign to Warsaw OSCE Ambassadors Visit Auschwitz Civil Society Speaks Up

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Welcomes Candidacies of Germany, Austria for Future OSCE Chairs

    WASHINGTON—On November 4, Germany formally announced its candidacy for the 2016 chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), followed by Austria, which announced its candidacy for the 2017 chairmanship. In response, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission, issued the following joint statement: “We welcome the initiative demonstrated by the German and Austrian governments during a pivotal moment in the history of the OSCE. The leadership of these nations, which have been committed to the Helsinki Process from the very beginning, will be vital. We thank them in advance for their willingness to lead and for their drive to advance the cause of human rights, democracy, and international cooperation among our participating States.” The OSCE Chairmanship rotates annually among the 57 participating States, and is decided by consensus. The post of the Chairperson-in-Office (CiO) is held by the Foreign Minister of the participating State selected to hold the Chairmanship. The CiO is assisted by the previous and succeeding Chairpersons; the three of them together are known as the Troika, which ensures continuity and consistency in the OSCE’s work. Switzerland currently holds the OSCE Chairmanship, and Serbia will assume the OSCE Chairmanship in January 2015.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Denounces Russia’s Charges against Memorial Human Rights Group

    WASHINGTON— Following new charges brought by the Russian Federation against Memorial, one of Russia’s most respected human rights organizations, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued the following statement: “This latest effort by Moscow to ‘liquidate’ the human rights organization Memorial is an obvious attempt to silence the voice of its own conscience. Just over a week ago, representatives of Memorial participated in the OSCE’s annual human rights meeting in Warsaw, speaking out against escalating threats against civil society. It is very troubling that an organization founded by Andrei Sakharov to address the crimes of the Stalinist era now has become the target of a new wave of repression.” In the past, Russia has sought to starve many non-governmental organizations of the resources necessary to function, hobbling the work of other human rights NGOs like the Moscow Helsinki Group; the new charges against Memorial suggests an escalation of such anti-civil society tactics. In 2009, Natalia Estemirova, head of Memorial’s office in Chechnya, was kidnapped and murdered. Memorial recently condemned Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

  • Statement by Commissioner Representative Mike McIntyre at the OSCE PA Fall Meeting

    OSCE PA Autumn Meeting Session 1: Political and Military Dimension Debate on the Crisis in Ukraine  This Parliamentary Assembly spoke clearly on this matter in the Declaration adopted at the annual session in Baku.  Starting with vicious propaganda and intimidation of journalists, Moscow created this conflict by stoking irrational fears and then reinforcing violence in Ukraine with men and materiel from the Russian Federation. Russia has flagrantly violated international norms and commitments, including all ten core principles of the Helsinki Final Act. This is an attempt to deny a neighboring country and fellow OSCE member of the ability to make its own decisions regarding its own future. Russia has worked actively to suppress Ukraine’s aspirations towards freedom, democracy, and human dignity.  The United States underscores the critical role of the OSCE throughout this tragic conflict which began with the attempted illegal annexation of Crimea. As the largest regional organization in the world, the OSCE has a prominent role in trying to end this war. We have been encouraged by all of the efforts of the OSCE in Ukraine to monitor and work to reduce tensions and foster peace, security, and stability. The OSCE can become a stabilizing presence as to what is, in-fact, happening.  We are increasingly concerned by continued reports of Russian and separatist violations of the ceasefire. We have seen little progress by the Russian Federation or the Russia-backed separatists since these agreements were adopted last month. Russia-backed separatist forces continue to attack Ukrainian positions, including several positions within the agreed exclusion zone area!  Our frank criticism is not, as some might assert, an effort to create a new Cold War environment, but an effort to prevent one. That has been, and will always be, the purpose of our candid debates in the OSCE. Let us fulfill our mission as the OSCE!  We again call on the Russian Federation to implement its part of the agreements fully by immediately withdrawing all Russian military forces and equipment from inside Ukraine and returning control of the international border to Kyiv. That is the bottom line! Russia must respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by ending both its unlawful activities in eastern Ukraine and its occupation of Crimea.  Why do we have an OSCE if nations will not respect one another’s sovereignty and dignity? The time is now. This is the test! May God grant us wisdom in this decision.

  • Helsinki Commission on Opening of Europe’s Largest Human Rights Meeting

    WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission, released the following statement ahead of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) annual high-level meeting on human rights. From September 22-October 3, civil society and government representatives of OSCE participating States will gather in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to discuss compliance with the full range of OSCE human dimension commitments, with special focus on migrant rights, minority issues, and combating violence against women and children. “The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting takes place while Russian aggression in Ukraine continues to threaten basic OSCE principles. I expect this will be a major focus of the meeting, as well as Russian actions at home that are cynically rolling back the ability of civil society to comment on or contribute to how that country functions," said Chairman Cardin. "I am pleased that Professor Brian Atwood will head the U.S. Delegation at this critical time. The promises OSCE states made to one another almost 25 years ago, that respect for human rights within any country is a matter of concern for all states, has guided us and must continue to do so. I also welcome the leadership of the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, who will be taking a high-level study group to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp." Co-Chairman Smith said, “The Russian government’s gross human rights violations in Ukraine must be a central topic of discussion at the Human Dimension meeting. HDIM is an indispensable tool for holding states accountable to OSCE commitments and most effective when both government and civil society representatives have equal opportunity to debate each state’s human rights record.  One issue that states and civil society must discuss this year in Warsaw, and at the OSCE “Berlin Plus 10” anti-Semitism conference in November, is the alarming rise of anti-Semitic incidents in the OSCE region.  The OSCE must also continue to combat trafficking in human beings, including through fulfilling commitments taken last year to train transportation workers to identify possible victims and to improve law enforcement information sharing internationally on potential sex tourists. Commitments are made to be kept.”

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