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Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 contributed to an increase in domestic violence and affected children’s rights to education and health. Prior to elections in June, there was a rise in cases of arbitrary detention of individuals speaking out against the government. The authorities failed to investigate most reported cases of torture.

Violence against women and girls

Domestic violence increased in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, as lockdown measures were imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The number of reports increased by more than 50% during the first quarter of the year compared to the same period in 2019; 90% of the victims were women. Lockdown measures also reduced the options available for support and counselling services.

Human rights defenders

In May, the government submitted to parliament a bill on the protection of human rights defenders, which was discussed in December but remained pending. Human rights defenders lacked sufficient legal protection, putting them and their families at risk.

In September, a woman herder-activist and NGO leader was harassed and beaten by managers of a mining company, due to her efforts to protect herders’ land from business encroachment and to prevent environmental degradation. Her case was dismissed after investigation by the municipal police.

Arbitrary arrests and detention

Prior to parliamentary elections in June, the government arrested and arbitrarily detained individuals – including lawyers and activists – for expressing their views on the human rights situation and corruption. Many of them were detained for weeks without being charged or brought to court.

Torture and other ill-treatment

There were credible allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials but the government showed unwillingness to conduct investigations. Between January and October, 54 cases of torture were reported, but only three of them were investigated and brought to court.

Freedom of expression

In January, an amendment to the Criminal Code which criminalized the dissemination of “false information” came into effect. A dedicated police unit was created for its enforcement. Civil society publicly expressed concerns that the law was overly broad and could be used to suppress press freedom.

Right to housing and forced evictions

People who were homeless or without adequate housing, as a result of redevelopment in Ulaanbaatar during recent years, faced a higher risk of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic due to lack of access to sanitation facilities and protection from weather. Residents who lived in areas scheduled for redevelopment reported that construction companies immediately asked them to vacate their land and homes after signing development contracts with the government, but did not adequately consult and compensate them.

Children’s rights

Schools and other educational facilities were closed from late January through August to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The government offered remote classes through television programmes, but access to education for children returning to remote areas from urban boarding schools was difficult because of poor internet connectivity or television network coverage. For many children who depended on school meals as a main source of nutrition, school closures affected access to adequate food and placed their health at higher risk.