Last Updated 6 September 2021

Mongolia is a country in East Asia, bordered by Russia and China. In 1990, Mongolia abandoned its 70-year-old Soviet-style one-party state and embraced constitutional, political and economic reforms. In 1992, the first elected government of Mongolia adopted a new Constitution, cementing its aspiration to become an independent, democratic country with a multiparty parliamentary system.1

The end of the Soviet-era (and its suppression of religion) brought about a resurgence of Buddhism in the country, as well as burgeoning interest from Christian missionaries and faith-based NGOs.2 According to the latest census (2020), 51.7% of the Mongolians identify as Buddhists, 40.6% as unaffiliated, 3.2% as Muslims (predominantly of Kazakh ethnicity), 2.5% as followers of the Mongol shamanic tradition, 1.3% as Christians, and 0.7% as followers of other religions.3

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Constitution and government

The 1992 Mongolia constitution has secular objectives, as set out in Article 9:

1-The state shall respect religions and religions shall honour the state.
2-State institutions shall not engage in religious activities and religious institutions shall not pursue political activities.
3-The relationship between the state and religious institutions shall be regulated by law.4

Any religious and belief groups must register with the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs in order to legally function as an organization. The process is decentralized and highly bureaucratic: religious and belief groups must renew their registration annually with multiple government institutions across local, provincial, and national levels, and each individual branch is required to register as an independent legal entity, regardless of any affiliation with a registered parent organization.5

Unofficially, Buddhism occupies a privileged position in society. The State displays particular respect and deference towards Buddhism and Buddhist traditions, seeing the religion as forming part of Mongolia’s cultural heritage and national identity. For example, it is common for representatives of the State to patronize religious ceremonies, and lamas are also invited to contribute to State ceremonies.6

Education and children’s rights

The education system is secular. The government is prohibited from giving state funds to religious schools for religious education. This policy applies equally to all religious groups. A Ministry of Education and Science directive bans religious instruction in public schools.7

Family, community and society

Gender equality

The prevalence of patriarchal and traditional norms in Mongolia contribute to significant discrimination and violence against women. The first nationwide survey on gender-based violence, conducted in 2017 by the National Statistics Office and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), revealed that Mongolia had “extremely high” rates of intimate partner and non-partner violence. The survey, which also examined attitudes towards gender roles, found that “1 in 4 women, regardless of her social and economic status, agreed that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she is unfaithful.”8

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

In 2021, Mongolia adopted a new Law on the Legal Status of Human Rights Defenders. The law was hailed as an achievement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,9 though some NGOs, including FORUM-ASIA, expressed concern over certain restrictive provisions in the law that could potentially undermine the work of human rights defenders. This includes an article that prohibits human rights defenders from receiving funds to conduct activities “deemed to harm national unity,” and an article which prohibits defenders from “defaming the honour, reputation and fame of others.”10

Freedom of expression is not always respected in practice. Vague criminal laws against the spread of “false information” are used to silence critical voices, and a 2017 law on state and official secrets allows information to be liberally classified as a state or official secret, leading in cases to the prosecution of journalists exposing corruption.11

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