Air Pollution-- Global Warming—Coal--Fight for Survival—Escalating Child Illness

Dear reader, I am writing to help people and the air.

The people are the residents of Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. They are suffering from catastrophic air pollution…sadly…that they, themselves, produce to survive the winter cold. Two thirds of Ulaanbaatar’s 1.5 million residents live in what is known as the Ger District—a low-rise, off-grid suburban area of the city. The size of the Ger District has increased three times over the past 30 years, and it keeps expanding as the population grows. Children’s lung diseases and deaths from breathing toxic air are escalating each year. According to the National Statistical Office, 431.9 persons per 10,000 people have been hospitalized with respiratory disease. This constitutes the highest number among the top ten causes of morbidity. It is quite usual for Ulaanbaatar to have an air quality index of 600ppm which is among the highest readings on the planet.

Mongolia's frigid winter temperatures are nothing like most of the world’s population have ever experienced. It is -20C(-4F) during warmer days and -33C(-27F) during colder days, sometimes dropping to -45C(-49F) during colder nights. How do people who live off the heating-grid survive the six months of bitter cold in Ulaanbaatar? They burn coal! Raw, unprocessed coal, the cheapest but also the most toxic heating source available… Every effort by government, the private sector, and international organizations to reduce Ulaanbaatar's air pollution over the past 15 years has failed due to lack of grassroots collaboration. Unless the most affected people themselves take systematic, informed and decisive action, there will be no way out of their thick and deadly atmosphere.

At 4430 feet elevation the air is thin in the Ulaanbaatar sky. Furthermore, Ulaanbaatar lies on a natural bowl ringed by mountains and topped in winter by a temperature inversion layer. No carbon-storing trees or vegetation grow from October to March in this cold city. Vegetation is dormant. Especially during the height of winter, Ulaanbaatar suffers from a lack of oxygen in the air. Meanwhile, the air is full of half-burned coal dust. The effect, especially on the vulnerable lungs of children, is devastating. Walking anywhere in Ulaanbaatar in winter one actually smells and tastes the coal.

Especially in the morning, when a Ger District household (a yurt or small cabin or a house) starts a fire in their stoves, cheap raw coal laden with moisture and containing lead, mercury and uranium among other elements and minerals warms slowly until it fully burns. The process takes about an hour for a family's stove to produce a warm fire. During that hour, Ulaanbaatar’s sky fills with the thickest darkest form of air pollution which then spreads over the city throughout the day. This dark, pre-ignition smoke constitutes almost 80% of the Ger District’s total air pollution, which in turn, comprises 80% of the entire city's air pollution. During the coldest months of winter, families start up their fire at least twice a day, early morning, and again in the evening after they return home from jobs and schools. In families where there is always someone at home to maintain the fire, replenishing the coal occurs at least four times a day. This replenishing process again produces black smoke -- though somewhat less thick than a newly-starting fire.

Not only Ulaanbaatar, but also the whole country of Mongolia rests on a high plateau. Compared to the capital cities of Mongolia’s two neighbors, Ulaanbaatar is sitting on mile high land compared to low-lying Moscow and Beijing. Such an elevated location makes the entire country a windy, dry place. The climate is harsh for vegetation and the soil is thin. The windy season begins in March, and Ulaanbaatar’s toxic pollution spreads south on the prevailing winds. The tons of coal taking flight on the spring winds don’t simply disappear; they add significantly to global warming.

There were many attempts to reduce air pollution in Ulaanbaatar. One of the largest investments went into replacing traditional stoves with newer more economical stoves that burn fuel from the top of the unit rather than from the bottom as traditional stoves do. Thanks to the support of the Millennium Challenge, the Government of Mongolia subsidized over 100,000 stoves in ger district households from 2009-2012. Unfortunately, 98% of the users did not follow the instructions on how to start a fire. The stove that was meant to reduce air pollution, ended up increasing it because fire-starting in the new stoves was much more complicated for local users than it was with their traditional stoves and took longer.

Another attempt to reduce air pollution was and is tapping into the electric power grid of Ulaanbaatar. Electric heating of various kinds are being tested, families switch to electric heating in small but growing numbers. However, it is not proving to be the complete solution due to the limited additional capacity of Ulaanbaatar's power stations -- which generate electricity by burning coal!

The third attempt was exchanging raw coal for biomass-based fuel. Start-ups trying to supply these new fuels to Ulaanbaatar faced unanticipated challenges. Wood and biomass collected from Mongolia's forests were extremely dry and hard. They broke saws and equipment at an unexpectedly high rate. Pressing the dry biomass didn’t produce good fuel and adding water, and using heat to produce fuel, increased the cost of production and therefore ended up losing out to cheaper coal on the market.

However, insulating the houses and gers is one of the growing trends. Led by an NGO, “Mothers and Fathers against Smoke”, a winter training series “Let’s Insulate Our Houses and Gers” was conducted during September - December 2018. Families and neighbors who understood the use and efficiency of good insulation are taking action. Their numbers, however, are still very small and additional public education is much needed in this area.

There are many start-ups and established companies in Mongolia offering various other solutions on the market with limited success: low-voltage heaters, basalt wool insulation, detached low-cost houses with water boiler heaters, solar heaters, passive houses, passive gers, small scale heating boilers for 20-50 houses, ger stove pipe smoke filters (by induction). All need to be introduced to residents so that district households can make affordable and sustainable plans to reduce the choking fumes and particles in the atmosphere.

Using processed coal is another solution that the current government is exploring. According to a 2018 Cabinet resolution, Ulaanbaatar residents will be banned from using raw coal beginning in the fall of 2019. Mandatory and subsidized processed coal is to be available on the market from a few coal-improving factories that are going through the final preparations for next winter’s market supplying task. The processed and “improved” coal is expected to be in the form of coal briquettes that are evenly sized, de-moisturized, filtered and sprayed with combustion-aid materials so that they will burn without producing black smoke and far less carbon monoxide. However, residents must be prepared for this change. They need to learn why processed coal is a better choice -- especially because it will be slightly more expensive than raw coal.

Another upcoming issue of the improved coal is production. It is very tricky to produce improved coal during the spring and summer season and store it for the use in winter. During the warm seasons, the coal will deteriorate, and lose its high level of calorie/BTU production capacity. If users feel that the improved coal is not giving enough heat at a more expensive price, they might turn to smuggled raw coal despite the air pollution dangers. Therefore, government and the coal producers must take into account of such risks. The voices of citizens need to be heard and their concerns discussed.

A persistent assumption among Mongolian policy-makers is that the Ger District will disappear in few years if the construction sector is continually supported by government. The Government of Mongolia, international financial institutions, and the city of Ulaanbaatar have been heavily investing into various programs to support affordable housing. The programs are continuing and new ones are expected to launch. However, the amount of investment needed is so high that building new, on-grid, houses and apartments has not solved, nor even made a dent in the air pollution problem. The danger of such assumptions for the bigger picture of air pollution is proving to be significant. Widespread publicity of government’s upcoming “big help” leaves Ger District dwellers ignorant and passive. The Ger District is then considered as a transitional area where families locate until they have saved enough money to move to apartments and/or until government can persuade families to abandon the Ger Districts by offering land swapping or soft loan inducements. It is important to acknowledge that Ger Districts are an essential permanent part of Ulaanbaatar, an important private land area which needs to be developed with the active involvement of its citizens and that construction of new housing districts should coexist with the development of the Ger District on its own way.

Local Solutions, an Ulaanbaatar based NGO, has been working with district communities for the past 10 years. We inform, educate, involve and empower local residents in solving practical issues using scientific, economic, and environmental knowledge and most importantly with a local approach that is sustainable. Our motto is “Local solutions to global challenges”. Our recent nationwide public education campaign “Let’s Change Our Toilets” is well known throughout Mongolia. Indeed, following that campaign’s success, the Local Solutions team was asked by individuals and organizations to develop a public education training series for Ger District residents so that residents can take informed action against air pollution. Beginning from February 2019, Local Solutions will offer our unique training series on the ways to effectively reduce air pollution and call to action Ulaanbaatar’s Ger District residents to tackle the issue step by step.

LS will offer a full-day free course for classes of 50 at a time. It will also mentor smaller groups and, sharing the tools and materials used for this course, LS will teach these groups how to lead classes themselves. Two months before the start of the project, almost 40 volunteers had already signed up for mentored training.

The course materials will include lectures, exercises, tests and games, all of which will be designed to empower local residents to take informed action and change their behavior to reduce air pollution in their neighborhoods. The immediate outcomes should be changes in the choice of fuel, enhanced efforts to improve the insulation of gers and cabins, and attachment of smoke-filtering devices to fuel-burning stoves. The course will provide information about “green-product" vendors and about providers of loans for “green projects.” Class members will be encouraged to develop plans of action that will result in cleaner air inside their homes and less toxic emissions from their homes.

The goal of LS is to reach 2,250 ger district residents directly and then 20,000 ger dwellers, all over Mongolia, via LS-mentored and trained volunteers. The cost of a training package for 450 residents of the ger district is approximately $19,000, which includes the development of multimedia public-awareness materials for distribution throughout Mongolia¹. To help LS finance this effort, please contact me at or/and at

Oyungerel Tsedevdamba Founder, Chair of Board of Local Solutions

Photos of Ulaanbaatar: Courtesy by multimedia project #OurFewMongolians (#БиднийЦөөхөнМонголчууд) Photo of a training: Local Solutions archive

¹ Disbursement of $19,000: staff, $5650; printed brochures, $610; Training direct expenses including meal and venue, $6740; Multimedia and publicity, $6000.


By Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, Local Solutions Foundation

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. February 22, 2009


This one-and-a-half year old boy, who is trying to take his first steps, is Okhinoo.

His name is translated as a “Girl”. It is believed in Mongolia that one can “fool the devil” by naming a boy as a Girl so that devils won’t find the boy and do the harm to him.

For Okhinoo’s parents, Byambasuren Jamsran and Goyochimeg Munkhochir, there was something to be afraid of. They lost two previous sons at ages 1 year and 6 months and six years. They were happy and very smart children whom you can see from the pictures on this letter. Both of Okhinoo’s brothers suffered from the same mysterious disease. That is what the parents were most afraid of.

When young energetic parents turned to superstition and named their third boy Okhinoo, they hoped that this time the ‘devil disease’ will stay away from their third son. Unfortunately, Okhinoo also has the same disease from which his two brothers died. For a long time Byambasuren and Goyochimeg didn’t understand the reason for their children’s illness. Their sons were subject to many infections, spontaneous bleedings, diarrhea, food poisonings and other ailments. Playing outside with other kids, attending preschools or kindergartens resulted in illness for no apparent reason. Mongolian doctors were unable diagnose or treat the children’s maladies. The inability of medical doctors to cure the illnesses lead the husband’s parents to consult lamas and shamans, who suggested the problem lay with the mother. It became hard to live for Goyochimeg and Byambasuren as parental tension grew and patience grew short. Byambasuren, as the only child of his family, desperately wanted a healthy child. He worked hard to earn money for medical care. He promised to afford anything his sons needed and tried everything in his power to save his sons, but Mongolian doctors were baffled. They struggled to curb the frequent infections but were at a loss as to their causes. Byambasuren’s money was not enough. Two sons died without any clear diagnosis. By the time Okhinoo started getting sick, the young couple was under intense pressure to live separately. They now do. But they still have a common goal—to save Okhinoo. Goyochimeg put her son’s health ahead of her love. Although she didn’t want to accept the split in the family, he now lives separately according to his parents’ wishes. Byambasuren promised to provide living expenses and health related expenses for Okhinoo. He still does.

They are both determined not to lose Okhinoo. Baymbasuren and Goyochimeg took their third boy to Beijing last fall. He was diagnosed that it “might be X-linked agammaglobulinemia” – a genetic disorder that occurs very rarely and predominantly in male children. The patient with this illness doesn’t have enough immune protection because of a genetic disorder that blocks the development of mature, normal immune cells. It is said that a probability of a child being born with X-linked agammaglobulinemia is one in a million. For Byambasuren and Goyolchimeg this probability seemed to be off the chart, hitting every one of their three boys.

“When I look back, I find out that I lost two of my previous sons while waiting for better treatment and believing in our doctors who were not well educated or equipped to treat my children. I regret that I didn’t do enough to save my two children’s lives.” Goyochimeg wrote in her letter to Local Solutions. “I can no longer just sit and wait for Mongolian doctors to say “We are sorry” once more. I want to find a place where medical facilities are better and where doctors know the treatment of my child’s disease.”

first son, Goyolchimeg on left and her cousin

There are grounds to believe that Goyochimeg and Byambasuren won’t find proper treatment in Mongolia even if Okhinoo is already diagnosed. At present, there is no medical service for genetic disorders. No Mongolian pharmaceutical companies provide the necessary pills, IVs, and, especially, immunoglobulins (IVIG) that Okhinoo needs. Byambasuren went to all the pharmaceutical distributors in Ulaanbaatar and didn’t find any that imports immunoglobulins. While every family in Mongolia is preparing a celebration of our national holiday—Tsagaan Sar, Byambasuren is heading to Hong Kong to find this very medicine. Even if he finds the medicine in Hong Kong , it is hard to find a nurse who’ll know how to do the IV with proper doses to little Okhinoo. Meanwhile, Goyochimeg is cleaning her house all the time to maintain the best sterile condition for Okhinoo.

The first four years of Okhinoo’s life are the most vulnerable. Therefore, it is necessary for Okhinoo to be close to a medical facility where he can be properly treated. Local Solutions Foundation is urging you to help us find a place to locate Okhinoo and his mother Goyochimeg. His father will be doing his business and providing money for their living. Okhinoo’s perfect relocation would be in a peaceful small town or village in a medically developed country, where he can occasionally visit a qualified doctor and get his monthly immunoglobulins (IVIG) from a qualified doctor.

Okhinoo’s mother Goyochimeg runs a design company where she employs six people. Her business income is moderate. Byambasuren is a landscape designer. During Mongolia ’s long winter construction comes to a halt. Then he shifts his business to import-export. Neither of them are seeking permanent immigration to another country. However, they are desperate to find a place where they can raise their child under a secure regimen of monitoring by qualified medical professionals. Second son with Byambasuren If any of you know a place where Okhinoo could live with his mother, please contact us and advice us how can they reach that place and who could be helpful for finding Okhinoo’s new home.

Alternatively, a qualified medical practitioner can bring a good supply of IVIG to Goyochimeg here in Ulaanbaatar and train local doctors to administer it. However, one drawback to that solution will be that the boy’s most serious complications are respiratory and the air in and around Ulaanbaatar is quite dusty in summer and saturated with coal dust in winter as the occupants of every ger (yurt) burn coal to keep warm in winter’s minus 30 temperatures. Furthermore Ulaanbaatar Valley is the site of three coal burning power plants. Respiratory problems of various kinds abound here.

Local Solutions Foundation (LSF) is an NGO registered in Mongolia and dedicated to identify, encourage and disseminate best local solutions in resolving local problems that have become endemic or reflect emerging global challenges. It was founded on April 5, 2007 by a Mongolian and an American couple in Ulaanbaatar . The mission statement of the LSF is “Local Solutions to Global Problems”. Public health, education, environment, poverty, human rights and corruption related problems most concern the organization.

Okhinoo’s case is important for Local Solutions Foundation not only because it concerns human life, but also because it raises awareness of local problems such as insufficient medical science development in Mongolia , the relatively poor condition of medical services in the country, and widespread superstition and consequent discrimination toward women.

Thank you very much for reading this story and Local Solutions Foundation is looking forward to hearing from you at our addresses:, If you want to directly contact Goyochimeg her address is:


By Oyungerel Tsedevdamba

August 01, 2008

Just five years ago, I left my job as Executive Director of the Liberty Center, a Mongolian human rights NGO, to undertake graduate studies at Stanford University. The years 2000-2004 were characterized by the absolute domination of the Mongolian people’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) in Mongolian politics and by frequent human rights violations.

Many Mongolians were intimidated, but others stood up for freedom and democracy and against corruption. Many young Mongolians organized to combat public corruption. Magnai Otgonjargal was one of them.

magnaiportrait Despite his mother’s concerns, this 22-year-old young man joined the Civil Movement in December of 2004 to campaign against corruption. The Civil Movement which later became the Civil Movement Party organized a series of demonstrations beginning in 2005 to alert the Mongolian public to the growing challenge posed by international mining companies to political integrity and the environment.

Magnai lead his another demonstration on July 1, 2008, which became fateful for him. He spoke against the election frauds and demanded for recounts of the votes of June 29th, 2008. However, by 4.30pm of the same day, the peaceful demonstration turned angry after Magnai and his two bodyguards were beaten by police.

Sick from asthma, Magnai is jailed in the detention center “Gants Hudag”, infamous for beating and torturing detainees. He is alleged by the authorities to have committed the crime of “terrorism”. Police argues that the demonstration that Magnai organized, resulted in burning of the MPRP headquarter and other buildings and five deaths, and this was Magnai’s fault.

“The criminal article under which Magnai and his friend Batzandan are detained is a very serious special article” Magnai’s attorney Enkhee Chimid said. “It carries a possible death sentence. In fact, he is not a terrorist, he never intended to kill people. He left the demonstration by 5pm severely beaten.


Those who were killed in Ulaanbaatar, were all shot after the state-of-emergency was declared. It means that only police cars were on street and only police and army could shoot people. No one else’s car had a chance to enter the main street when people were dying.”

“The deaths of people are directly related to this government,” family members of five killed people announced at a press conference held after the national naadam in Ulaanbaatar. The others are organizing a sit-in at the main square demanding to release Magnai and other 200 detainees arrested after the July 1 demonstration.

Among them are many men who were arrested directly from home and those who did not participate in the demonstration or riots. “It was like a 1930s Stalinist repression when police took my husband from our home” a young woman who just gave to birth to a baby said to C1 Television. She and forty others, including a 79-year-old lady, continues to sit-in with a mask “Release Political Prisoners”.

Magnai’s mother believes that her son was a political prisoner, not a terrorist at all. She also thinks that the government is holding him as a hostage to make a political deal. “My friends visited me on the night of my son’s arrest with the same strange request”, Magnai’s mother Otgonjargal said. “They all said that if Magnai signed a confession that all the riots were organized by Elbegdorj Tsakhia, [leader of the opposition Democratic Party] he could save his life. But my son’s life will be meaningless if he saves his life by lying so terribly.”

Prime Minister Bayar Sanjaa, The Chairman of the Mongolian People’e Revolutionary Party—the party that was blamed for undertaking a widespread election fraud, survived on his position after the Democratic Party demanded his resignation following the July 1 deaths of five people.

The Democrats are boycotting the opening of the new parliament since July 23, 2008. One of their demands are to resign the police official who gave orders to aim the gun fire at people on the night of July 1, 2008.


by Oyungerel Tsedevdamba
July 17, 2008

He was 24. He wasn’t yet married. His name was Dorjsuren Enkhbayar. It was his first year back in Mongolia after his return from the United States. A few days ago he was a translator to an Australian company. Building his own house from honestly earned money, marrying happily, having three children of his own and three adopted children was the dream he brought home from America along with many other ideas and democracy loving ideals.

His name and the names of four other young men, killed by gunfire after the state of emergency was declared by presidential decree, were announced only yesterday, 15 days after their deaths. The Democratic Party (DP) demanded the Government publicly reveal their names.

Minister of Justice, Mr. Munkh-Orgil read the four names at yesterday’s parliamentary session. Dorjsuren Enkhbayar, 24, Munkh-Erdene Renchindagva, 27, Enkhbaatar Tserenjav, 36, and Ganbaatar S, 56, were all shot on the night of July 1-2, 2008. They did not participate in the demonstration of July 1, 2008 but happened to be near the central street of Ulaanbaatar around 1am-2am. Dorjsuren was going to meet his brother. Munkh-Erdene was visiting his wife in hospital, and Enkhbaatar was on his way home after spending the evening with friends.

Today, the family members of three of the victims of the gunfire held a press conference in Ulaanbaatar. All Mongolian television channels, including National TV, broadcast the press conference. “Government biased media sources have been busily broadcasting reports of burnt buildings and lost possessions. No one from the police or the government talked about our children’s deaths and how they were shot on that night in the central street of Ulaanbaatar”, the mother of one of the victims cried.

jagsaaltsagdaa “We don’t believe that people shot each other. We believe that guns were fired by well trained shooters. Otherwise, how could they be shot in the head?” Munkhzul, a sister of Dorjsuren said in the Eagle TV interview. The police deny responsibility for the shootings but offer no alternative explanation for the killings.

“Why didn’t they limit their shooting to legs or arms?”Another family member complained. “Why did they have to kill my brother? It is all the Government’s fault.”

The Government of Mongolia, and its Prime Minister, Bayar Sanjaa, was questioned on the matter of the shootings by the Democratic Party. Nineteen MPs from the DP recently submitted a motion to oust Prime Minister Bayar. The Parliament held a hearing on the issue yesterday where the Mongolian Peoples Revolutionary Party (MPRP) majority voted down the motion. MP Oyun Sanjaasuren, Chairman of the Civil Will Party and Enkhsaihan Mendsaikhan from National New Party were the only minority party members to vote for keeping Bayar’s government.

“Voting to keep this government in office and therefore giving them a chance to avoid political responsibility is a step backward from democracy” said DP Chairman Elbegdorj Tsakhia. “The Democratic Party raised the issue of government resignation because the government is legally responsible for protecting human life. It is written in our laws and constitution. Taking responsibility, being accountable is what democracy requires.”

“Dorjsuren also believed in democracy,” his sister said at today’s press conference. He wrote fascinating letters from the United States. “America is a beautiful country like my motherland. But I love my Mongolia and I’ll return to help make changes. Here in the USA, I realize how people can live, what people can achieve and how wonderful a democratic country is. I will build my life beautifully when I come home,” he wrote to his family. “Unfortunately, his country’s government chased him down a dark street by car and shot him from behind” his sister cried on TV. She referred to televised footage showing black cars with spotlights chasing down people on the streets and firing at them.

“Where was our independent media all these days? What happened to our democracy? What kind of society are we heading toward? Please think, people! Think in the name of those who were murdered,” a mother, eyes filled with tears, cried.

“The Mongolian people have voted for democracy for many years. This year they showed overwhelming support,” Mr. Enkhbold Zandaakhuu, a DP parliamentarian, said. “In every election, in a variety of ways, their votes have been stolen. This year the scale of election fraud outraged the public. When their votes don’t translate into representation in Parliament or local counsels, people become angry. To save Mongolia’s democracy, we must work harder to assure that every vote is counted and counted lawfully. Only when every vote is reflected in our election results can we say that democracy is moving forward.”


February 02, 2002

Mr.Battulga, an ex-MP, who participated in the hunger–strike against communist rule in February 1990, once observed after his release from pre-trial detention at “Gants Hudag” that there remained one place in Mongolia that democracy had not changed over the past 10 years of democratization. The “Gants Hudag” still operates according to the communist-era law of 1937.

The struggle for democracy began for Mongolia with public demonstrations in December 1989. Soon after Berlin wall fell Mongolians began a series of winter demonstrations under the leadership of new non-communist organizations and parties. At times, some 90,000 to 120,000 of people filled Ulan-Bator’s central square almost every Sunday that winter despite temperatures ranging from 20-35 degrees below zero centigrade. It was clear that Mongolians felt socialism was colder that our icy winter streets.

Thanks to the Mongolians people’s resolve and determination to demand political freedom for our nation, new democratic institutions were implemented and reforms enacted. New norms and standards have been established for economic, political, and societal relations. One of the most significant outcomes of the democracy campaigns of the 1990s was implementation of new Constitution. Its adoption opened a whole new chapter for Mongolian law, human rights and personal liberty.

This month, Mongolians are celebrating the ten-year anniversary of the Democratic Constitution. Its adoption date, January 13th, has been a national holiday since 1992. Celebrating this auspicious anniversary does not oblige people to pour once again into the winter streets. Instead, they will watch their TVs at home and enjoy our national sport of wrestling. In the “Wresting Palace.”

Some 430 ex-members of People’s Great Hural of 1990-1992 have been invited to participate in the national celebration. They were the deputies who argued, debated, fought and finally agreed on the draft constitution that was submitted by the State Small Hural -- the first permanent multi-party parliament of Mongolia. They were the representatives of Mongolian people who raised their hands to adopt democratic norms as the guiding principle of the State.

After the Constitution was adopted, a process of reviewing and rewriting other laws began. Not only laws, but also practices and attitudes began to change one after one so rapidly that by the end of 20th century everyone felt that Mongolia’s transformation to a free-market democratic nation was complete.

But, unfortunately, as Mr. Battulga observed, there was one institution where the decade of reforms had not touched – where practices formulated in 1937 during the height of the Stalinist purges still held sway.

Under the laws of 1937, Mongolians accepted certain methods of investigating cases that were imported from Soviet Union during Joseph Stalin’s time. This method is based on the so-called “principle of Wishinskii”.

A Russian Prosecutor of Stalin’s time, Wishinskii introduced the principle of concluding cases with the confession off the accused. This method of concluding cases was followed during the period of most intense political repression from the 1920s to1960s whose high point came in the political show-trials of the late 1930’s. Thus, the derivation of the name, “the laws of 1937.” This period began in Mongolia with the detention of 69 individuals during the single night of September 10, 1937.

In total, 25,785 people were arrested and 20,474 of them were killed between 1937 and 1939. However, this is not a full accounting of the political repression of that period. Many more people were detained, interrogated and held without benefit of legal counsel. Ultimately, many detainees “confessed” and were sentenced to anywhere from 10 years of prison to death.

People accused and investigated under the “laws of 1937” during repression had no access to advocates (lawyers) until they first confessed to their alleged wrong-doing. Investigators tortured accused people or used other prisoners to do so in order to compel the accused to confess.

The people of Mongolia only learned of the existence of the use of torture to extract confessions when democratic change began in early 1990s. Advocates, who until then had worked as state agents, were finally freed from state control in 1994 and were then obliged to represent only the interests of their clients rather than the state.

Almost all communist-era laws have now been changed. Advocacy, civil liberty and human rights have been legalized. With the onset of these momentous changes the Mongolian public demanded the introduction of liberal civic rights norms into everyday societal-state interactions.

These demands have become louder and more persistent since August 2001 when the case of torture in “Gants Hudag” detention center first came to light. Gants Hudag is the main pre-trial detention center for the Police General Office. The media and the public now watch every step of the state authorities to see whether they are seriously trying to eliminate the shameful practice of torturing detainees in order to extract confessions. This conduct, retained from the repressive communist era, is the shame of our Mongolian police.

Fortunately, we are seeing indications that the Mongolian legal authorities are prepared to end the torture of detainees. That the public, the Mongolian mass media, international organizations, and investors are aware of the matter obliges the state to act at least appear to be taking action to stop this inhuman and unlawful practice.

Here are several updates and alerts on this matter that I have written and disseminated in English via the Internet:


Update On Torture Case: January 12, 2002

Exactly four months ago the Liberty Center issued an urgent alert to call attention to the fact that torture and torment in Mongolia’s main pre-trial detention center is widely employed by police interrogators. Following our alert the Mongolian mass media delved into the matter in a lengthy series of articles and personal testimonies that ignited considerable public discussion and protests over the use of torture to extract confessions.

These revelations prompted Mr.Sharavdorj, MP, Chairman of the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs, of the Parliament of Mongolia, to order the State Prosecutor General’s Office (SPGO) to provide information on interrogation practices at the Gants Hudag pre-trial detention center.

Recently, on January 8th of 2002, the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs of the State Great Hural (Parliament) of Mongolia discussed the report of the State Prosecutor General’s Office on torture complaints. The conclusion of the report was of great interest to the public at large and to all journalists who reported or tried to investigate cases of alleged torture in recent months. However, the Standing Committee decided to discuss the matter in a closed-door meeting.

Journalists were ordered to leave the meeting room. Despite the exclusion of the news media from the hearing, reporters were able to obtain a full text of the SPGO report. On January 10, Zuunii Medee”, a daily newspaper, published the text of the report in full.

Before “Zuunii Medee” published the report it was informed that the MPs had debated whether to have an open or a closed-door discussion of the matter. The strongest argument of those who urged a closed meeting was that criminals would retract their testimonies after learning that the method used on them to extract confessions was illegal under current Mongolian law and constitutional principles.

The SPGO reported to the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs that torture methods were used as tools for building a case against those charged with the commission of a crime. Among the torture cases revealed by SPGO was evidence of torture employed by police interrogators during investigation of the “Foodland” case which was called to public attention by the Liberty Center and discussed widely after August 2001.

The Prosecutors Office reported that prisoner Enkhbold gave a written confession to the Prosecutor that he was called by Mr.Enkhbaatar, a police captain and an officer of the detention center, and was instructed to “reveal the Foodland case”.

As Enkhbold confessed, he was told to compel the suspects to confess and was told by Enkhbaatar that he “should make them to confess to the charges in a manner that would not leave any wounds or scars on the bodies of the suspects.” Acting on the instructions given to him by the Police captain, prisoner Enkhbold proceeded to beat detainee Odontulga as soon as he entered the detention cell.

“I pushed till he fell when he came in, beat him with plank that was used as bed, and then conveyed all the information Odontulga told me in relation to the case to Mr. Enkhbaatar and police major Chinbat. I also made a skein of silk thread taken from a coat and bound it to the iron brace of a lamp. After that I made Odontulga stand on the toilet sink and tied his neck with the thread. I hanged him by kicking his legs, but the silk thread broke,” confessed prisoner Enkhbold. Then Enkhbold was asked by police senior lieutenant Erdenee, to deal with Baatartsogt, another suspect of the same case.

“While beating Baatartsogt with a plank I broke his right rib. I also bound him,” confessed Enkhbold. He was further asked by police officers Chinbat and Uuganbayar to force a confession from Odontulga as to where he had hidden the items stolen during Foodland case and was again told “not to leave any wounds and scars” on his body. “I made many other suspects confess crimes in this way and provided police officers with information,” Enhkbold admitted to the Prosecutor.

When prosecutors visited Gants Hudag, the bodies of Odontulga and Baatartsogt were found to be scared from burning. And there were scraps of shred on the iron lattice at the top of the door of sell No.53 (now 77), and scraps of cable shred between the lamp and the lamp holder that appeared to corroborate Enkhbold’s testimony that incidences of torture occurred in detention center. The detention center’s doctor also testified that the detainees had scars from wounds between their fingers.

Several other instances of torture were uncovered by prosecutors and reported to the Parliament. The methods and techniques of torture were similar in every case. Even the scars found on the suspects’ bodies and fingers were the same.

The most common breaches of law stated in the report were that the police guards changed suspects’ cells several times so that they could be tortured by different prisoners. Each time a suspect changed cells, he was tortured. Those who beat the detainees and forced them to commit their confessions to memory were also used as witnesses even though they were not connected in any way to the crimes for which the detainees had been charged.

Another concern brought out by the prosecutors was that Mongolian state police agency was not showing its willingness to halt the unlawful practice. Instead, several police officers tried to investigate those who gave testimonies to prosecutors by recording their talk and interrogating them.

Liberty Center’s attention will be directed to Parliament to see how it responds to the allegations of wide-spread use of torture by the state police, how Odontulga and Baatartogt will be investigated and treated, and how police officials react to these frightful revelations.


Update On Torture Case: October 21, 2001

Yesterday, October 24,2001, the Supreme Court of Mongolia decided to return the so called “Food land” case for further investigation. According to the decision of the Capital City Court held in August 10th the accused young men Odontulga and Baatartsogt were sentenced to death. The Supreme Court trial was open and all accused repeated their complains about the physical torture they have endured in the Gants Hudag detention center.

According to newspapers “Udriin Sonin”, “Unuudur”, and “Mongoliin Medee” the victims of the Foodland case were anxious to accuse Odonbayar and Hurelbaatar who were released in August. Udriin Sonin stated that the Prosecutor stated in Court that the joint monitoring commission of Central Police Office and State General Prosecutor’s Office had looked into the allegations of torture in the Gants Hudag detention center, but found that there was “insufficient evidence of police involvement in the torturing of detainees.”

However, advocates complained that the Prosecutor’s investigation smacked of a cover-up and that no human rights organizations or independent advocates were allowed to participate in or oversee the investigation. As the newspaper “Zuunii Medee” noted, the Prosecutor conceded the fact that torture had in fact taken place in the detention center “Gants Hudag” but that “only some prisoners and not the police” were involved.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to return the case to the investigation stage was grounded on the following arguments according to newspaper “Zuunii Medee”:

1. Blood was not found on the clothes of accused young men. 2. It was not proven that the blood on the axe was human blood: 3. Shoe imprints taken at the scene of the crime did not match with any of accused: And 4. Investigations undertaken during the first months of the case without advocates present were illegal practices under the laws of Mongolia.

The Liberty Center is especially moved by the Supreme Court’s fourth argument because in our previous alerts that we sent you in English, as well as in our information published in Mongolian we expressed our outrage over the illegal criminal investigation practices employed by our police agencies.


Update On Torture Case: September 01, 2001

Here are the reactions of Mongolian most popular mass media since the hearing on the Foodland case was reported.

Eagle TV, Independent television, broadcasts in UB only.

August 10: News of the day Reportage from the Trial;

August 11: Weekly news Reportage from the trial, comments much concern about the existence of torture.

August 12-30 (8 times): Interviews and news on human rights issues and torture case. Interviews with Advocates, Liberty Center, Lawyers, Police officials, accused persons, witness of torture, family members of victims. Day-to-day news on the appeal of the case.

Channel-25 TV, Independent television, broadcasts in UB only.

August 10: News on the progress of the trial;

August 13, 14: News on breach of human rights, Comments that violations of human rights occur in the detention center.

August 20-27 (3 times): Comments on torture scandal, Comments that the “killers may have said what they said in order to escape punishment, but are they deserving of such treatment?” And comments that, “we must not excuse the police conduct even if the accused are killers”.

National TV and Radio, Government (MPRP) controlled media which broadcasts all over the country did not cover the story at all. Udriin Sonin : (Daily newspaper).

August 11: Reportage from the trial. Informs without commenting on torture that the killers were sentenced to death:

August 14: #191/754 Reportage by B.Ganchimeg: "Let's roll over the soil of the torture-shelter "Gants Hudag"". Extensive information on Odonbayr, Odontulga, Baatartsogt and Hurelbaatar's testimonies given at Court. Extensive testimony of a victim of torture on how he was tortured in "Gants Hudag", and the kinds of methods employed in his torture. Also, what techniques of torture compelled him to “confess”. The paper also published a letter of Mrs. Burtt sent to Mr.Nyamdorj and Sharavdorj, higher officials of the Parliament and the Government, who wrote from the U.S.A. after receiving Liberty Center’s alert on torture:

August 16: #193/756 Letter by Yu Enhtuy,: "The Shame of Mongolia," criticizes the current practice of detaining the suspects and forcing confessions from them while investigating the case. Author reminds that many people die in "Gants Hudag" while never having been convicted as a criminal by a court. And she deems it a national shame.

August 16: #193/756 Article: "Becoming a convicted person from a suspect" Criticizes the current practice of the liberal use of detention during the investigative stage. And especially criticizes police officers for torturing in order to improve their record of convictions. As author mentions, “They use Friday to detain, and Monday to release those whom Police officers do not like:”

August 21: Article by R.Munkhbat and O.Nyamdavaa : "Should we still consider the testimonies of suspects?" Criticizes the fact that cases turn mainly on confessions rather than on the facts -- which makes the poor and the powerless the most common victims of illegal police practices.

Huh Tolbo, (Monthly newspaper) # 31/336: Column by Erdenebaatar: "What happened with so called "Foodland case"". Strongly criticizes the current practice of torture in Gants Hudag and comments that this practice be terminated as soon as possible. Mentions the Liberty Center alerts which broke the story and Eagle TV news and uses passages from the letter of Mrs. Burtt.

Humuus, (Weekly newspaper) August, No.31/143: Interview by B. Amgalan with Advocate Yarinpil: "Officers of "Gants" forced detainees to learn their composed confessions by heart during the night." An advocate explains why he believes his client was tortured, and expresses his concerns about the condition of his client's health.

Unuudur, (Daily newspaper) August 11: Reportage from the Trial Informs without commenting on allegations of wide-spread torture that the killers were sentenced to death.

August 28: Reportage: "Was there a really torture in "Gants Hudag"?" In the reportage made at "Gants Hudag" detention center the journalist interviewed its officials, some suspects in their cells, and a doctor of the detention center. The whole picture of the reportage showed that there was nothing like torture in "Gants Hudag" and there was the only lawful detention there.

Zuunii Medee: (Daily newspaper) August 11: Reportage from the trial Informs without commenting on allegations of torture that the killers were sentenced to death;

August 25: #200/774 Interview by B. Tuul with police colonel Mr. Davaanyam.: The police officers who "oppressed" the suspects had “gone to Egypt,” he said. Mr. Davaanyuam disputes allegations of torture with support of police officers and states that accused persons might say anything at court. However, he also acknowledges that some prisoners were in fact tortured in their cells but that prisoner Enhkbold was solely to blame.

Urt Chiht , (Weekly newspaper) August, #22: Interview by D.Bilguun with Advocate Yarinpil, Judge B.Sarantuya, Advocate S.Namjilmaa, released Odonbayar, victim of Foodland case S.Altantsetseg, Chief of State Investigation Department Police Colonel Bumnamjil. Different positions of different people in one newspaper. Police officials gave short answers while advocates gave lengthy interviews.

August, #23 : News: "Foodland case was spread by internet," News about the Liberty Center alert.

Huviin am'dral (Weekly newspaper ) August, #23: News: "Their testimonies say they witnessed the killers of 'Food land’”: Informs that some of those giving testimony witnessed the accused people engaged in possible wrongdoings, but at the same time there were many unclear aspects to their testimonies which suggests their guiltiness. Also, it informs that prisoner Enkhbold who tortured many other suspects was already dead according to the death sentence on his own case.

If any of you know a place where Okhinoo could live with his mother, please contact us and advice us how can they reach that place and who could be helpful for finding Okhinoo’s new home.

Alternatively, a qualified medical practitioner can bring a good supply of IVIG to Goyochimeg here in Ulaanbaatar and train local doctors to administer it. However, one drawback to that solution will be that the boy’s most serious complications are respiratory and the air in and around Ulaanbaatar is quite dusty in summer and saturated with coal dust in winter as the occupants of every ger (yurt) burn coal to keep warm in winter’s minus 30 temperatures. Furthermore Ulaanbaatar Valley is the site of three coal burning power plants. Respiratory problems of various kinds abound here.

Local Solutions Foundation (LSF) is an NGO registered in Mongolia and dedicated to identify, encourage and disseminate best local solutions in resolving local problems that have become endemic or reflect emerging global challenges. It was founded on April 5, 2007 by a Mongolian and an American couple in Ulaanbaatar . The mission statement of the LSF is “Local Solutions to Global Problems”. Public health, education, environment, poverty, human rights and corruption related problems most concern the organization.

Okhinoo’s case is important for Local Solutions Foundation not only because it concerns human life, but also because it raises awareness of local problems such as insufficient medical science development in Mongolia , the relatively poor condition of medical services in the country, and widespread superstition and consequent discrimination toward women.