Mongol Rights Advocate Sodmongol Remains in Custody Following April Detention at Beijing Airport

October 20, 2010

Sodmongol, a Mongol rights advocate, remains in custody following his detention in April. He was about to depart for New York to attend the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues when authorities at the Beijing Capital International Airport detained him. His case represents the second time in two years that authorities have prevented Mongol rights advocates from participating in UN forums on the protection of indigenous peoples. The Chinese government does not recognize any communities within its borders as "indigenous peoples."

Sodmongol, an ethnic Mongol rights advocate from Chaoyang city, Liaoning province, remains in custody since authorities first detained him at the Beijing Airport in April 2010, according to a July 15 press release from Amnesty International (AI). As reported in an April 23 article from the Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), officials at the Beijing Capital International Airport detained Sodmongol on April 18 as he was waiting to board a flight to the United States. Sodmongol had planned to attend the Ninth Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York as part of a delegation arranged by the U.S.-based SMHRIC. The following day, authorities in Chaoyang searched Sodmongol's home, confiscated computers and other items, and told Sodmongol's wife of his detention. Sources cited in the AI article conjectured that he is held in detention in Chaoyang and that the Chaoyang procuratorate is investigating the case, but officials have not confirmed his whereabouts, according to the report. His family has been unable to visit him, according to AI.

Sodmongol was the administrator of two Internet forums―now shut down―that had promoted dialogue on Mongols' rights, according to the SMHRIC article. He also organized workshops and other events to promote the protection of Mongols' rights, in one case distributing flyers in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) to promote the protection of Mongolian language rights. Authorities previously questioned him about one of the Web sites in June 2009, asking, among other questions, whether the site posted content relating to "issues of independence of Tibetans, Mongols and Uyghurs," according to a June 22 SMHRIC article. In a December interview (via Police Net, December 4), Zhao Liping, head of the IMAR Public Security Department, said that like in the autonomous Tibetan areas of China and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the IMAR faced the threat of "enemy forces" from Western countries that wanted to "split" the region. He added that public security offices had carried out their duties and prevented the "enemy forces" from succeeding.

Sodmongol's detention comes two years after the detention of another advocate who promoted Mongols' rights as indigenous peoples. As noted in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China Political Prisoner Database and a previous analysis, in 2008, authorities in the IMAR placed Mongol rights activist and journalist Naranbilig in confinement in his home for 1 year after detaining him for 20 days in March and April. Naranbilig had planned to attend the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York when authorities intercepted his invitation letter and detained him on March 23. In addition to his planned participation in the Permanent Forum, Naranbilig also was involved in other activities to advocate for Mongols' rights.

The Chinese government voted to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, but the government does not recognize any populations within its borders as "indigenous peoples" with discrete protections for their rights stemming from this status. (See a September 13, 2007, UN General Assembly press release for the declaration's vote status.) At the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that Sodmongol had planned to attend, the Chinese government defended its policies toward the groups it defines as "ethnic minorities" and did not directly respond to comments at the session about Sodmongol's detention. See April 27 and 29 press releases from the forum. (For an additional example of Chinese policy toward the recognition of indigenous communities within its borders, see. e.g., a 1997 statement by the Chinese delegation to the 53rd session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, via the Web site of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Switzerland.)

The UN Declaration recognizes "the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples...especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources" (Preamble), and also protects the right of indigenous peoples to "revitalize, use, develop and transmit [their languages] to future generations" (Article 13). Sodmongol had raised concern about Chinese government policies toward grasslands and language use. As noted in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2009 Annual Report, the IMAR government has continued to implement policies to resettle herders away from grasslands and shift them to new occupations, with the stated aim of improving grasslands conditions. Such "ecological migration" measures in the IMAR, sometimes reported to be compulsory, have eroded Mongols’ pastoral livelihoods, and scholars have questioned the effectiveness of these government policies in ameliorating environmental degradation. As also described in the 2009 Annual Report, after sustained implementation of policies that decreased the use of the Mongolian language in the IMAR, authorities have taken steps in recent years to spur greater use of the language. At the same time, authorities have targeted some Mongolian-language Web sites and Mongol discussion sites for scrutiny and closure, and a Mongol rights advocate in the IMAR reported curbs over the use of Mongolian on a university campus.

For more information on the rights of Mongols and conditions in the IMAR, see Section II―Ethnic Minorities in the CECC 2010 Annual Report.