Thursday, November 21, 2013

Protect Mongolian Rivers from Mining!

Protect Mongolian Rivers from Mining!
Guest Blog by Eugene Simonov, Coordinator, Rivers without Boundaries
International Coalition
International Rivers, November 20, 2013

[Please see a petition on the same topic at]

The Mongolian Law "to prohibit mineral exploration and mining operations
at headwaters of rivers, water protection zones and forested areas" –
known by the population as the "Law with Long Name" – was drafted and
promoted by representatives of local communities severely affected by
gold mining. This unique legislation is now threatened by amendments
proposed by the Ministry of Mining and many defenders of the law have
been jailed.

Mongolia faces rapid industrialization fueled by foreign investment in
mineral extraction. This threatens Mongolia's pristine environment and
nomadic traditions. One of the activists trying to prevent the
destruction of Mongolian nature is Tsetsegee Munkhbayar, founder of the
United Movements for Mongolian Rivers and Lakes (UMMRL). In 2007
Munkhbayar was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for having
successfully pressured 35 of 37 mining operations working in Mongolia's
Onggi River Basin. However, new companies have received new licenses to
develop the same protected areas. Soon it became obvious to river
activists that they cannot win all local battles against destruction
unless special national legislation is passed to protect the most
vulnerable areas.

The Law with Long Name was designed to protect up to 25% of Mongolian
natural ecosystems from destruction by mining, which are essential
safeguards as the country undergoes a mining boom. Legislation protects
the most vulnerable areas associated with water resources. The Law also
aims to reduce conflict between miners and indigenous communities of
The Parliament was slow to review the draft and the law was on the brink
of being scrapped, but UMMRL organized a hunger strike in front of the
Parliament House which triggered the law's adoption in July 2009. Then
the UMMRL cooperated with the government and helped to delineate actual
protection zones and negotiate them with local populations.

The Law was adopted but not implemented because of government
inefficiency and huge opposition by international mining companies and
foreign diplomacy. Clashes between herder communities and mining
companies continued. In May 2011 to demand law implementation, UMMRL
organized an occupation of the Ulan Baatar Central Square by nomadic
camp (see Wake up, Mongolians!). In October 2011 the Supreme Court heard
the case "Mukhbayar vs. Government of Mongolia" and ordered the
government to enforce a ban on mining in river and forest areas. After
that the government finally started real implementation of the law. The
first batch of licenses were revoked, protection zones approved,
environmental damage from mining evaluated, etc. The law became the
"greatest achievement of the Mongolian government in environmental
protection" as reported by Mongolian officials in many international

However, by summer 2013 the Government undertook several unwise
decisions that made foreign investments decrease causing Mongolia's
annual economic growth to fall from 17 to 11%. Gold reserves also were
running out. Gold miners promised to replenish the reserves if the Law
with Long Name was weakened. The Government of Mongolia has proposed to
change implementation rules for the law so that the old licensees in the
protected areas can continue mining and prospecting. The Mongolian
Parliament now has to decide whether to change the Implementation Rules
for this law, and by doing so cancel protection of rivers and forest
from irresponsible mining. This could immediately result in the opening
of more than 1,300 sites to mining and prospective operations and lead
to the drastic reduction in legally protected river valleys by more than
20,000 square kilometers. The basin of the Selenge River – a main
tributary of Lake Baikal – would once again become an arena for rampant
placer gold mining.

This past summer the Mongolian environmental movement submitted many
requests to top officials to discuss proposed changes, but there was no
reply. On the morning of September 16, 2013 before the Special session
of Parliament that gathered to change the law, Munkhbayar brought a
petition to the Parliament House. There he and his friends were arrested
for carrying guns (which was done to demonstrate that they have a
"serious cause" – a type of action that most of us do not find
appropriate). Since then eight people have been detained and will likely
be sentenced for "threatening public stability" and serve many years in
jail. The remaining activists are being continuously harassed by police.
The media received an order not to publish anything protecting the law,
and government media has continuously accused the environmental movement
of being unpatriotic.

Due to clear public opposition the law has not been overturned! With
your help, it can stay undamaged. Please sign the petition of the United
Movements for Mongolian Rivers and Lakes (UMMRL) to the Mongolian
parliament today at!

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