Participants of Mongolian-Russain talks on transboundary waters held in Ulaan Baatar on October 27 were addressed by environmental NGO activists urging both countries to talk less and do more to stop destructive mining activities on transboundary rivers: Onon, Selenga, Uldz, etc.» Rivers in the sacred land of Chinggis Khaan should be clean!» read one of the slogans.
In particular activists demand that Russian side stops gold mining enterprise»Baldzha» that has already destroyed riverine habitats on a dozen transboundary tributaries of Onon River Basin. For last two years placer gold mining operations of «Baldzha» caused continuous pollution of transboundary Ashinga river , but instead of shutting down this enterprise Russian authorities granted to «Baldzha» a permit to destroy larger and more ecologically important transboundary Kirkun River .
An ethnic Mongolian herder has been killed in China in circumstances similar to an incident in May which led to protests in the region, reports say.A human rights group said the herder had been trying to protect grazing land from Chinese oil trucks in Inner Mongolia when he was knocked down.
Chinese authorities said he had tried to overtake a truck on a motorcycle.
Thousands of ethnic Mongolians staged angry protests in May after a similar incident.
A herder named Mergen was killed on 10 May as he tried to stop a coal truck driving over pasture land.
His death led to a series of demonstrations in towns and cities across Inner Mongolia which the security forces acted quickly to put down. The truck driver who hit him was executed in August.
The latest incident occurred on Thursday in Uushin Banner district, near the city of Ordos, the US-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre reports.
The herder, named Zorigt, was one of several who had been trying to protect their land «from unregulated Chinese oil and gas transport trucks that drive roughshod through their grazing lands and kill livestock», the group said.
The local government said in a statement on its website that he had been killed while trying to overtake the truck on a motorcycle.
The driver had been taken into custody, it added.
The region has traditionally been home to nomadic Mongolian herders, but has seen an influx of companies keen to exploit the region’s resources.
NGO appeal has trickled down to district court and then rejected by several courts but NGOs were insistent and never gave up.
Finally on Fri Oct 21, 2011 Mongolia’s Supreme Court has ordered the government to enforce a ban on mining in river and forest areas following an appeal submitted by activists who said the country’s fragile environment was threatened by reckless mining.
The court ruling on Thursday explicitly blamed the government for failing to implement a 2009 law banning all mining in river basins and forests. The Mongolian government is constitutionally obliged to ensure that the country’s environment is protected, but activists claim that dozens of rivers and lakes have dried up in the last two decades as a direct result of mining-friendly, laissez-faire legislation.
«The law was made to crack down on the negative results of gold mining mania — hundreds of rivers and thousands of hectares of forests have disappeared just for few kilos of gold,» said Bayarsaikhan Garidkhuu, one of the lawmakers who drew up the original legislation.
While a small number of mines have been shut down as a result of the ban, many more have continued to operate, with the government saying it was unable to afford compensation to the owners for closing them down. But Bayarsaikhan rejected the argument, saying that the damage done to Mongolia’s ecosystem far outweighed the compensation costs. «We have to discuss it seriously,» he said. «Even if we give them compensation, they have to pay for the damage they have done.»
The decision was a victory for Tsetsgee Munkhbayar, an activist with the United Movement of Rivers and Lakes, who submitted the appeal to the Supreme Court after seeing his case dismissed by district and city courts.
«We are 100-percent confident that the fight is really the right thing so we have been fighting for one whole year at all levels of courts — the Supreme Court is the final court so the government is obliged to enforce the law,» Munkhbayar said.
However activists Munkhbayr, Bayraa, Sambuu-Yondon and Tumurbaatar now are being brought to court by the government. In last fall and spring the Movement made largely successful attempt to prevent new Law on limiting mining in sensitive areas from being amended to the point of uselessness (see proposed amendments here). Since September 2010 they engaged into various «citizen enforcement» activities and finally seven of them were arrested and jailed, then temporarily released and 4 people now await trial. (See collection of reports here) Prosecutor’s office of Ulaanbaatar is bringing a criminal case against these people under accusation for damaging other’s property (mining equipment), arrogant behavior and racket.
The Mongolian law enforcement is pursuing this case protecting the interests of mining companies. However, responses received from them also indicate that there is political decision to prosecute or at least keep the ax hanging over their heads for as long as it is possible. NGOs approached the Supreme Court, Prosecutor General and executive government (PM) to review the facts that some of these environmental activists have initially been arrested without arrest warrants; that they have been detained for several days without access to lawyers and that their equipment and all films documenting all illegal actions of mining companies have been arrested and/or destroyed. All authorities repeat in same language that our allegations have not been confirmed.
The trial may start as early as November and given seriousness of accusations it could lead to imprisonment of several activists. However the case is very far from being hopeless and there is a lot of useful clauses in Mongolian Law that could be used by skillful lawyers. However only one lawyer is presently serving 4 would be convicts. Although, skillful lawyer, Dashdemberelwho just won the above-mentioned famous case «Rivers vs Mongolian Government), has severely overstretched capacity standing alone against the legal machine of the government and the mining lobby behind it. Besides he is constantly threatened by police and prosecutors (in summer he already have spent 30 days in jail). Part of the problem is that the Movement currently lacks funds to hire additional lawyers to defend the activists for all resources have been spent on civil enforcement of the Law with Long Name and participation in a lwsuit against the government.
If Goldman prize winner Munkhbayar and 3 other key members of the Movement would go to jail, the ability of remaining members to continue civil enforcement of the Law with Long Name will be severely diminished. On the other hand after Government recognized guilty by the Supreme Court decision any attempt to send to jail Munkhbayar and others may evoke a wave of public protest, especially now right before parliament elections. So there is slight hope that prosecutors will be wise enough to drop the case and the Government wise enough to concentrate on implementing the Law and not on scapegoating civil activists. However we still should prepare for the worst case — defending innocent people in a long pointless trial.
We urge you to use whatever means available to help to protect river defenders from prosecution. You can directly address UMMRL Council at email@example.com
The Second Assessment provides a comprehensive overview of the status of transboundary waters in the European and some Asian parts of the UNECE region, covering more than 140 transboundary rivers, 25 transboundary lakes, about 200 transboundary groundwater aquifers and 25 Ramsar Sites or other wetlands of transboundary importance.
It has been carried out under the auspices of the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes with involvement of more than 250 experts.
Utilizing data and information provided by national Governments and river commissions, maps, graphs and statistical data, the Second Assessment presents a broad analysis of transboundary water resources, pressure factors, quantity and quality status, and transboundary impacts, as well as responses and future trends. It also documents national and transboundary legal and institutional frameworks for water management and cooperation. The Second Assessment seeks to provide a picture of the expected impacts on transboundary water resources, including the measures planned or in place to adapt to climate change.
Danube River Basin (annual flow 210 cubic kilometers, area 0.8 million square kilometers, human population about 80 million) is a champion of the assessment occupying 70 pages, while Amur River Basin (annual flow 360 cubic kilometers, area 2.1 million square kilometers, human population about 85 million) takes only 5 pages and did not deserve proper incorporation into sub-regional overviews. Besides, the source of the Amur, transboundary Onon River shared by Mongolia and Russia is not even mentioned in the 2nd Assessment.
Nevertheless Amur and Argun rivers proudly occupy Chapter 2 (in Part IV) in English and in Russian. Although this section is way too concise for the biggest transboundary river course under the Convention’s jurisdiction, it still provides overview of existing basin-management problems. Two-page overview of Dauria’s Ramsar wetlands prepared by DIPA experts supplement essential information on biodiversity, climate cycle and threats to natural ecosystems of the area.
The Second assessment highlights common transboundary problems in river basins shared by UNECE countries and their Asian neighbors in Ili, Irtysh, Selenga and Amur river basins and thus calls for special cooperative measures to invovle China and Mongolia. And we cannot agree more that they are urgently needed!
Download the full Second Assessment in English [43 MB] in Russian [46 MB]
Download the text on Amur and Argun rivers represented in Part IV, Chapter 2 in English or in Russian