In October, 2010 the United Movement of Mongolian Rivers and Lakes sued the Government of Mongolia in the Mongolian Supreme Court for improper implementation of the 2009 Law on «Prohibiting mining operations at headwaters of rivers, protected zones of water reservoirs and forested areas» which publicly known as «the Law with long name».
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, Dashdemberel who 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
Rivers without Boundaries
(Sources: Reuters, UMMRL and own sources)