Yes to Life, No to Mining member group Delhiin Mongol Nogoon Negdel’s (DMNN) efforts to inform the Mongolian public about the on-going environmental issues caused by mining in their country have not gone unnoticed.
On the positive side, isolated groups of herders have begun to contact DMNN, asking staff members to visit their territories and observe how mining companies are causing local rivers to dry up, transforming once healthy protected zones into completely uninhabitable places.
Out of these field visits, new relationships have grown between DMNN and herder groups. Though these communities have been fighting against the mining companies, they sometimes lack procedural and legal knowledge and experience for campaigning. DMNN has been able to help the herders acquire and apply this knowledge, as well as advocating on their behalf, to make their resistance to mining stronger.
On the negative side, DMNN’s active support of herder communities and its success in helping them has made the group and its members a target for intimidation and abuse by company officials, security forces and even state police.
The following three stories clearly illustrate how DMNN members are being victimised for investigating cases of mining abuse, taking a stand alongside affected communities and asking Mongolia to uphold its own environmental laws.
In 2014, herders from Uyanga County in Ovorkhangai Province, southern Mongolia, contacted DMNN to inform them of damage caused by mining companies in the area.
In July of that year DMNN staff travelled to the region, documented the environmental impacts they witnessed and were able to organise a meeting with the county governor and police officer (there is just one in the whole county) to present their findings.
This meeting, which took place in the local county hall, was interrupted by members of the mining company whose impacts DMNN had been monitoring. According to DMNN staff, these workers barged into the county hall and caused such a disturbance that it was impossible to continue the discussion, so everyone went outside.
Once outside the building DMNN staff were attacked by the mining company workers in the presence of local residents, the county governor and police officer.
In trying to protect himself, DMNN leader Beejin caused minor bruising to the knees of two mining company employees. Despite receiving far worse injuries than these themselves, and despite testimonies from local residents that described how DMNN staff were attacked by the mining company’s people and did not fight back, Beejin and his colleagues were subsequently charged with battery and assault.
The DMNN members involved in this incident were charged in 2015, but the judge has sent the case back to the police for further investigation. As a result Beejin and others are frequently called to the police station for questioning as if they were criminals.
In October 2014, residents and herders of Gurvanbulag county, Bayankhongor province contacted DMNN and asked for their help.
Upon meeting up with the State Environmental Inspector of Gurvanbulag county, DMNN’s representatives went to G and U Gold LLC’s mine site in the area. In an instance of clear environmental degradation, the company’s activities had caused a local river that was once the drinking water source for the county residents to dry up.
After they had completed their visit, Beejin and DMNN members decided to return to another part of the county while the inspector stayed behind to audit the company’s heavy machinery.
DMNN members allege that the company owner then ordered some of his security workers to take this opportunity “finish” the DMNN delegation. They report being chased by four large mining dump trucks for over 30 kilometers, narrowly avoiding death at one point as the trucks pushed their SUV towards the edge of a cliff.
In the wake of this ordeal, Beejin officially notified the provincial police about the incident in writing. But to date no charges have been brought against the company owner or his workers.
On 21st December 2015, members of DMNN began a three-day peaceful protest in Ulaanbaatar to demand the cancellation of a gold extraction permit in a protected forest zone in the Onon River Basin.
The permit violates Mongolia’s own environmental laws, including the Long Name Law that prohibits mineral exploration and extraction activities at and near headwaters, river basins, forests and protected zones.
Having discovered other instances of illegal mining in Tov, Selenge, Darkhan-Uul, Arkhangai, Ovorkhangai and Bulgan provinces, DMNN used this opportunity to call for the resignation of Mining Minister Jigjid Rentsendoo, who granted the permits for these operations.
In advance of the protest and during, Beejin, members of his family and other DMNN members received several death threats by phone and text message. One text message, received on the night of the first day, read ‘If you don’t quit tonight, you will die’. On the second day, Beejin received one message reading ‘4444’ fifteen times. Number 4 means death in Chinese.
Undeterred DMNN members asked the Mongolian Prime Minister to meet with them by 3 p.m. of the December 23rd to discuss the illegal Onon River gold permit. When they did not receive a response the protestors tried to go to the Mongolian Government HQ to find out what the PM’s response was, but were violently thrown out.
Security officers grabbed Beejin at the gate of the government building, carried him away and threw him in the street.
Altanzaya, DMNN staff was hit by one of the officers while he was pulling Beejin out of their hands and suffered facial injuries.
After the protest, another member of DMNN staff was severely beaten by unknown people who also threatened to kill him. Telling him that DMNN would be destroyed, he reports that they attempted to stab him with a knife.
Despite the Mongolian Ministry of Environment, Green Development and Tourism of Mongolia confirming that the mining permit area near the Onon River completely overlaps with a protected forest zone, the Government of Mongolia has since said that the gold mining permit granted by Minister Rentsendoo does not violate any law.
Around the world groups like DMNN and individuals who stand up to protect human rights and the planet are subjected to violence, abuse and even death.
In 2014, think tank Global Witness reported that: “Each week at least two people are being killed for taking a stand against environmental destruction. Some are shot by police during protests, others gunned down by hired assassins…. at least 116 environmental activists were murdered in 2014 …a shocking 40 % of victims were indigenous, with most people dying amid disputes over hydropower, mining and agri-business.”
Yes to Life, No to Mining condemns violence towards our friends at DMNN and all other environmental defenders in the strongest possible manner.
If you would like to send your solidarity to DMNN or share your own story of resistance, contact us here.