Foreign mining, state corruption, and genocide in Mongolia
By Keith Harmon Snow
Packed with distortions and outright lies, Mongolia’s privatized former state media called them the ‘enemies of Mongolia’. On 16 September 2013, the leaders of Mongolia’s Fire Nation (Gal Undesten in Mongolian), an environment and human rights coalition, organized a mass protest in front of the Mongolian Parliament. Decades of grassroots organizing to establish environmental protections were at risk: on September 16 the Great State Khural (State Parliament) gathered with intentions to dismantle the so-called ‘Law With A Long Name’ (LLN).
Adopted by parliament in 2009, after more than a decade of grassroots organizing and public pressure, the ‘Law to Prohibit Mineral Exploration and Mining Operations at the Headwaters of Rivers, Protected Zones of Water Reservoirs and Forested Areas‘ is the only significant Mongolian law protecting nomadic herders’ traditional lands and watersheds from further radioactive and chemical contamination, diversions of rivers and land-grabbing. With mining companies ignoring the law, destroying pasture land and watersheds, and no government enforcement, the livelihoods and culture of indigenous Mongolian herders are rapidly disappearing. These are the same mining corporations responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity in Africa and Latin America and everywhere we find them.
Symbolically armed with hunting rifles and antiquated weapons, the most courageous leaders of the grassroots Fire Nation sought to draw attention to corruption and collusion between government and foreign mining corporations. They are fighting to save their culture and people and their very way of life.
On 21 January 2014, the six civil society leaders were sentenced to prison. Defendants J. Ganbold, G. Boldbaatar, D. Tumurbaatar, S. Dashtseren and Ts. Munkhbayar received 21 years and six months (reduced from 22 years and six months for time served since 16 September 2013). The sixth man, M. Munkhbold was sentenced to two years for supplying weapons. When the verdict and sentences were delivered in court, the wife of J. Ganbold (suffering from ovarian cancer) fainted; others shouted and cried.
The six men, all 50-60 years of age, were interrogated under harsh conditions in state detention cells. One of the six, J. Ganbold, is reportedly in danger of losing his hand after police removed a cast and refused him medical treatment. When Mr. Ganbold’s wife pleaded with the court for her husband to receive treatment, the chief investigator derided her, declaring that her husband and the others deserved to suffer, implying they are traitors of the state.
The more they stood up for the rights of Mongolia and its people, the more they were shunned or ignored by their former sponsors. For Ts. Munkhbayar, this meant that the Goldman Fund distanced themselves from him, and the Asia Foundation, whose officials had lobbied the Goldman Fund on his behalf, labeled him a ‘terrorist’. 2
Mr. Lu. Bold, former Minister of Defense, current Minister of Parliament and Mongolia’s Foreign Minister, owns National Overview. On 26 October 2103, Mr. Bold signed a ‘nuclear cooperation’ deal with French Minister Laurent Fabius. The French nuclear conglomerate AREVA has been exploring and mining uranium in Mongolia for over a decade. 5
In 2010, herders in Dornogovi aimag (province) began correlating disease in domestic animal herds with AREVA uranium mining nearby. In 2012 they sounded the alarm after some 20 calves of one herder Mr. Norsuren died. Even wolves would not eat the dead animals, and carcasses decayed in a few days even when frozen solid in the dead of Mongolian winter.
In May 2013, Fire Nations‘ own investigator discovered epidemics of diseases; faceless animals, jawless animals; diseased internal organs; many abnormal births and birth defects.
Prior to AREVA’s arrival such things were unheard of. In August 2013, armed Fire Nation activists and local herders occupied AREVA’s mining camp and stopped operations. AREVA resumed operations after Munkhbayar and other Fire Nation protestors were arrested September 16.
In December 2013, Fire Nation leaders and herders returned but were barred entry to the AREVA camp by nine-foot fences with triple-barbed wire overhangs and armed paramilitary guards: AREVA even refused entry to a state inspector.
Uranium exploration and radioactive contamination in Mongolia is not limited to the Dornogovi site in the Gobi desert. There are mine sites as close as 70 kilometers from the capital city.
“Given that everything related to uranium is kept ‘state secret’ we have little information about this threat to 60% of Mongolia’s population, residing in Ulaanbaatar,” says Sukhgerel Dugersuren,Executive Director of the Mongolian organization OT [Oyu Tolgoi] Watch. “The U.S. government and Japanese government apparently find Mongolia to be the best location for dumping their nuclear waste. Agreements [were] signed many years ago but there is no information disclosed about the actual status, no opportunity for local monitoring, no info on risks and how to be prepared for mitigation. We know that Japan is negotiating heavily.”6