Members of the United Movement of Mongolian Rivers and Lakes (UMMRL) have initiated a hunger strike in front of the Mongolian parliament. Currently, the hunger strike is carried on by NGOs such as “Save Noyon Mountain” and DMNN.
As of February 17th, the hunger strike has lasted 11 days and the protesters have been met with overwhelming support from the people. The petition to stop the changing of mongolian mining laws has reached over 60.000 supporters.
The strike is a reaction to changes and attempts to abolish the “law with the long name” which protects Mongolian water sources and ore deposits from unlawful mining operations.
Uncommented footage from the hunger strike.
The law with the long name
The aptly named „law with the long name“ (full name: „law to prohibit mineral exploration and mining operations at headwaters of rivers, protected zones of water reservoirs and forested areas”) was adopted in Parliament between 2011 and 2012. The goal is to reduce conflict between miners and indigenous herders. The latter have been facing harsh competition from foreign food distributors. The mining projects threaten to destroy their herding grounds, making it even more difficult to stay in the market.
After a short time during which the law actually worked as intended, protecting water sources and land by revoking unfit licenses from mining companies, the economy in Mongolia suffered another crash due to unwise government investments. In 2013, the countries’ gold reserves had almost run out. Gold miners saw their chance to weaken the law again, this time with the newly elected democratic party in charge. In the wake of these events, Goldman prize winner and green activist Munkhbayar was sentenced to almost 22 years in jail for armed protest against the amendment of the “Law with the long name”.
In late 2014, President Saikhanbileg Chimed initiated an unprecedented move to force a decision on the matter. A survey “by the people”, via SMS, on two alternatives:
A) Initiation of the mining projects Oyu-Tolgoi (copper) and Tavan-Tolgoi (coal), continuation of all exploration projects, no restrictions for foreign investors, privatization of land and property, revoking the “law with the long name”.
B) Cost reduction and economic discipline, following the premises of the IMF.
It’s important to note that alternative B) had already been dismissed by the parliament. The participation rate on the survey was very low (about 20 %) and the results were very close (56,1% for A), 43,9% for B)). Nevertheless, the government saw this as a legitimation for their plans to sell their stake in the Oyu-Tolgoi deposit – probably to Rio Tinto – and to open the Gatsuurt deposit at Noyon mountain for mining by Centerra Gold.
The threat to noyon mountain
“State officials see the mountain as a vast amount of money and approved the Gatsuurt field as a strategic deposit. The approval process took place at night, without us. We just can’t sit and accept it, we will go until the end. I am ready to give my life for my country”, stated the head of the Noyon Uul Protection Movement, O. Tserennadmid, shortly before entering the hunger strike.
Disregarding laws, jailing activists with absurd sentences, skipping parliament to force decisions by means of an unlawful SMS survey – the actions of the Mongolian government have long since left the realms of democracy. The “law with the long name” had ben adopted in Parliament to protect the lands and water sources of the Mongolian people and to strengthen the local economy. Now, the government is giving away mining rights and herding grounds to foreign companies, initiating a spiteful cycle of fast money and longterm problems. The hunger strike is necessary, to remind the world that there is something very wrong with mining politics in Mongolia.