Last month, a group of Mongolian community activists led by Tsetsegee Munkhbayar, recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2007, were arrested outside the Mongolian Parliament. They were at the Parliament protesting proposals to abolish mining regulations that would protect the country’s waterways from decades of destruction from irresponsible mining companies operating in a regulation-free environment.
The activists were arrested after the accidental firing of a gun, according to Mongolian police.
Rural and arid, the country of Mongolia has a sparse population of semi-nomadic herders but sits on vast mineral reserves underneath. In the past few decades, many mining companies have poured into Mongolia to dig up gold ore in an unregulated environment, wreaking havoc on the country’s waterways.
Thanks to the leadership of former herder and community activist who co-founded the Onggi River Movement, the Mongolian government passed new mining regulation (“The Law with the Long Name”) in 2006 that protects the country’s waterways and natural resources – especially critical as the country undergoes a mining boom. This regulation was the result of Munkhbayar’s tireless work to educate herdsmen about the impacts of mining and increase opportunities for everyday people to have a voice in their government.
Though the Law with the Long Name was never fully enforced, the current Parliament proposes to abolish it altogether, paving the way for destruction of the Onggi River ecosystem and other natural resources for unregulated gold mining.
Now, community leader Munkhbayar is jailed and awaits trial for his role in the demonstration. We share the sentiments expressed by the Goldman Prize, and do not condone the use of weapons or violence. We join the Goldman Prize in urging Mongolian authorities to ensure that Munkhbayar and his colleagues receive a fair and transparent trial.