sharing in governance of extractive industries

Visit of United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment to Mongolia

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John H. Knox, undertook his first official visit to Mongolia from 19 to 27 September 2017. The purpose of his mission was to assess how the country is promoting human rights in the context of environmental protection. 


Mr. John Knox is the first Independent Expert on human rights and the environment appointed by the Human Rights Council in 2012. Since then, Knox has promoted the implementation of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. 


Here is a summary of his key points as they relate to Mongolia. 


He emphasized that mining was causing severe environmental harm, especially through the increasing pollution of Mongolian rivers, which prevents enjoyment of the human right to safe drinking water.  In particular, he pointed out the Tuul River, on whose water the capital and many other communities rely, is polluted from mining operations and untreated sewage.  


“Mining requires particular attention in Mongolia, because it is so important to the economy and because it can be so environmentally destructive”, he said.  “In general, the human rights obligations relating to the effect of mining on the environment are clear.  To ensure that human rights and the environment are respected, mining permits should be issued only after a full assessment of environmental and social impacts is completed, all relevant information is provided publicly, and local communities are consulted for their views on the proposed operation.”  


Mr Knox also pointed out the challenges in implementation.  Widespread illegal mining has to be tackled and the environmental assessment process is often not taken seriously. “Impact assessments are often simply cut-and-pasted, so that an assessment of a mine in the Gobi, for example, addresses the impacts on forests found in northern Mongolia”, he said. “When assessments are carried out, they do not adequately examine the likely social as well as environmental effects of the proposed mining operation.  And the assessments are often not made available to the local community, which may learn of the project only when they see the bulldozers heading to the site” 


The creation of the Environmental Ombudsman was Knox´s chief recommendation to Mongolia. In addition, he recommended the creation of laws on public access to information as well as enact a law to protect environmentalists and human rights defenders. In many countries, environmental human rights defenders face a high risk of violence and even death. 


In this context, he  also recommended a Government investigation into the death of conservation ranger.  According to John Knox, enacting the law to protect environmentalists and other human rights defenders should be among Mongolia’s highest priorities.  


If you are interested in reading his whole speech, click here.  


If you are interested in the environmental governance of the mining sector take part in our webinar series on Environmental Governance of the Mining Sector.  It addresses environmental governance issues and the prevention of socio-environmental mining conflicts, and highlights  experiences and lessons learned from several initiatives worldwide. This webinar series is hosted by the  NBSAP Forum, the  Swedish Environmental Protection Agency,  GOXI  (a platform for sharing in governance of the extractive industries) and  UNDP.  


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Comment by Piet Wostyn on October 24, 2017 at 9:32

great summary; very interesting read about the (highly appreciated/necessary) visit of mr John Knox to Mongolia, pinpointing the urgent issues:
the impact assessments lack of a solid scientific basis; even worse, local consultation (previously and informed) is often ignored. let alone that this consultation requires actual dialogue, not just confirming 'we'll bring the dozers in a months or so'.

further, i believe universities could play an important role to execute an independent and comprehensive study on potentials of a region, on possible impacts and precautionary measures. as such, they could (attempt to) balance the environmental impact assessments (EIAs).

at the same time, capacity of (local and national) government needs to be strengthened so that government officials can actually read, understand (and hopefully also analyse critically) these EIAs.
Finally, it seems the real environmental impact is underestimated in EIAs. does this indicate that either the science did work or (worse) was ignored, and/or does this imply a weak follow up on the actual mining operation when running?


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