Mongolia: Stop reprisals against human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren

18/08/2022
Open Letter
Altansukh E on Unsplash

18 August 2022. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and other civil society organisations, stand in solidarity with Mongolian human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren and strongly condemn the criminalisation and smear campaigns against her. They urge the Mongolian government to ensure Sukhgerel can safely defend human rights without fearing reprisals and that all charges against her are dismissed, and call on all the international institutions active in the country to publicly speak out in support of Sukhgerel.

Read the declaration below (in english only):

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, stand in solidarity with Mongolian human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren and strongly condemn the criminalisation and smear campaigns against her, which we identify as an attempt to prevent her from conducting her crucial work in defense of human rights and the environment.

We urge the Mongolian government to ensure Sukhgerel can safely defend human rights without fearing reprisals and that all charges against her are dismissed.

We call on all the international institutions and actors active in the country – including development banks, UN bodies and experts, EU member states and institutions, international embassies, international investors or private companies – to publicly speak out in support of Sukhgerel, use their leverage to strongly condemn reprisals, and take any action they can to ensure Sukhgerel can continue to safely carry out her work.

Who is Sukhgerel Dugersuren?

Sukhgerel Dugersuren is an internationally renowned human rights defender and the executive director of the Mongolian organisations Oyu Tolgoi Watch and Rivers without Boundaries Mongolia. She has a long trajectory of exposing human rights abuses and defending the rights of herder and rural communities in Mongolia. Her courageous and inspirational work is admired by scores of international and local civil society organisations, as well as UN Special Rapporteurs and experts, who have closely worked with her.

In the past decades, Sukhgerel has supported dozens of communities negatively affected by large-scale projects, such as mines and hydropower dams. She has helped these communities in denouncing the harmful impacts of these activities and bringing their grievances to the attention of the Mongolian government, development banks, and international organisations. For example, she supported complaints to the independent accountability mechanisms of the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Asian Development Bank.

What happened and why is she being criminalised?

According to Front Line Defenders, on 2 August 2022, Mongolia’s General Intelligence Agency informed Sukhgerel that she is under investigation for committing crimes under the Mongolian Criminal Code Article 19.4, which prohibits the “illegal cooperation with foreign intelligence agency, agent.” Although no other details around the investigations have been shared, we fear Sukhgerel might be at risk of imminent arrest and we are deeply concerned for her safety.

Sukhgerel is being subject to a clear criminalisation process, where the law is used to limit civic freedoms and punish human rights defenders. The undersigned human rights organisations consider these accusations false and baseless, as they appear to be related to Sukhgerel’s support to the communities impacted by the Erdeneburen hydropower plant, funded by China’s EXIM Bank, and her legitimate requests for access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making and transparency.

On 3 August 2022, during a government briefing, Mongolia’s Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs, H. Nyambaatar, stated that the construction of the Erdeneburen hydro plant had been suspended for two years, as a result of a letter from the local communities to the Chinese authorities. He also said that when development projects are interrupted by a civil society organisation or person, then a task force should be established to investigate these cases as ‘sabotage’ under Criminal Code Article 19.6 and that the government could claim compensation for the lost economic opportunity. This concerning statement was shared just a few days before the visit by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, to Ulan Bator on 7 and 8 August to discuss economic cooperation between the two countries and who specifically mentioned the Erdeneburen hydropower plant in his remarks.

The Mongolian Minister’s statement could be construed as a direct threat of reprisal against human rights defenders like Sukhgerel. It also sends a very chilling message to all individuals and communities peacefully raising concerns or opposing harmful projects, especially in a context where several environmental activists have already been threatened and criminalised.

Sukhgerel is also facing a worrying and orchestrated smear campaign in online media and social media. We are deeply worried about the criminalisation and smear campaign against Sukhgerel, which puts her at additional risk and constitutes a threat to all human rights defenders and civil society groups in the country. We fear that as a result of these online actions other human rights defenders, and in particular the communities protesting against the harmful impacts of the Erdeneburen dam or other foreign-funded projects, might also be at risk of being criminalised.

We stand in solidarity with Sukhgerel and other human rights defenders in Mongolia, and we call on all the relevant international institutions and actors that defend international law and human rights to intervene promptly in support of their important and legitimate struggles. Sustainable development is not possible where civil society is repressed and criminalised.

What are we asking?

We call on the government and other relevant authorities in Mongolia to:

- immediately investigate and unconditionally cease all attempts to target and criminalise Sukhgerel Dugersuren, as well as other human rights defenders and individuals expressing their opinion or raising concerns about development projects in the country;
- guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Mongolia are able to carry out their human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, in line with Mongolia’s international human rights obligations and commitments, including its recently approved law on human rights defenders; [1]
- p​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ublicly recognise the importance of freedom of expression, meaningful participation, unimpeded access to information on development projects and environmental impacts, and a safe environment for human rights defenders, to help ensure development projects are truly sustainable for Mongolia.

We call on all the international institutions and actors active in the country – including development banks [2], UN bodies and experts [3], EU member states and institutions [4], international embassies, international investors and private companies – to:
- urge Mongolian authorities to immediately halt and dismiss all the charges against Sukhgerel Dugersuren;
- urge Mongolian authorities to investigate and stop all attempts to target, criminalise and stigmatise individuals expressing concerns or their views about development projects, including Sukhgerel Dugersuren;
- express serious concern about the statements made by Mongolian government officials, who publicly remarked that those opposing the Erdeneburen hydropower plant will be investigated and criminalised, and denounce the smear campaign Sukhgerel Dugersuren is facing;
- publicly recognise the importance of freedom of expression, meaningful participation, unimpeded access to information on development projects and environmental impacts, and the need to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, by publicly stating that communities must be able to defend their right to a healthy environment and that human rights defenders are indispensable allies who should be supported.

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  • Co-signatories

    Abibinsroma Foundation – Ghana
    Accountability Counsel – United States
    AJI/GAPK – Brazil
    All African Women’s Group – United Kingdom
    ALTSEAN=Burma – Burma
    AMATE El Salvador – El Salvador
    Amnesty International – Sierra Leone
    Andrew Lees Trust – United Kingdom
    APIT – Portugal
    Arab Watch Coalition – MENA
    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) – Thailand
    Asociacion Ambiente y Sociedad – Colombia
    Association of Ethical Shareholders Germany – Germany
    Balkani Wildlife Society – Bulgaria
    Bank Information Center – United States
    Black Wimen for Wages for Housework – United States
    Both ENDS – Netherlands
    Building and Wood Workers International – Asia Pacific
    Business & Human Rights Resource Centre – Global
    Campaign of Campaigns – Mexico
    CEE Bankwatch Network – Czech Republic
    Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) – United States
    Center for New Environmentally Safe Technologies – Kazakhstan
    Centre de Défense des Droits de l’homme et Démocratie – DRC
    Centre for Environmental Justice – Sri Lanka
    Centre for Financial Accountability – India
    Centre for Human Rights and Development – Mongolia
    Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos “Segundo Montes Mozo S.J.” (CSMM) – Ecuador
    Chirapaq/ECMIA – Peru
    Christian Aid – UK
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation – South Africa/Global
    Coalition for Human Rights in Development – Global
    Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR) – Indonesia
    Colectivo sobre Financiamiento e Inversiones Chinas Derechos Humanos y Ambiente, CICDHA – Latin America
    Community Empowerment and Social Justice Network (CEMSOJ) – Nepal
    Community Resource Centre (CRC) – Thailand
    Consejo Interreligioso del Perú-Religiones por la Paz – Peru
    Constitution Researches Foundation – Azerbaijan
    Corner House Research – United Kingdom
    DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) – Global
    Defenders Protection Initiative – Uganda
    Democracy Monitor PU – Azerbaijan
    Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR) – Peru
    DiXi Group – Ukraine
    EarthRights International – United States
    EİTİ NGO Coalition Azerbaijan – Azerbaijan
    Empower Foundation – Thailand
    Entrepreneurship Development Foundation – Azerbaijan
    Environics Trust – India
    Environmental Defender Law Center – United States
    Equitable Cambodia Cambodia
    FIAN Germany – Germany
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    Framer Framed – The Netherlands
    Franciscans International – Switzerland
    Friends of the Earth Japan – Japan
    Friends of the Earth US – United States
    Front Line Defenders – Ireland
    GegenStroemung INFOE e.V. – Germany
    Gender and Environment Network – Mexico
    Global Women’s Strike/UK – United Kingdom
    Global Women’s Strike/US – United States
    Green Advocates International – Liberia
    HRM “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan” – Kyrgyzstan
    Human Development Center “Tree of Life” – Kyrgyz Republic
    Inclusive Development International – United States
    IndiaMatters – United Kingdom
    Indigenous Women Legal Awareness Group (INWOLAG) – Nepal
    International Accountability Project (IAP) – Global
    International Rivers – USA
    International Service for Human Rights – Switzerland
    International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific) – Malaysia
    isha lisha- Haifa feminist center – Israel
    Jamaa Resource Initiatives – Kenya
    Jubilee Australia Research Centre – Australia
    Karapatan Alliance Philippines – Philippines
    Kingston University – United Kingdom
    KKA – India
    Latindadd – Peru
    Law and Society Trust – Sri Lanka
    Legal Action for Women – United Kingdom
    London Mining Network – United Kingdom
    Manushya Foundation – Thailand
    Mines, mineral &People – India
    MiningWatch Canada – Canada
    Network Movement for Justice and Development – Sierra Leone
    NGO Center for Support for Economic Initiatives (SEI) – Azerbaijan
    NGO Consortium for promotion EITI in Kyrgyzstan – Kyrgyzstan
    NGO EcoMangystau – Kazakhstan
    NGO Forum on ADB – Asia
    No Business With Genocide – United States
    Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Organization Public Union – Azerbaijan
    OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders – Switzerland
    Organic Agriculture Association – Albania
    Otros Mundos/Chiapas – Mexico
    Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum – Pakistan
    Peace in Kurdistan – United Kingdom
    Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor – Malaysia
    Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies – Jordan
    PowerShift e.V. – Germany
    Protection International – Belgium
    Public Service of Ukraine, Poltava branch – Ukraine
    ReCommon – Italy
    Recourse – The Netherlands
    RhodanteA – Belgium
    Rural Media Network Pakistan – Pakistan
    Scientists for Wild River Landscapes – Germany
    Sierra Leone Land Alliance – Sierra Leone
    Society for Threatened Peoples – Germany
    SOMO (Stichting Onderzoek Multinationale Ondernemingen) – Netherlands
    Sosial Strategicall Resorch and Analiticall Invesigation Public Union – Azerbaijan
    Steps Without borders NGO – Mongolia
    Stiftung Asienhaus – Germany
    Studio Jonas Staal – The Netherlands
    Sukaar Welfare Organization – Pakistan
    Sustentarse – Chile
    Swedwatch – Sweden
    TKPT – Indonesia
    Transparet Governance PU – Azerbaijan
    Twerwaneho Listeners Club – Uganda
    Universidad Nacional José Faustino Sánchez Carrión – Perú
    urgewald – Germany
    Witness Radio – Uganda
    Women Empowerment Against Poverty of Nepal (WEAPoN) – Nepal
    Women in Action on Mining in Asia (WAMA) – Asia
    Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike – United States
    World Economy, Ecology & Development – WEED – Germany
    Zero Tolerance Initiative – Australia


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