20 August 2022
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 , 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 criminalized.
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;
- Publicly 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, UN bodies and experts, EU member states and institutions, 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 criminalized, 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 and that human rights defenders are indispensable allies who should be supported.
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- 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
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- Peace in Kurdistan – United Kingdom
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- Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies – Jordan
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- 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
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- Witness Radio – Uganda
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