The Bare Naked Face Of Capitalism: Foreign Mining, State Corruption, & Genocide In Mongolia

by Keith Harmon Snow / Intercontinental Cry

Herder nomads in west central Mongolia. Photo Credit:  Keith Harmon Snow, 2008.

Herder nomads in west central Mongolia. Photo Credit: Keith Harmon Snow, 2008.

Packed with distortions and outright lies, Mongolia’s privatized former state media called them the ‘enemies of Mongolia’. On 16 September 2013, the leaders of Mongolia’s Fire Nation (Gal Undesten in Mongolian), an environment and human rights coalition, organized a mass protest in front of the Mongolian Parliament. Decades of grassroots organizing to establish environmental protections were at risk: on September 16 the Great State Khural (State Parliament) gathered with intentions to dismantle the so-called ‘Law With A Long Name’ (LLN).

Adopted by parliament in 2009, after more than a decade of grassroots organizing and public pressure, the ‘Law to Prohibit Mineral Exploration and Mining Operations at the Headwaters of Rivers, Protected Zones of Water Reservoirs and Forested Areas‘ is the only significant Mongolian law protecting nomadic herders’ traditional lands and watersheds from further radioactive and chemical contamination, diversions of rivers and land-grabbing. With mining companies ignoring the law, destroying pastureland and watersheds, and no government enforcement, the livelihoods and culture of indigenous Mongolian herders are rapidly disappearing. These are the same mining corporations responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity in Africa and Latin America and everywhere we find them.

Symbolically armed with hunting rifles and antiquated weapons, the most courageous leaders of the grassroots Fire Nation sought to draw attention to corruption and collusion between government and foreign mining corporations. They are fighting to save their culture and people and their very way of life.

Photo of Tsetsegee Mounkhbayar. Taken by Bill Infante of the Asia Foundation.

Photo of Tsetsegee Mounkhbayar. Taken by Bill Infante of the Asia Foundation.


In a statement read on the steps of Parliament prior to the arrests, Ts. Munkhbayar called for urgent and serious action to protect the Law with a Long Name (LLN). The People began with cooperative meetings, he said, engaging government officials and agencies, and the People won the passage of the Law with a Long Name, but there was no enforcement, and corporations were getting away with egregious wrongs. So then the People came with petitions. When petitions didn’t work they threw rocks at Parliament. Then they fired their rifles on machines that were ripping up their precious pasture lands. They symbolically shot arrows at Parliament from their herder’s bows. Nothing moved the government to protect the People and the land. Now they had come with weapons. They never intended to hurt anyone, and they never hurt anyone.

These are herders who employ a wide range of methods and tactics, including environmental education, public theater, monitoring of pollution, restoration of ecosystems, alliances with government, campaigns in the legislature. They have also fired on foreign mining equipment and occupied illegal mining sites. Many of their actions have been symbolic, born out of integrity and the spirit of civil disobedience.

“On the morning of September 16, delegates representing 11 non-government organizations protested outside the Government Palace against proposed amendments to the [LLN],” wrote M. Zoljargal for Rivers Without Boundaries, a coalition of NGOs working to protect Eurasian watersheds. “The reason for the protest was to prevent the approval of the amendment, as the 2009 law hasn’t been implemented or enforced in its current form. Many protected lands have been mined despite the law meant to preserve the integrity of Mongolia’s environment. The protestors were there to stop the amendment, fearing that once the law is amended, permit termination and state protection might become impossible.” [1]

Mongolian civil society leaders declare that state agents framed Munkhbayar and the other protestors. Four of the ten protestors arrested on 16 September 2013 were released; six were detained on the charge “group attempt to severely threaten well-being of society”. Defense lawyers argued that there was no victim in the case but they were prohibited from mounting a substantial defense. Many key facts were ignored and evidence was suppressed and sidelined. There is substantial evidence that Mongolian government agents used ‘dirty tricks’ typical of thugs, terrorist organizations and state security agents (e.g. C.I.A., Stasi, MI-6, SAVAK, F.B.I., etc.), dirty tricks and thuggery which bears the signature of the Mongolian state security apparatus.

On 21 January 2014, the six civil society leaders were sentenced to prison. Defendants J. Ganbold, G. Boldbaatar, D. Tumurbaatar, S. Dashtseren and Ts. Munkhbayar received 21 years and six months (reduced from 22 years and six months for time served since 16 September 2013). The sixth man, M. Munkhbold was sentenced to two years for supplying weapons. When the verdict and sentences were delivered in court, the wife of J. Ganbold (suffering from ovarian cancer) fainted; others shouted and cried.

The six men, all 50-60 years of age, were interrogated under harsh conditions in state detention cells. One of the six, J. Ganbold, is reportedly in danger of losing his hand after police removed a cast and refused him medical treatment. When Mr. Ganbold’s wife pled with the court for her husband to receive treatment, the chief investigator derided her, declaring that her husband and the others deserved to suffer, implying they are traitors of the state.

Most of these leaders have previously been arrested in the long struggle to defend Mongolia from the hydra of Western industries of exploitation: mining, ‘development’, ‘nature conservation’, and foreign ‘aid’ and ‘charity’.

His name is Munkhbayar and he is no terrorist.

In early September 2010, a small band of citizens fired their hunting rifles on gold mining equipment owned by two foreign mining firms operating illegally in northern Mongolia. The gang of four — Ts. Munkhbayar, G. Bayaraa, D. Tumurbaatar and O. Sambuu-Yondon — all hailed from the United Movement of Mongolian Rivers and Lakes (UMMRL), a consortium of Mongolian groups organized to fight extractive companies that have invaded the fledgling ‘democracy’.

A key leader and long-time organizer of the Mongolian resistance movement, Ts. Munkhbayar is a 2007 winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize — the ‘Green Nobel’ — awarded annually to people taking fearless stands around the globe in defense of the earth and it’s indigenous peoples. Three years after winning the award — and a whole lot more illegal mining and pollution later — Munkhbayar’s little gang of four and their militant actions against the capitalist invasion remained in complete media whiteout in the Western press.

UMMRL was formed in 2009 after its predecessor, the Mongolian Nature Protection Coalition (MNPC), dissolved. Tsetsegee Munkhbayar and his colleagues were pivotal to the creation of both MNPC and UMMRL, and on 2 July 2010 they founded the Fire Nation, a large umbrella organization uniting many NGOs.

After winning the Goldman prize, activist Ts. Munkhbayar was widely celebrated by Western institutions and the English-speaking press for his peaceful and collaborative achievements in uniting nomads and organizing people and protecting Mongolia’s environment. He was a national hero, standing up for ordinary people and basic human rights, a former herder turned national spokesman who rose out of the backward and repressive social milieu of communism in collapse. Munkhbayar was rewarded for speaking up — an action unheard of in Mongolian society — in the former Soviet-run communist republic turned ‘emerging democracy’.

D. Tumurbaatar, also sentenced to 21 years 6 months, shoots an arrow at Parliament after the April 2011 protest where 100 horse-riding herders demonstrated in Sukhbaatar Square (in front of Government House). Demonstrators requesting enforcement of the LLN set up eight gers on the square, called for a national referendum and collected signatures. When the President, Prime Minister and Parliament Speaker ignored their request to meet, Mr. Tumurbaatar conveyed his message by shooting an arrow.

D. Tumurbaatar, also sentenced to 21 years 6 months, shoots an arrow at Parliament after the April 2011 protest where 100 horse-riding herders demonstrated in Sukhbaatar Square (in front of Government House). Demonstrators requesting enforcement of the LLN set up eight gers on the square, called for a national referendum and collected signatures. When the President, Prime Minister and Parliament Speaker ignored their request to meet, Mr. Tumurbaatar conveyed his message by shooting an arrow.

Increasingly frustrated by a stodgy bureaucracy and massive state corruption, betrayed by Western conservation and development organizations, faced with mounting losses and accelerated destruction of their culture and environment, Ts. Munkhbayar and comrades became increasingly aggressive in organizing resistance.

The more they stood up for the rights of Mongolia and its people, the more they were shunned or ignored by their former sponsors. For Ts. Munkhbayar, this meant that the Goldman Fund distanced themselves from him, and the Asia Foundation, whose officials had lobbied the Goldman Fund on his behalf, labeled him a ‘terrorist’. [2]

In June 2011 Ts. Munkhbayar and colleagues were imprisoned for ‘organizing public meetings and demonstrations without official permission’. The men went on hunger strikes in prison: some were taken to hospital and force fed by the security agents after their health acutely deteriorated.

The Green Terror

“In August 2013, pressure from foreign mining companies to relax regulations reached an all-time high and rumors emerged that Parliament was seeking to abolish the LLN once and for all,” reads a Goldman Foundation statement of 20 November 2013, calling for a ‘fair and transparent trial’ for Munkhbayar and the others. “That same day, Munkhbayar and UMMRL joined several other activist groups in a demonstration outside the main Parliament building. During the protest, a rifle was accidentally discharged. It is widely understood that the shot was not fired on purpose and nobody was injured. Still, Munkhbayar and several other protestors were arrested immediately following the incident.”

The Goldman Foundation statement is inaccurate. A simple viewing of a video of the 16 September 2013 incident (below) shows that the Mongolian state security had already tackled Ts. Munkhbayar and several other protestors when the shot rang out nearby. The protestors had not tried to enter the government building, either peaceably or forcibly. State agents and the video cameraperson then directed their attention to another struggle between state agents and another of the protestors, presumably one who accidentally discharged his rifle.

The protestors are accused of firing a single shot from one of their weapons. In the confusion of what happened, it is not clear who fired a shot. The herders claim the discharge was accidental, and if it came from their weapon, it certainly was an accident. The court did not sufficiently investigate the facts. However, there is ample evidence that it was a state security agent who discharged a weapon. As the video reveals, Munkhbayar was not guilty of firing off weaponry, but the courts didn’t care to argue such fine points.

Ten protestors were arrested on 16 September 2013. State agents evacuated several government buildings claiming that bombs had been planted. Explosives shown in Mongolian mass media campaigns to discredit the protestors were reportedly recovered in buildings where the protestors could not have had access. The mass media claimed that protestor’s guns were loaded and they were heavily armed. Reports also claimed that the protestors “attacked the government buildings and fired a shot.”

There are many other curious discrepancies and outright fabrications.

One Mongolian business media outlet declared that ‘shots’ [plural] were fired, ‘a bomb was discovered’, and ‘a hand-grenade was thrown which didn’t explode’. [3]

In a statement made immediately after the arrests, the head of Mongolia’s General Intelligence Agency investigations department claimed that the protestors “attempted to threaten public security and assault some state officials.” He also declared that “[a]s a result of prompt searches [security and intelligence officials] searched and found two TNT (trotyl) [sic] hand-made bombs planted near government buildings. [4]


After the September 16 protest, the media accused the protestors of ‘organizing a public event without permission’ and ‘mass murder attempt’ and even ‘attempted genocide’. Mongolia’s National Overview magazine, a copycat of Time (Yndestnii Toim in the Mongolian language rhymes with Time) featured Goldman prizewinner Ts. Munkhbayar on the cover, an old Russian rifle in hand, under the headlines: ‘НОГООН ТЕРРОР’ — GREEN TERROR.

Another cover story in late September showed Ts. Munkhbayar wearing a luxury OMEGA wristwatch. The photo was an obvious fabrication created with Photoshop software, a common practice in Mongolian media. Article(s) portrayed the earth defense activists from Greenpeace International as scoundrels, cowards and liars, drawing attention to Greenpeace actions in Russia. Then they equated Munkhbayar with this ‘green terrorism’.

Mongolian oligarchs who have colluded with Western interests to bleed Mongolia dry own the most prominent mass media portals in Mongolia (click link for summary table): most are members of Parliament. As in the West, Mongolia’s media outlets manufacture consent, inculcate confusion and distrust, disempower and indoctrinate the masses.

Mr. Lu. Bold, former Minister of Defense, current Minister of Parliament and Mongolia’s Foreign Minister, owns National Overview. On 26 October 2103, Mr. Bold signed a ‘nuclear cooperation’ deal with French Minister Laurent Fabius. The French nuclear conglomerate AREVA has been exploring and mining uranium in Mongolia for over a decade. [5]

In 2010, herders in Dornogovi aimag (province) began correlating disease in domestic animal herds with AREVA uranium mining nearby. In 2012 they sounded the alarm after some 20 calves of one herder Mr. Norsuren died. Even wolves would not eat the dead animals, and carcasses decayed in a few days even when frozen solid in the dead of Mongolian winter.

Inspections by the State Nuclear Agency found nothing, as expected, since they were merely protecting state interests and the cult of the atom. Tests by the State Veterinary and Animal Breeding Agency revealed chronic poisoning by heavy metals and radioactive isotopes; results posted on the government website soon disappeared. The vet agency refused to release official reports, but some were leaked. Angered by the vet agency’s diligence, Mongolia’s Prime Minister attacked them, demanding they revisit and ‘correct’ their results. Over 90 million Tugrugs later, a new team of experts — appointed by the Prime Minister — produced new results, inconclusive as regards AREVA’s uranium mining. The vet agency officials were frightened into silence.

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