CIVICUS and over 120 civil society organisations have signed a joint letter to urge the authorities in Mongolia to stop reprisals against human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren and to ensure that environmental defenders, and communities impacted by development projects, can freely and safely defend human rights and protect the environment without fearing reprisals.
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.
- 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
- FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders – France
- 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
Civic space in Mongolia is rated as Narrowed by the CIVICUS Monitor