On 7 November 2018, the residents of Jermuk Community and Gndevaz residential area, Vayots Dzor Region, and their supporting Armenian Environmental Front Civic Initiative, “EcoLur” Informational NGO and “Human Rights House Yerevan” human rights defending NGO network have addressed an open letter on Amulsar gold mining project to Michel Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Nikol Pashinyan, RA Acting Prime Minister.
The copies of the letter have been dispatched to Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on human rights to water and sanitation, Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of to physical and mental health, Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Arman Tatoyan, Human Rights Defender of Armenia, RA Permanent Representation to the UN, Geneva.
The letter says, “We, the undersigned residents of Jermuk town and Gndevaz village, the environmental activists who have joined us and the civil society representatives who support us, call for your attention to the threats against us and ask for your support in protecting our rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression for defending our rights to life, safe environment, water, health and other numerous rights.
The gold mine construction activities at Amulsar mountain, which is situated in the central part of Armenia, have resulted in increasing threats to our health and local livelihoods. The mine operation has not commenced, however, ongoing dust and water pollution have confirmed our fears that gold mining and cyanide leaching in such proximity to our homes are not safe for our health. In addition, Jermuk town is turning from a health spa and a prime tourist destination into a mining town, and in Gndevaz village our livelihood from apricot orchards, wild plants collection, animal breeding and fish farming is almost entirely destroyed. Our region and specifically Amulsar Mountain feed a number of very important water basins - rivers, water reservoirs, underground waters and mineral springs, a water tunnel connected with Lake Sevan.
The Velvet revolution of May 2018 sparked numerous protests in Armenia, because people were no longer afraid to speak up and express their concerns freely. As legal suits have taken already 3 years without any sign of resolution in foreseeable future, we blocked the roads to Amulsar mining site in order to express our protest towards the decisions of the previous government concerning exploitation of a highly risky gold mine in our area - against our will and without our official agreement. Since June 22, 2018, i.e. for more than 4 months, we have been blocking the mine roads with our bodies and our firm will, and thus we are not allowing the construction works be finalized and the exploitation phase commence, because it will cause irreparable damage not only to our communities but also to a substantial part of Armenia’s population and nature; moreover, the consequences of the environmental disaster may spread well beyond the borders of Armenia. However, resolution of our demands has not been found yet.
At the same time, threats against local population and civil society representatives are on the rise. On August 27, 2018 Lydian International, the company with the intention to mine in our area, tried to forcefully break the road blockade and provoked clashes, spreading slander that the protesters wear weapons and are drug-addicts. Because of the incidents provoked by a transnational corporation many of us are being called for interrogations by the criminal investigation department of the law enforcement bodies.
In addition, Lydian International has lodged suits against us in courts, with demands of compensation for the material and non-material damages incurred by the company during this period. They state that our peaceful protests have resulted in damages worth hundreds of thousands of dollars per day and thus, they dump on us the failure of their deals with the former corrupt government. In fact, the company mentioned daily losses of around 500.000 mln USD in media, while in their legal claims, this number is almost 5 times less.
The corporation has also sued activists who speak against mining in that area for “discrediting their good business reputation” and “defaming” them. One of the PR strategies of the company is to humiliate and discredit us through their real and fake users in social media, online media and television, spreading personal slander about us and inciting hatred against us.
Moreover, the foreign investors, as well as the US and UK governments are making pressures on the Government of Armenia, thus interfering with the sovereignty of Armenia against the interests of its people and in favor of corporate interests.
We learned recently, that Lydian International “has received an advance under the term loan of USD 3 million, which will be used by the Company to make certain expenditures as it continues to work towards removing the illegal blockades at Amulsar Gold Project” (https://lydianinternational.co.uk/news/2018-news/442-). We fear that Lydian International will be exercising pressure on different Armenian and foreign institutions to ensure opening of the roads to the mine. The large shareholders and creditors of this company, including the European Bank for Development and Reconstruction (EBRD) and the Swedish Export Credit Fund (EKN) remain silent on the actions of their client company. We do not know the source of the above mentioned 3 million USD.
In view of the above, we call on the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteurs։
* To urgently engage with protecting the lawful rights of the people who have stood for defending the rights of present and future generations from the encroachments of Lydian International mining corporation. We request you to do so by դելիբstudies, making statements, communicating with the Government of Armenia, organizing visits of UN Special Rapporteurs to Armenia and by other relevant means, in order to stop the threats and persecutions by the private company and to ensure the safety of Armenian citizens while they express their will through exercising their right for protests and assembly.
We call on the Government of Armenia and request:
• To ensure safety and security of the citizens of Armenia exercising their rights at Amulsar, and to protect them from the threats and persecutions of the private company.
• To revoke the positive conclusion (permit) for the environmental impact assessment regarding Amulsar mining based on the already existing evidence (including studies conducted by local and international experts).
• If the existing evidence is not sufficient, to conduct additional comprehensive studies aimed at: (1) Identifying the negative impact of mining in a sensitive location like Amulsar on the health and social condition of the population of Armenia; (2) Assessing the violations of Armenia’s commitments under local and international law to protect wildlife and specifically endangered species; (3) Identifying potential pollution of the water basins of Vayots Dzor, Syunik, Gegharkunik regions, and negative impact on Jermuk mineral thermal waters, Kechut-Spandaryan tunnel and waters transferred to Lake Sevan; (4) Calculating the costs of the damage to future generations. To publicize the findings and organize public hearings on them.
• Before the conclusion of these studies, to stop mining or construction activities on the site.
• To ensure that necessary administrative and technical/logistic matters are taken care of in order to accept UN special rapporteurs in Armenia.
As a follow-up, we are ready to provide existing materials and studies on the environmental, economic and social threats to be resulted by opening a gold mine in Armulsar.”
18:04 November 07, 2018