International Conference on “Mining and Human Rights in Mongolia"

10 Oct 2012

Internaitonal Conference on “Mining and Human Rights in Mongolia

 

Speech by Ms. Sezin Sinanoglu, UNDP Resident Representative

 

Mr. Byambadorj, Chief Commissioner of the Ntl Human Rights Commission

Your Excellency, Mr. Gankhuyag, Minister of Mining

Your Excellency, Mr. Sanjmyatav, Minister of Labor

Honorable Members of Parliament

Your Excellency, Ms. Jungk, Member of the UNWG on Human Rights and Business Department

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this international conference on “Mining and Human Rights in Mongolia”.

Mongolia’s economy is growing at a very fast pace and the main engine for this growth is the mining sector. The economy grew at more than 16% in the first quarter of 2012 and on average has grown at more than 9% over the last decade. This is truly remarkable. The challenge now is to ensure that this growth is sustainable, that it is people-centered and leads to tangible improvements in the lives of ordinary Mongolians both today and in the future.

Despite fast growth, Mongolia continues to face important development challenges. Nearly 30% of the population is below the national poverty line. There are considerable rural-urban disparities. There are high levels of educational attainment but nearly one in four youth is unemployed. While we see a huge construction boom all around us, much of the population in UB and elsewhere remains without access to basic water and sanitation. Whether it is the impact of dzud on herders or climate change on the environment as a whole, vulnerabilities are high. All in all, it is crucial that a balance is struck – and economic growth is accompanied by sustainable human development. Such an approach makes economic sense. It is also a basic human right. This is the first point that I want to make.

The second point that I would like to emphasize today is that while economic growth is essential, growth should not come at the expense of human rights. In line with the international human rights instruments, most notably, the international Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Mongolia’s Constitution guarantees political, civil, cultural, economic and social rights for its people. These rights are sacrosanct and non-negotiable. It is imperative that as the country grows all these rights are promoted and protected. This applies to all types of economic activity in the country, all businesses – but since mining is such a big part of Mongolia’s economy, it applies especially to the mining sector.

Whether it is related to land use or scarce water resources; whether it is environmental pollution or occupational hazards; whether it is over land titles or revenue sharing – there is always a possibility of conflict due to competing interests and priorities. The important thing is that the resolution of such conflict always takes into consideration and is based on human rights norms and principles. It is essential that human rights are strongly embedded in the planning and implementation of all projects, especially those of mining.

Respecting and protecting human rights is a shared responsibility. The Government, the private sector and the citizens all have a role. The Government has the duty to set the legislative and policy framework as well as the standards. It also has the duty to monitor and enforce their implementation and to establish formal mechanisms to deal with grievances. The private sector has the obligation to comply with applicable laws and standards. It also has an obligation to redress and remedy any violations.

Citizens also have a role. But that role can only be effectively exercised if citizens have the capacity and the means to express their needs or to voice their concerns. For that they need access to information, they need the knowledge and skills to monitor implementation of human rights standards, they need to have formal mechanisms to participate in decisions or air their grievances.

In this respect, I would like to congratulate the Government of Mongolia for becoming a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The EITI provides an opportunity for strengthening national institutions and civil society, by opening up dialogue about revenue generated by extractive industry.

Similarly, I would like to acknowledge the Government’s interest to accede to the UN Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice Environmental Matters, or Aarhus Convention in short. Accession and implementation to this Convention will be critical step in ensuring involvement of citizens in mining related issues.

While it is not directly related to mining, I would like to highlight the very positive provision in the new Procurement Law that gives a strong role to the civil society in monitoring tenders and contract implementation. Undoubtedly, this will help them gain valuable experience and confidence that can eventually be carried to monitoring larger and more complicated mining contracts.

I would also like to commend the Government for inviting one of the Special Instruments of the UN Human Rights Council to Mongolia, the UN Working Group on Human Rights and Business, to assess the situation on the ground and propose recommendations for improvement. The Working Group is currently in the country, meeting representatives of the Government, the private sector and civil society to understand if and where there are issues and come up with recommendations on how to address them. The Working Group is participating in this Conference and will explain their work in more detail shortly.

Overall, many positive steps have been taken. But as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is the implementation and the results that count. The United Nations stands ready to work with all parties to ensure mining and human rights do not conflict, that all commitments to human development and human rights are implemented and Mongolians benefit to the fullest from the potential that their natural endowment presents to them.

I would like to end by thanking the National Human Rights Commission for their strong partnership with the UN and for taking the leadership in organizing this conference. I would like to thank the Government for their strong representation in this meeting which demonstrates their commitment to human rights. I would like to also acknowledge the partnership of SDC and Asia Pacific Forum in organizing this conference.

Finally, thank you to the resource people and participants. I wish you all a productive Conference that can provide us all with concrete ideas on the way forward. Thank you.