The Ongi River Movement (ORM) and its successor, the United Movement of Mongolian Rivers and Lakes (UMMRL), later Mongolian Nature Protection Coalition that united 11 movements, is one of the many examples of the vibrant and active civil society of Mongolia. It was first founded in 2001, in response to the deteriorating condition of the Ongi River System, and established after conducted studies thanks to the ORM, led to completely dried up Ulaan Lake. The Ongi River system was originally 435 kilometers but after the disruptive mining practices, reduced to just 100 kilometers.
The movement started with the leadership of, then leader of the khural, Tsetsgeegiin Mönkhbayar. What began as a several dozen residents’ gathering, later that year attracted government officials, leaders of other khurals, more residents and ordinary people from the area.
The movement had financial support from The Konrad Adenauer Foundation, an NGO that has close ties with German Christian Democrats Party. Since then, the movement is largely dependent on financial support from abroad. “In 2004, the ORM budget exceeded $72,000, at least 90 percent of which was from international sources” (World Bank, 2007). When asked, leaders of the movement describe this dependency situation as “they were lucky that this dependency is not being abused and they were happy with their partners. 625 mining companies are registered to explore and mine mineral resources, Among the 307 that mine gold, 32 mining companies are licensed to operate in the Ongi River basin. Together 20 percent of the region’s water resources are being used by them (World Water Actions, 2004). As well as other issues, the cyanide used in gold search and the “Ninja” miners (individual miners that use disruptive methods) both damaged the area severely.
The movement picked up pace in the start of the summer of 2004. Over two thousand civil activists marched the original 435 kilometers of Ongi River. The event took a lot of mainstream media coverage generating public support towards the movement. The movement then conducted joint research with Mineral Resource and Petroleum Authority (MRPA), which was accompanied by mining companies’ officials. After these events, The Ongi River Movement strengthened its position by gaining support from parliamentarians. They later became advisors of the movement.
“The time was ripe for governmental action but curbing the power of the mining companies was no small task. When parliament dragged its feet on legislation, the UMMRL launched a hunger strike. At the same time, UMMRL activists worked with sympathetic MPs to draft legislation. The result was the so-called “law with the long name”: the Law to Prohibit Mineral Exploration and Mining Operations at the Headwaters of Rivers, Protected Zones of Water Reservoirs and Forested Areas” (Fish & Seeberg, 2017). The movement also took role in drafting the law with its voluntary experts , lawyers and academics.
“To draw attention to the fact that the Law is not implemented Munkhbayar with friends goes to one of most problematic mining areas and shoots at parked bulldozer (without people) – Two mining sites belong to Chinese Puraam Mining and Canadian Centerra Gold both according to UMMRL have committed crimes specified in Articles 202, 204, 205, 206, 207, 208, 214 of the Mongolian Criminal law. Munkhbayar is summoned to police, investigation started, but he is not arrested. This is followed by several peaceful visits of other local herders to various problematic mining sites and their symbolic “closure” by taking away keys from machinery” (Rivers Without Boundaries).
In October 2011, Supreme Court of Mongolia found the Government guilty of not implementing the law. And has ordered the government to enforce ban on mining in river and forest areas. Following years, the long named law finally was starting to get implemented. “The LLN becomes the “greatest achievement of Mongolian government in environmental protection” as reported by Mongolian officials in many international meetings” (Rivers Without Boundaries).
In February 2015, government took up amendments to the law with long name, triggering another round of hunger strikes and demonstrations. But this time parliament passed the law despite the protests.
As we can observe from the 2015 amendments, civil society was not always victorious when the subject was Ogni River Movement. Nevertheless, the movement managed to influence the public opinion, because it is still one of the main discussions in political agenda. The movement took an issue that lack attention and made it one of the people’s main political concerns.
The movement is still active and one of the main actors in civil society. It later became an “umbrella movement”, under which a lot of environmental NGOs are operating. As we can examine clearly the success of this movement, we can also conclude that an active civil society is one of the key elements in a democracy and it can accomplish a lot, whereas politician weren’t enough.
World Bank. 2007. The Enabling Environment for Social Accountability in Mongolia. Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/7752 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO
Fish, M. S., & Seeberg, M. (2017). The Secret Supports of Mongolian Democracy. Journal of Democracy, 28(1), 129–143. https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2017.0011
Simonov Eugene. Rivers Without Boundaries. THE SHORT HISTORY OF THE LAW WITH LONG NAME.