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Earthjustice Joins in Fight to Stem Mining Pollution in Mongolia

View a slideshow of pictures Alice took during her trip to Mongolia.

Situated between Russia and China, Mongolia is characterized by the dramatic beauty of its landscape and the fortitude of its nomadic herdsmen, descendants of Ghengis Khan. But Mongolia's environment and culture are imperiled by what many, unfortunately, consider its most valuable asset -- its vast mining reserves.

Mongolia is home to some of the largest mineral deposits in the world. The use of outdated mining technologies and illegal mining practices has resulted in significant adverse impacts on the country's fragile watersheds and pastureland upon which its indigenous herders and their livestock rely. (Mongolia receives about 22,000 cubic meters of water per square kilometer of territory, placing it among the lowest 24 countries in the world in terms of water resources.)

Moreover, the situation is likely to grow worse. The opening-up to foreign investment in 1997 -- and the discovery of some of the world's largest deposits of coal, uranium, copper, and gold -- has led to an explosion in the mining sector. Thousands of exploration licenses have been issued to foreign mining companies from China, Russia, the United States, Canada, and elsewhere eager to exploit these vast resources.

To address this threat, Earthjustice's International Program is working with Mongolian lawyers to strengthen their litigation skills and help them participate more effectively in the mine licensing and environmental impact assessment processes.

In September, Earthjustice conducted a two-day workshop with lawyers from the Mongolian Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), a non-governmental, human rights organization located in Ulaan Baatar. CHRD lawyers have brought the first legal cases to force the clean-up of abandoned mining sites and to ensure ongoing mining operations are conducted legally and responsibly.

In addition to training, Earthjustice lawyers provided input into specific CHRD cases, helping them to trouble shoot and develop case strategies. CHRD recently won its first case, convincing the court to order the clean-up of an abandoned gold mine. Earthjustice is now assisting CHRD's legal team in developing a strategic plan, and exploring ways to further cooperate in the future.