Erevan-Paris — Later this month the Armenian government will decide whether to allow mining company Lydian Armenia to resume its Amulsar mine operations. Initiated in a climate of corruption, the operations were suspended in August 2018 following strong opposition actions by local communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). FIDH warns against the disastrous toll that the mine’s operations would take on local communities.
The government’s decision will depend on the conclusion of the expert study it commissioned early this year to evaluate the risks of exploitation of the Amulsar mine. FIDH and and Civil Society Institute Armenia (CSI) conducted a fact-finding mission to Armenia and to the Amulsar region in April 2019, shedding light on the hazards which would be caused by the project. The mining project clearly prioritizes profit, with utter disregard for human rights and the environment.
In 2007, the mining company Lydian Armenia CJSC, a subsidiary of Lydian International, started its operation of exploration and feasibility for a gold mine extraction project in Armenia. Since 2012, experts and activists have denounced the negative impact of mining operations in Amulsar on health and the environment. Last year some residents blocked access to the mine and demanded the suspension of the project. In response, Lydian Armenia started a vigorous campaign to silence all critics, including human rights defenders.
In November 2018, approximately 3,000 citizens from the Jermuk Municipality, in which Amulsar is situated, signed a petition to stop the project, and on December 18, 2018, the Council of Jermuk Community decided to develop Jermuk Community as an environment-friendly economy, prohibiting metal mining on its territory. Nevertheless, the central government pressured this and other communities in Armenia, who decided against mining in their territory, to change their decisions, saying that this kind of decision cannot be taken locally.
Protesters point out the corrupted climate that led to the beginning of the project, the lack of proper consultation and the potential disastrous impacts that it will have on the water system of the area (the Keetchut reservoir), and by consequence on life and health of local residents and on the Lake Sevan, the biggest source of water of the country.
The heavy consequences that such project will certainly have on the town of Jermuk, are another source of concern. The town, one of the most celebrated resort towns of the Caucasus since the 18th century, well-known for the properties of its spring waters, clean air and peaceful environment, would likely be transformed into a mining town, undergoing irreparable damage. Farming—the main livelihood of people in the area—would also be heavily affected by air, water and soil pollution, as well as significant changes in the landscape.
During their fact-finding mission, FIDH and CSI met with several stakeholders working on the area: civil society organizations, activists, institutional representatives and international organizations. These encounters revealed that, despite progress and optimism linked to the new political climate, business activities—particularly those of the mining industry, including the Amulsar project—cause reason for concern not only for environmental issues but for also for human rights.(1)
Some of the Amulsar project’s problems documented by FIDH and CSI were also pointed out in a 2017 report by the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman of the International Finance Corporation, which has since then terminated its investment in the project. There are land acquisition issues and a lack of proper consultation with all affected communities, in particular with the Jermuk community that would be fundamentally impacted mine’s operations. “The issues pointed out in 2017 have not been addressed to date in any way by the government or the company and no other sustainable alternative has been explored or proposed to the community”, affirms Maddalena Neglia, head of the globalization and human rights desk at FIDH.
FIDH recently called the attention of the international community to Lydian Armenia’s worrying systematic judicial harassment and defamation campaigns aiming to silence critical journalists and human rights defenders, particularly women, working on the Amulsar case.
Lydian Armenia continues to pressure the Armenian government to allow operations to resume. In March 2019, for example, it notified the Armenian government of an existing dispute in front of arbitration tribunals for breach of UK and Canadian bilateral investment treaty, while it continued to criticize the Armenian government’s behavior via its web page and in investors’ forums.
“The attitude taken by Lydian Armenia so far does not suggest any good for the future of the Jermuk community. We are deeply concerned that, once again, investors’ interests could be valued over the protection of people and the planet. How can we consider the destruction of the little paradise that is Jermuk and its surrounding area to be ‘sustainable development’?” asks Artak Kirakosyan, FIDH Vice President and Director of Civil Society Institute Armenia.
FIDH believes that any government decision on Amulsar, or on investment projects more generally, should be based on proper human rights due diligence and not only on an environmental risk assessment, as required by the UNGPs and OECD Guidelines on multinational companies. Moreover, it should take into account the social impacts of the project on all affected communities, including on the town of Jermuk, and particularly on those who are most vulnerable, such as women and children.
16:04 June 20, 2019