Aug 17, 2022 by Coalition

Over 130 CSOs sign joint open letter: stop reprisals against environmental defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren


Over 130 civil society organizations have signed a joint letter to urge the authorities in Mongolia to stop reprisals against human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren and to ensure that environmental defenders, and communities impacted by development projects, can freely and safely defend human rights and protect the environment without fearing reprisals.



17 August 2022 – We, the undersigned civil society organizations, stand in solidarity with Mongolian human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren and strongly condemn the criminalization and smear campaigns against her, which we identify as an attempt to prevent her from conducting her crucial work in defense of human rights and the environment.

We urge the Mongolian government to ensure Sukhgerel can safely defend human rights without fearing reprisals and that all charges against her are dismissed.

We call on all the international institutions and actors active in the country – including development banks, UN bodies and experts, EU member states and institutions, international embassies, international investors or private companies – to publicly speak out in support of Sukhgerel, use their leverage to strongly condemn reprisals, and take any action they can to ensure Sukhgerel can continue to safely carry out her work.


Who is Sukhgerel Dugersuren?

Sukhgerel Dugersuren is an internationally renowned human rights defender and the Executive Director of the Mongolian organizations Oyu Tolgoi Watch and Rivers without Boundaries Mongolia. She has a long trajectory of exposing human rights abuses and defending the rights of herder and rural communities in Mongolia. Her courageous and inspirational work is admired by scores of international and local civil society organizations, as well as UN Special Rapporteurs and experts, who have closely worked with her. 

In the past decades, Sukhgerel has supported dozens of communities negatively affected by large-scale projects, such as mines and hydropower dams. She has helped these communities in denouncing the harmful impacts of these activities and bringing their grievances to the attention of the Mongolian government, development banks, and international organizations. For example, she supported complaints to the independent accountability mechanisms of the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Asian Development Bank.


What happened and why is she being criminalized?

According to Front Line Defenders, on 2 August 2022, Mongolia’s General Intelligence Agency informed Sukhgerel that she is under investigation for committing crimes under the Mongolian Criminal Code Article 19.4, which prohibits the “illegal cooperation with foreign intelligence agency, agent.” Although no other details around the investigations have been shared, we fear Sukhgerel might be at risk of imminent arrest and we are deeply concerned for her safety.

Sukhgerel is being subject to a clear criminalisation process, where the law is used to limit civic freedoms and punish human rights defenders. The undersigned human rights organizations consider these accusations false and baseless, as they appear to be related to Sukhgerel’s support to the communities impacted by the Erdeneburen hydropower plant, funded by China’s EXIM Bank, and her legitimate requests for access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making and transparency. 

On 3 August 2022, during a government briefing, Mongolia’s Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs, H. Nyambaatar, stated that the construction of the Erdeneburen hydro plant had been suspended for two years, as a result of a letter from the local communities to the Chinese authorities. He also said that when development projects are interrupted by a civil society organization or person, then a task force should be established to investigate these cases as ‘sabotage’ under Criminal Code Article 19.6 and that the government could claim compensation for the lost economic opportunity. This concerning statement was shared just a few days before the visit by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, to Ulan Bator on 7 and 8 August to discuss economic cooperation between the two countries and who specifically mentioned the Erdeneburen hydropower plant in his remarks.

The Mongolian Minister’s statement could be construed as a direct threat of reprisal against human rights defenders like Sukhgerel. It also sends a very chilling message to all individuals and communities peacefully raising concerns or opposing harmful projects, especially in a context where several environmental activists have already been threatened and criminalized. 

Aerial view, yurts of mongolian nomads at the Khovd river. Bayan-Ulgii province. Mongolia. Credit: Erdenebulgan Battsengel

Sukhgerel is also facing a worrying and orchestrated smear campaign in online media and social media. We are deeply worried about the criminalization and smear campaign against Sukhgerel, which puts her at additional risk and constitutes a threat to all human rights defenders and civil society groups in the country. We fear that as a result of these online actions other human rights defenders, and in particular the communities protesting against the harmful impacts of the Erdeneburen dam or other foreign-funded projects, might also be at risk of being criminalized.

We stand in solidarity with Sukhgerel and other human rights defenders in Mongolia, and we call on all the relevant international institutions and actors that defend international law and human rights to intervene promptly in support of their important and legitimate struggles. Sustainable development is not possible where civil society is repressed and criminalized.


What are we asking?

We call on the government and other relevant authorities in Mongolia to:

  1. Immediately investigate and unconditionally cease all attempts to target and criminalize Sukhgerel Dugersuren, as well as other human rights defenders and individuals expressing their opinion or raising concerns about development projects in the country;
  2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Mongolia are able to carry out their human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, in line with Mongolia’s international human rights obligations and commitments, including its recently approved law on human rights defenders;
  3. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Publicly recognise the importance of freedom of expression, meaningful participation, unimpeded access to information on development projects and environmental impacts, and a safe environment for human rights defenders, to help ensure development projects are truly sustainable for Mongolia.

We call on all the international institutions and actors active in the country – including development banks, UN bodies and experts, EU member states and institutions, international embassies, international investors and private companies – to:

  1. Urge Mongolian authorities to immediately halt and dismiss all the charges against Sukhgerel Dugersuren.
  2. Urge Mongolian authorities to investigate and stop all attempts to target, criminalize and stigmatize individuals expressing concerns or their views about development projects, including Sukhgerel Dugersuren.
  3. Express serious concern about the statements made by Mongolian government officials, who publicly remarked that those opposing the Erdeneburen hydropower plant will be investigated and criminalized, and denounce the smear campaign Sukhgerel Dugersuren is facing.
  4. Publicly recognise the importance of freedom of expression, meaningful participation, unimpeded access to information on development projects and environmental impacts, and the need to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, by publicly stating that communities must be able to defend their right to a healthy environment and that human rights defenders are indispensable allies who should be supported.



Please note sign-ons to this letter will remain open. If you wish to add your organization’s name, please fill this form.

  1. Abibinsroma Foundation – Ghana
  2. Accountability Counsel – United States
  3. AJI/GAPK – Brazil
  4. All African Women’s Group – United Kingdom
  5. ALTSEAN=Burma – Burma
  6. AMATE El Salvador – El Salvador
  7. Amnesty International – Sierra Leone
  8. Andrew Lees Trust – United Kingdom
  9. APIT – Portugal
  10. Arab Watch Coalition – MENA
  11. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) – Thailand
  12. Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development
  13. Asociacion Ambiente y Sociedad – Colombia
  14. Association of Ethical Shareholders Germany – Germany
  15. Balkani Wildlife Society – Bulgaria
  16. Bank Information Center – United States
  17. Black Wimen for Wages for Housework – United States
  18. Both ENDS – Netherlands
  19. Building and Wood Workers International – Asia Pacific
  20. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre – Global
  21. Campaign of Campaigns – Mexico
  22. CEE Bankwatch Network – Czech Republic
  23. Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) – United States
  24. Center for New Environmentally Safe Technologies – Kazakhstan
  25. Centre de Défense des Droits de l’homme et Démocratie – DRC
  26. Centre for Environmental Justice – Sri Lanka
  27. Centre for Financial Accountability – India
  28. Centre for Human Rights and Development – Mongolia
  29. Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos “Segundo Montes Mozo S.J.” (CSMM) – Ecuador
  30. Chirapaq/ECMIA – Peru
  31. Christian Aid – UK
  32. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation – South Africa/Global
  33. Coalition for Human Rights in Development – Global
  34. Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR) – Indonesia
  35. Colectivo sobre Financiamiento e Inversiones Chinas Derechos Humanos y Ambiente, CICDHA – Latin America
  36. Community Empowerment and Social Justice Network (CEMSOJ) – Nepal
  37. Community Resource Centre (CRC) – Thailand
  38. Consejo Interreligioso del Perú-Religiones por la Paz – Peru
  39. Constitution Researches Foundation – Azerbaijan
  40. Corner House Research – United Kingdom
  41. DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) – Global
  42. Defenders Protection Initiative – Uganda
  43. Democracy Monitor PU – Azerbaijan
  44. Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR) – Peru
  45. DiXi Group – Ukraine
  46. EarthRights International – United States
  47. Earth Thrive – Serbia
  48. Eco China Info Initiative Group – Kazakhistan
  49. EİTİ NGO Coalition Azerbaijan – Azerbaijan
  50. Empower Foundation – Thailand
  51. Entrepreneurship Development Foundation – Azerbaijan
  52. Environics Trust – India
  53. Environmental Defender Law Center – United States
  54. Equitable Cambodia Cambodia
  55. FIAN Germany – Germany
  56. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders – France
  57. Framer Framed – The Netherlands
  58. Franciscans International – Switzerland
  59. Friends of the Earth Japan – Japan
  60. Friends of the Earth US – United States
  61. Front Line Defenders – Ireland
  62. GegenStroemung INFOE e.V. – Germany
  63. Gender and Environment Network – Mexico
  64. Global Women’s Strike/UK – United Kingdom
  65. Global Women’s Strike/US – United States
  66. Green Advocates International – Liberia
  67. HRM “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan” – Kyrgyzstan
  68. Human Development Center “Tree of Life” – Kyrgyz Republic
  69. Inclusive Development International – United States
  70. IndiaMatters – United Kingdom
  71. Indigenous Women Legal Awareness Group (INWOLAG) – Nepal
  72. International Accountability Project (IAP) – Global
  73. International Rivers – USA
  74. International Service for Human Rights – Switzerland
  75. International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific) – Malaysia
  76. isha lisha- Haifa feminist center – Israel
  77. Jamaa Resource Initiatives – Kenya
  78. Jubilee Australia Research Centre – Australia
  79. Karapatan Alliance Philippines – Philippines
  80. KKA – India
  81. Latindadd – Peru
  82. Law and Society Trust – Sri Lanka
  83. Legal Action for Women – United Kingdom
  84. London Mining Network – United Kingdom
  85. Manushya Foundation – Thailand
  86. Mines, mineral &People – India
  87. MiningWatch Canada – Canada
  88. Network Movement for Justice and Development – Sierra Leone
  89. NGO Center for Support for Economic Initiatives (SEI) – Azerbaijan
  90. NGO Committee for Public Control over the Execution of State Programs at the Local Level – Kazakhstan
  91. NGO Consortium for promotion EITI in Kyrgyzstan – Kyrgyzstan
  92. NGO EcoMangystau – Kazakhstan
  93. NGO Forum on ADB – Asia
  94. No Business With Genocide – United States
  95. Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Organization Public Union – Azerbaijan
  96. OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders – Switzerland
  97. Organic Agriculture Association – Albania
  98. Otros Mundos/Chiapas – Mexico
  99. Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum – Pakistan
  100. Peace in Kurdistan – United Kingdom
  101. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor – Malaysia
  102. Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies – Jordan
  103. PowerShift e.V. – Germany
  104. Protection International – Belgium
  105. Public Service of Ukraine, Poltava branch – Ukraine
  106. ReCommon – Italy
  107. Recourse – The Netherlands
  108. RhodanteA – Belgium
  109. Rural Media Network Pakistan – Pakistan
  110. Scientists for Wild River Landscapes – Germany
  111. Sierra Leone Land Alliance – Sierra Leone
  112. Society for Threatened Peoples – Germany
  113. SOMO (Stichting Onderzoek Multinationale Ondernemingen) – Netherlands
  114. Sosial Strategicall Resorch and Analiticall Invesigation Public Union – Azerbaijan
  115. Steps Without borders NGO – Mongolia
  116. Stiftung Asienhaus – Germany
  117. Studio Jonas Staal – The Netherlands
  118. Sukaar Welfare Organization – Pakistan
  119. Sustentarse – Chile
  120. Swedwatch – Sweden
  121. Surya Advisory – Global
  122. TKPT – Indonesia
  123. Transparet Governance PU – Azerbaijan
  124. Twerwaneho Listeners Club – Uganda
  125. Universidad Nacional José Faustino Sánchez Carrión – Perú
  126. urgewald – Germany
  127. Uzbek Forum for Human Rights – Germany
  128. Witness Radio – Uganda
  129. Women Empowerment Against Poverty of Nepal (WEAPoN) – Nepal
  130. Women in Action on Mining in Asia (WAMA) – Asia
  131. Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike – United States
  132. World Economy, Ecology & Development – WEED – Germany
  133. Zero Tolerance Initiative – Australia