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8 Aug 2022

Emily Gray,
Fidanka Bacheva-McGrath,
Nina Lesikhina, CEE Bankwatch Network

Armenia: NGOs reports show govt. & investors failed to prevent human rights abuses at Amulsar gold mine

Amulsar’s costs to human rights and threats to environmental defenders, 4 August 2022

The Amulsar gold mine in Armenia was supposed to be a different kind of mine, a better one. It even received a loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to help it meet the highest environmental and social standards in mine construction and operation.

But for years, Armenian activists, Bankwatch and other international organisations have shown that this effort has failed. The mine is a risk to water, nature, health – all of which should be protected under Armenian and international law. The local tourism industry and people’s livelihoods felt the negative impacts as soon as mine construction started in 2016.

Furthermore, local activists have been punished for speaking out against the project, denied the right to peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression, access to information, and access to justice. Amulsar has also proved ripe for corruption...

Now, a new report from FIDH, CSI Armenia and Bankwatch exposes the full extent of the failure of the Armenian government; the company responsible for the project, Lydian; and current and former investors like the EBRD and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) to protect, respect and fulfil human rights and remedy the negative impacts of projects.

A second report from the Coalition for Human Rights in Development also highlights the failure of the development banks to prevent retaliation against those who have spoken out against the risks and actual harms caused by the Amulsar project.

Speaking truth to power in Armenia comes at a price. An unprecedented number of SLAPPs, strategic litigation against public participation, were initiated against independent experts, lawyers and journalists that opposed the project...

...[I]n 2022, Lydian Armenia applied for a new water use permit. Right after, the government of Armenia amended the country’s Mining Code to make it easier to bypass public opposition, despite a joint statement against this from 44 non-governmental organisations. A supplementary regulation allows mining to proceed even in cases where civil protests against the mining occur, which seems to be a clear response to the challenges the Amulsar gold mine project has faced.

It’s just a matter of time before the issue of Amulsar is back on the doorsteps of nearby residents...

The government should revoke all existing permits for the Amulsar gold mine project; initiate an independent expert assessment of the costs and benefits of the mine; ensure proper remedy for the negative impacts caused by the mine to local communities, human rights defenders and the environment; and conduct an independent and transparent investigation into the corruption surrounding the land acquisition in Gndevaz.

The EBRD and the IFC should support the Armenian government in implementing these steps. They should also develop human rights and environmental due diligence policies in order to better comply with the UN’s guiding principles, including meaningful public participation.

BHRRC has previously invited Lydian International to comment on human rights concerns linked to the Amulsar gold mine, further information is available here.