The transition to a market economy rapidly began in Mongolia causing social and economic crisis in the country. During this painful transition, people had no other choice than rushing to their Mother Nature’s hidden treasure in order to survive.

Imagine a massive crowd of people; it is neither about people in some suburban district nor the traditional three manly games, but rather it is about ninja crowds in one area who searched for gold.The crowd consisted of people with unlikely different moods; some were exhausted and desperate, some failed, some succeeded, some were drunk, and some were fighting.

Many precious lives were lost due to the collapse of the disoraganized, messy hand-dug holes. Everyone risked his/her life by diving into these holes to find a tiny little hidden gold nugget, because they had to feed their little ones at home, pay for their children’s’ schooling, and look after their elders.

People had abused power, hiring police and security services to kick ninjas out of the mine sites before the ninjas managed to find anything. Men were always the first kicked out, forced out by the professionals; who caused a number of injuries, they even beat women. In one instance a member of the police injured a woman with an electric shock weapon. This happened during the time when human rights violations were at a peak.

While we were in the middle of this cats and mice game, ninjas who were equipped with techniques and registered under a company name, had already acquired ownership of the land’s natural resources. By this means, they unfairly and mercilessly dug the land without following any basic compliance to any standards of production or manufacturing. As a consequence of badly damaging the land, no plant will ever grow on this land in the next thousand years.

They exploited natural resources, on top of that they acted like they are the only owners of the land. They arrested people around the area and kept them in “khar ger” (means “black yurt or dwelling”), enforced them work, clean and cut wood for free and then kicked them out. It was hard to believe some of them were actually Mongolians who served the foreigners, but treated their fellow Mongolians in a rude and bossy manner. I have seen people kicked out of their home land by Chinese men. I felt it was horrific to see our own home land disturbed and our native language insulted by Chinese; as they stepped on my Ger campsite and said “Khai, manai gazraa, yavaa yav…..”. As per the Chinese owner’s wish, Mongolian policemen took Mongolians’ labour tools away and kicked them out. Maybe at that moment, the Chinese man thought we were really idiot cattle.

Higher level people abused their power by trading land ownership and natural resources under licenses. It is so wrong that laws don’t apply to, rich people; they disobey laws and have control over things by using money. They don’t care about herders who lost their pasture land and were kicked out of their homeland. In a country governed by an oligarchy, with forgotten citizens, there’s no justice; for us poor people living in a society where rights holders cannot claim their legal rights.

However, time has changed everything. We have gone from being ninjas to becoming small-scale miners. From being a single ninja who was discriminated against, to a unification of all small-scale miners, we have now become a powerful “army”. Artisanal small-scale mining sector is the only field where no one is discriminated against based on their sex, age and educational background. It can be defined as the unification of volunteer small-scale miners.

As people can reap the benefits of natural resources for their livelihoods, the artisanal small-scale mining sector only involves people who recognize their civic responsibilities, duties and legal obligations as part of ensuring their significant contributions to the country’s development.

Nowadays, small-scale miners have already been recognized by the government; they have related laws and regulations to follow; all because of both support from the “Sustainable Artisanal Mining” project (SAM) and the Mongolian Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) National Federation as well as the community. The right holders know how to claim their rights in cases where human rights violations have occurred.

Artisanal and small-scale mining is often condemned for its environmental and safety impacts. The ASM mining organizations, whose legal rights had been violated, and had frequently carried out demonstrations and as a result, they had reached agreements and mutual understanding as well as at the same time ASM community’s voice was heard by the government. The ASM also creates jobs and pays taxes through its agreements reached with local management entities. There are organizations that manage the end result – that of ensuring compliance with high quality reclamation standards. Since 2014, a model artisanal small-scale mining reclamation project has been carried out by the support of the Asia Foundation.

As artisanal and small-scale miners, we are responsible. ASM mining organizations do not violate or break any contract obligation. It demonstrates that the improved legal environment in the small-scale mining sector, does not only improve the community’s working and living conditions but also maximizes sustainable development in the country’s economy and gives a positive impact to the natural environment. Moreover, by using the income earned from small-scale mining, people successfully run other small businesses, workshops and services.

Small-scale subsistence miners who are not formalised, have critical issues that need to be immediately solved. They deliver a negative impact on the overall reputation of small-scale miners.

As Mongolian proverb says:

When one cow’s horns shake

A thousand cows’ horns will shake

When one camel slips on dung

A thousand camels will slip

I have to mention that non-formalised miners are the ones who ruin the work we’ve done. Such evil activities cannot be stopped with single attempts and efforts of formalised small-scale miners. The government should come up with clear policies and solutions to ensure maximized civic duties and responsibilities awareness, with the collaboration of local management in rural areas. Due to the fact that Lack of environmental awareness and understanding of the fragility of our environment and the importance of its protection is an issue. Combined with no clear penalty system used against legal acts which directly harm the environment, the irresponsible acts by private small-scale miners as well as the ignorance of the government and local managements, led to an out of control situation. Therefore, people, particularly members of artisanal mining organizations, have frequently been subjected to discrimination and human rights violations.

You never know when artisanal and small-scale miners will finally reach their peak of development as they progress year-to-year.