Tibet Landslide Highlights Devastating Impact of Mining

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April 12, 2013

A tragic landslide in Gyama (near Lhasa) has claimed the lives of 83 people, 2 of whom were Tibetan. Rights advocates and environmental experts argue that the landslide was caused by aggressive operations that heavily damaged the environment. In recent years local Tibetans have protested the operations in Gyama and many Tibetans have been arrested and beaten in response by Chinese authorities.

When we launched our divestment campaign in 2011, we released a report focused on Mining operations in Gyama valley titled “China Gold International Resource Reputational Risk Report” which cited a study by a University of Eastern Finland Faculty of Science and Forestry Department of Environmental Science. According to that study:

“Gyama valley, situated south of the Lhasa River, about 70 km upstream from Lhasa city, is one of the most intensively mining exploited areas in T.A.R.”

“The many mining activities and processing deposits in the valley, containing large amounts of heavy metals, such as Pb, Cu, Zn and Mn, are of considerable environmental concern. These deposits are prone to leak its contaminants through seepage water and erosion of particulates, and pose therefore a future risk for the local environment and a potential threat to the downstream water quality.”

The local mining operation funded by China Gold is listed in the Toronto Stock Exchange and has a Canadian office in Vancouver, where there are protests scheduled as well. Join us to demand China Gold halt its operations in Tibet, and demand that Canadian mining companies hold themselves accountable for the environmental damage and human rights abuses in Tibet caused by mining operations.

gyama mining pit

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Tibetan Villagers Halt Mining Project on Sacred Mountain

By Ahni Jan 28, 2012

Tibetan Villagers have successfully halted a controversial mining operation that threatened Kawagebo, one of the most sacred peaks in the Tibetan world.

(Article cross-posted from the Sacred Land Film Project)

Tibetan Village Stops Mining on Sacred Mountain

In Tibetan culture, where people live in intimate relationship with the natural world around them, reality and mythology have a way of blending together. So it was perhaps no surprise to local villagers when, after a Chinese mining company and local authorities repeatedly repelled efforts stop a gold mining project on the slopes of holy Mount Kawagebo, the mountain appeared to strike back.

Mount Kawagebo, so sacred that climbing is banned, sits on the border between Tibet and China’s Yunnan Province; its eastern side is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area UNESCO World Heritage site. In February 2011, a small gold-mining operation started near the village of Abin, which is on the western side of Kawagebo, along the path of an 800-year-old pilgrimage route that circles the mountain, attracting tens of thousands of Tibetans annually.

To the local people, who believe strongly in the sacredness of Mount Kawagebo, direct destruction of the mountain body, through activities like mining, is unthinkable. Further, villagers said the project was started without permission or prior consent. Thus began a community effort to halt the project.

Villagers said their attempts to deal directly with the mining company resulted in threats and violence from agents hired by the company, and harassment and arrests by local police. On two occasions, men armed with wooden sticks with nails attacked villagers, injuring more than a dozen.

After efforts to negotiate with the local government failed, villagers pushed $300,000 worth of mining equipment into the Nu River. A leader of the group was arrested, but later released when 100 villagers surrounded the local police station where he was being held. A few months later, however, mining resumed and tensions grew. Harassment, death threats and attacks on villagers increased, and some women and children fled to other villages to escape the violence.

On January 20, 2012, a village leader who had tried to confront the mining company was ambushed by local police, tased and arrested. Some 200 community members surrounded the police station, and an ensuing riot resulted in violence and injuries on both sides, with at least one villager sent to the hospital with serious injuries. The leader was released, but protests continued as villagers demanded closure of the mine, and hundreds more villagers from the surrounding area joined in.

This time, the local government held negotiations with the community, including the just-released leader, on behalf of the mining company, whose boss had reportedly fled the area. Villagers involved in negotiations said they were offered money in exchange for allowing the mining to continue, but they refused. On January 23, with tensions mounting, a vice-official from the prefecture government ordered the mine closed and the equipment trucked out of the village.

While the persistence of the community to protect its holy mountain ultimately paid off, some villagers suggested the mountain itself had a role to play. During the negotiations, many reported hearing the sound of a trumpet shell—used in Tibetan religious rituals—coming from the mountain, while others reported unusually windy weather, which stopped once the conflict was resolved.

A Tibetan hired to provide catering to the mine workers described being struck by a physical pressure that forced him to drop what he was carrying; only after he prayed did the sensation disappear. Several months earlier, according to another account, a village leader who had accepted bribes from the mining company died suddenly, and a member of his family was seriously injured in an accident.

He Ran Gao, a researcher who works for the Chinese NGO Green Earth Volunteers and has been closely involved with the communities of the area, described the context of these supernatural accounts. “In a place like Tibet, people have an unusual sense of divinity in nature, based on a whole system of worship and interaction, which sometime seems superstitious to modern citizens,” she said. “But it is not necessarily irrational or unreasonable.”

This sense of nature worship, Gao said, with its attendant conservation values, is “barely left due to past communism and later economic development.” But in the Himalayas and other mountain areas, where non-Han ethnicities reside and remain somewhat protected, those traditional values can still be found. She described Kawagebo as a success story showing “how sacred nature can be” and how it can “still be respected, protected and continue to make an impact in people’s lives.”

Unfortunately, Abin is but one of many villages threatened by mining activities—in most other cases, marble quarrying—and a greater overarching threat to the region: hydroelectric dam development.

Along the Nu (Salween) River, the longest free-flowing river in mainland Southeast Asia, a proposed 13-dam cascade—including several dams in or very close to the World Heritage site—would wipe out portions of the pilgrimage route around Mount Kawagebo and displace the communities of the river valley, likely dealing a blow to their traditional culture as well. Although the project was put on hold in 2004 in the wake of widespread protest, it is certainly not dead.

Last year, the World Heritage Committee issued a statement expressing concern over reports of unapproved construction under way at one dam site on the Nu River, and surveying work—including road-building and drilling—at three others. It warned that “the many proposed dams could cumulatively constitute a potential danger to the property’s Outstanding Universal Value.”

The committee asked China to submit by February 1 of this year a detailed list of all proposed dams, as well as mines, that could affect the World Heritage property, along with the environmental impact assessments of any proposed projects, prior to their approval. The committee also requested, by the same deadline, a report on the state of conservation of the property and on the progress made in completing a strategic environmental impact assessment on all of the proposed dams and related development that could impact the site’s World Heritage value.

Many thanks to He Ran Gao, who provided reporting and other source material for this report. He Ran wishes to thank villagers who provided her with information, but whose names have been witheld.

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The Mining Industry’s Own Principles Rule out Mining in Tibet

“Corporate social responsibility” is more important than ever to ordinary Canadians and the global community. Failure to protect the environmental, social and human rights of the local communities where these companies do business threatens the operations, investment climate, economic viability and reputation of participating companies.

The mining industry itself fully realizes its responsibilities to the communities in which they work. These are the principles by which members of the Mining Association of Canada judge a “responsible approach to social, economic and environmental performance”. Furthermore, “our actions must reflect a broad spectrum of values that we share with our employees and communities of interest, including honesty, transparency and integrity“.

  • Respect human rights and treat those with whom we deal fairly and with dignity.
  • Respect the cultures, customs and values of people with whom our operations interact.
  • Support the capability of communities to participate in opportunities provided by new mining projects and existing operations.

-Towards Sustainable Mining Guiding Principles, Dec 2004

The global mining industries most recent response to these issues was the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Project (MMSD) that acknowledged the basic principles that civil society has been demanding of mining:

“Mineral activities must ensure that the basic rights of the individuals and communities affected are upheld and are not infringed upon. These include the rights to control and use land, to clean water, to safe environment, and to livelihood; the right to be free from intimidation and violence; the right to be fairly compensated for loss. The interests of the most vulnerable groups must be protected.”

-Breaking New Ground, MMSD (International Institute for Environment and Development)

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Tibetan Government in Exile’s Position


The key aspects of Tibetan Government in Exile’s (TGiE) mining policy are listed below.

TGiE calls on potential investors in Tibet to ensure:

  • That projects have consulted local Tibetan people.
  • That projects have fully investigated social, environmental and cultural impacts.
  • That projects will benefit Tibetans.
  • That the working language of any project is Tibetan.
  • That projects do not deplete natural resources with little or no benefit to the Tibetan people.
  • That projects do not facilitate the migration and settlement of non-Tibetans into Tibet.
  • That projects do not transfer ownership of Tibetan land and resources to non-Tibetans.
  • That projects do not facilitate large-scale, capital-intensive and commercial projects.
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Environmental Concerns

Many of the Tibetan communities found near the proposed mining sites rely on agricultural based economy. Mine operations will destroy grazing lands, negatively impacting the livelihood of local residents. In some cases the desecration of lands cause by mine construction will force entire villages to be relocated.

Most concerning is the discovery of gold and copper deposits in areas of intensive land use, in central Tibet and near the Sino-Tibetan border. These regions already support greater concentrations of Tibetans and agricultural practices are intensive, involving steep hillsides and other marginal areas. The increased pressure from a growing non Tibetan immigrant population is likely to have a disastrous effect on the region and lead to potential conflict between Tibetan and non Tibetan residents.

In addition, much of the copper and gold is found in conjunction with arsenic-laden pyrite, a kind of rock formation. The arsenic is released when the desired metals are extracted. Arsenic poisoning caused by human use of groundwater has already become a major health hazard in many areas of Asia. The Tibetan plateau is the source of headwaters of several great rivers of Asia, and contamination of these waters would affect millions of people locally and downstream.

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Mining in Tibet: Politically Motivated Development

In 1999, the Chinese government launched the “Western Development Strategy”, politically motivated plan designed to further consolidate control over Tibet through economic rather than military means. Claiming that the plan will bring “development” and “prosperity” as well as “national unity” to the region, million dollar investments have been made in large scale transportation and communication infrastructure, most notably the construction of the China-Tibet railway and major extractive projects like mine operations and oil pipelines.

The Western Development Strategy is threatening the survival of Tibetan identity and cultural in more subtle but equally destructive ways as overt force. The relocation of millions of ethnically Chinese settlers into Tibet and the exploitation of Tibet’s mineral resources to feed China’s industrial provinces along the Eastern seaboard are two central components of the plan. The Chinese government has been promoting Tibet to foreign owned mining companies who have the technical expertise and capitol to invest in Tibet’s isolated and difficult mining environment. Teaming up with experienced foreign firms is also a way for the Chinese state owned companies to raise their competitiveness in the world markets.

Large scale development in Tibet has rarely benefited Tibetans and mining in this context will likely flood the area with Chinese workers, further marginalizing Tibetans economically, culturally and politically while hastening the plundering of Tibetans natural wealth. Increased investment in resource extraction projects in Tibet places increased pressure on Tibet’s fragile eco-system and further assimilates its people and culture.

Canadian companies have no business profiting from China’s colonization of Tibet.


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Tibetans Launch Divestment Campaign Targeting China Gold International Resources at Annual Shareholders Meeting

For Immediate Release

June 15, 2011

Contact: Jigme Duntak, Students for a Free Tibet Canada Mining Coordinator, 647-203-7596 (in Vancouver)
Tenzin Lobsang, Students for a Free Tibet Canada Director, 647-637-1810 (in Toronto)
Ray Yee, Canada Tibet Committee Coordinator: 604-916-3355 (in Vancouver)

[VANCOUVER] ­– Tibetans and Tibet supporters called on shareholders attending the China Gold International Resources Annual General Meeting in Vancouver yesterday to divest from the company over its controversial mine site in Gyama Township (Ch: Jiama), Meldro Gongkar County, in central Tibet. Canadian-based Tibet advocacy groups also released a report today highlighting the environmental impact of mining operations in Gyama, including the contamination of water sources and destruction of farmland, as part of the divestment drive.

“At this moment, China Gold International Resources is ripping apart the beautiful Gyama valley in central Tibet where Tibetan farmers and nomads have lived for centuries,” said Jigme Duntak, Mining Campaign Coordinator of Students for a Free Tibet Canada. “Under Chinese occupation, Tibetans are not in a position to give their free, prior, and informed consent and those who dare to oppose Chinese state-sponsored mines, like China Gold’s Gyama site, face arrest, imprisonment and even death.”

Ray Yee, Vancouver-based coordinator for Canada Tibet Committee challenged China Gold International Resources Chairman Zhao Xue’s statement in the meeting that the company only intended to mine in “politically stable” areas. When Yee raised the massive uprising in Tibet in March 2008, Vice-President Jerry Xie responded that the political and human rights situation in Tibet was “harmonious” and there were no such uprisings.

“To raise the issue of instability and then in the same breath blatantly lie to investors about the political situation in Tibet is not only shocking but unconscionable,” said Yee. “In an attempt to justify their predatory behavior against an occupied people, China Gold International Resources and its leaders are in complete denial about the well documented political uprisings in Tibet in March 2008. After decades of living under a climate of fear, Tibetans are sacrificing their lives in order to regain control over their own culture, land and resources.”

He also read an excerpt from a 2009 petition submitted by Tibetans in Gyama to the local authorities appealing for a halt to the mining. An excerpt from the petition sent to Radio Free Asia states: “As we petitioned many years ago, I would like to state again that in Meldro Gongkar county’s Gyama township, mining operations have shown utter disregard to the grasslands, forests, mountains, rivers, wildlife, environment, local people’s life and livelihood. The mining operations have caused great destruction to our farmlands, mountains and rivers.” 

In 2009, following the community’s appeals, Tibetans blockaded mining industry trucks to try and stop the mining. Armed security personnel were sent into the region to arrest and intimidate Tibetans from carrying out further protests.

“China Gold International Resources is using Canada’s name, reputation, and money to steal copper and gold from Tibetans,” said Tenzin Lobsang, Students for a Free Tibet Canada’s Director. “I call on my fellow Canadians to do the right thing and divest from China Gold International Resources and their unconscionable mining in Tibet.”

The report released today entitled “China Gold International Resource Reputational Risk Report” cites the findings of a 2010 study conducted by scientists from Finland, Norway, and China which concluded that contamination levels in the Gyama surface water “pose a considerable high risk to the local environment” and “a great potential threat to downstream water users.” The report can be viewed online here: http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/57866777?access_key=key-2kpwt9ohw4ragt9phyqh

China Gold International Resources has come under fire from Tibetans and support groups since it took over ownership of the Gyama copper polymetallic metal mining property in August 2010.


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Protest at the Inter-Citic Minerals AGM

Yesterday, on Thursday, May 26th, Students for a Free Tibet Canada held  a protest outside the Scotia Plaza at 40 King St. West, Toronto. Protesters targetted the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Inter-Citic Minerals (listed on the TSX as ICI), and demanded for a moratorium n the company’s mining project in Dachang, located in Eastern Tibet.

Inter-Citic Minerals is currently conducting exploration to develop a mine in Dachang against the wishes of the Tibetan people. In 2009, the Chinese government announced a five-year plan to continue their nomad resettlement program that is set to relocate a projected 530,000 nomads.

The Chinese government claims that the resettlement is in order to preserve the Tibet Plateau’s fragile environment, but in reality resettlement is being pursued in order to exploit the mineral resources of the Tibetan plateau.

Coverage from Voice of Tibet (fast forward to 9:30 mark): http://vot.org/audio/tib_27_05_2011.mp3

For more details visit: www.StopMiningTibet.org

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China Gold International Investors Presentation

On May 12th, 2011, Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) Canada held a protest outside of the China Gold International Investors Presentation at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Toronto.

SFT’s Mining Campaign Coordinator, Jigme Duntak was able to attend the presentation and speak to CGI’s Executive Vice President, Jerry Xie.



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Mining Injustice Conference 2011

This past weekend, SFT Canada attended the third Mining InjusticeConference 2011: Confronting Corporate Impunity at the University of Toronto organized by the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network.

At the conference, SFT Canada obtained signatures for a petition to stop mining in Tibet, while also networking with other organizations working on mining injustice issues for possible future collaboration on campaigns and initiatives.

In addition, SFT Canada Mining Campaign Coordinator, Jigme Duntak, spoke to the conference attendees about the destructive practices of mining in Tibet by Canadian-based mining corporations.(See link below)

For more details visit: www.StopMiningTibet.org

SFT Canada Mining Injustice Conference Presentation

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