Mongolia’s environmental concerns have been escalating in recent years due to mining, poaching, illegal logging and uncontrolled use of toxic chemicals. To address these problems, the government established the Ecological Police Department last year. Deputy Chief of the department, Police Colonel T.Baatar gave the following interview to talk about the department’s work.
More than a year has passed since the Ecological Police was established under the National Police Agency. Can you clarify why it was necessary to set up this department?
In recent years, the mining industry has been developing rapidly in Mongolia. However, due to the lack of coordination between mining technology and infrastructure, environmental protection and rehabilitation works have been delayed and the environment has been severely damaged. Due to human activities, the country’s mountain snow and glacier water resources have decreased in recent years, with 391 lakes, 344 rivers and 760 springs dried up. Due to climate change, 76.9 percent or 120.3 million hectares of Mongolia’s land is affected by desertification, and there is a real threat of depletion of drinking water resources in large urban areas, according to recent studies.
Previously, the Investigative Service had a single unit, the Environmental Crime Investigation Division, with 15 officers. As the number of environmental crimes increased each year, a proposal was made to establish a specialized department. It was reviewed by the National Security Council and initiated by then Prime Minister U.Khurelsukh. Then, the government established the Ecological Police Department on January 7, 2020 with more than 170 officers in order to implement a unified policy to protect the environment, combat and prevent environmental crimes and conflicts, and reduce environmental destruction. More than 100 officers now work in rural areas and about 70 in Ulaanbaatar. The Environmental Crime Investigation Division, which lacked staff and equipment to fight, detect and prevent crimes, was unable to operate in rural areas. However, with the establishment of the Ecological Police, we’re starting to see positive results.
Article 16 of the Constitution states that citizens of Mongolia have the right to live in a healthy and safe environment and be protected against environmental pollution and ecological imbalance, while Article 19 of the law stipulates, “The state shall be responsible for the creation of economic, social, legal and other guarantees for citizens to ensure human rights and freedoms, and shall restore such infringed rights.” In accordance with this, the Ecological Police is investigating crimes such as environmental pollution, ecological imbalance, illegal mining, illegal use of toxic and hazardous chemicals, nuclear substances, radioactive waste, and radiation generators, illegal hunting, logging, forestry wildfires, and harvesting of natural plants.
The number of crimes and violations against the environment has increased in the last two years. Is it the result of forming the Ecological Police to combat environmental crimes?
In 2020, 622 crimes against the environment were registered, an increase of 133 cases or 27.2 percent from the previous year. It accounted for 2.7 percent of the total number of crimes registered nationwide. Of which, the number of cases of illegal mining increased by 64 percent and illegal hunting by 64.7 percent. The detection rate was 57.6 percent, an increase of 3.5 percent from 2019. Of course, this is the result of establishing the new department and its increased efforts to combat environmental crime.
The Violation Resolution Division of the Ecological Police detects and resolves many violations. Most of these are transferred to the General Agency of Specialized Inspection (GASI) for resolution. It received a total of 550 complaints and information about violations of environmental and plant protection regulations, and 108 or 19.6 percent of cases were investigated and resolved through simplified procedures. However, 302 or 54.9 percent were transferred to GASI.
As of September 2021, illegal logging decreased by 6 percent, illegal mining by 32.5 percent, illegal hunting by 38.2 percent, illegal harvesting of natural plants by 42.1 percent, and forest and steppe fires by 75 percent. This is the result of the establishment and operation of 11 checkpoints in Govi-Altai, Darkhan-Uul, Umnugovi, Sukhbaatar, Selenge, Uvs, Khovd and Khentii provinces.
Since its inception, the Ecological Police has conducted a number of advocacy campaigns for citizens, which seem to have yielded results and raised public awareness. What campaigns were organized?
Environmental crime and conflict will not be reduced by advancing detection and processing alone. Without improving the environmental education of citizens and decision-makers at all levels and without public support, we cannot fulfill our responsibilities or meet social expectations in the short term. The “Nature First” project was developed and implemented in order to improve the ecological education of every citizen, prevent crimes and violations against the environment, and disseminate good environmental practices and attitudes. In this context, “Green Voice”, “Don’t harm with garbage”, “Come, Go, Clean”, “Let’s love the blue gold – water”, “Let’s love forests!”, and “Let’s reduce environmental pollution!” campaigns were conducted last year. This year, we’re organizing “Let’s care for wildlife!”, “Don’t catch fish during breeding season”, “May they be green”, and “Don’t catch fire” campaigns and events. These works have raised public awareness and education on how to properly treat and protect the environment and encouraged people to do the right thing.
Is there a need to change the legal environment?
There is a need to amend relevant laws in order to eliminate environmental degradation and pollution caused by irresponsible mining activities, revoke illegally issued licenses, and rehabilitate the environment. Therefore, a proposal was submitted to the Ministry of Justice and Internal Affairs to amend the Criminal Code and Law on Infringements. We believe that this will lead to progress in the fight against environmental crimes and violations and improve the legal framework for prosecuting those responsible and compensating victims.
How does the Ecological Police work with governmental and non-governmental organizations engaged in environmental protection?
It is important to cooperate with governmental and non-governmental organizations in the field of criminal prosecution, rehabilitation of guilty persons, combating and preventing crimes and violations against the environment, and providing ecological education to every citizen. The Ecological Police cooperates with governmental organizations such as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, GASI, Mineral Resources and Petroleum Authority, National Emergency Management Agency, and administration offices of the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area, Bogd Khan Uul Strictly Protected Area and Tuul River. The department also works with WWF Mongolia, Zoological Society of London Mongolia, Mongolian Citizen’s Environment Council and Artisanal Small-Scale Mining National Federation. We will continue to expand our cooperation to combat and prevent such crimes and violations.
You are organizing the “Rehabilitation-2024” joint event. Is it possible to plant trees in the rehabilitated areas in conjunction with the president’s initiative to plant billions of trees?
It has been determined that 0.019 percent or 30,790 hectares of Mongolia’s land has been damaged due to mining, and biological and technical rehabilitation has been carried out on 3,842 hectares of land with funding of 10.1 billion MNT from local businesses and organizations. The “Rehabilitation-2024” joint event is being organized to rehabilitate 8,800 hectares of abandoned land with unidentified owners.
President of Mongolia U.Khurelsukh supported the “Rehabilitation-2024” joint event and expressed his intention to intensify environmental remediation. The Ecological Police expressed the opinion that the rehabilitation work could be more effective if it was linked to the “Billions of Tree” national movement. Scientists need to find out if trees can be planted in excavated areas for technical and biological rehabilitation. If it is possible, we can plant trees and create forests there. As a result, we could help reduce global warming and climate change.
In addition, the police, local military units and organizations have joined forces to plant 1 million trees and planted about 11,000 trees nationwide this fall. The police, local military units and organizations in Ulaanbaatar, 21 provinces and 330 soums have joined it and are working on a management plan to plant trees in rural areas and establish a “Police Grove” on Bogd Khan Mountain.
You said that there is a real threat of depletion of drinking water resources in urban areas. I think that it’s already the case for Ulaanbaatar. The Ecological Police inspected Zalamt Gol and Khos Dali companies for allegedly dumping toxic chemicals into the soil in the Khuliin Gol basin of Tuul River, right?
Scientists believe that if things continue to go on this way, Ulaanbaatar may run out of drinking water by 2040. It is necessary to pay attention to protecting the ecological balance of water at Tuul River, and avoid cutting down trees. They also view that the mountain’s snowcap and permafrost may get depleted in the future. The court sentenced a senior official of Hos Dali LLC for extracting lead from waste battery and battery liquid or sulfuric acid, and illegally storing toxic and dangerous chemicals.
Toxic chemicals have been widely used in recent years. Mongolia is also importing many battery-powered cars such as Toyota Prius. Does the Ecological Police control their waste?
Mongolia needs to develop a major policy to protect its environment. Many hybrid cars are being imported from Japan. They contain hazardous waste or battery. We should consider and decide how to process and dispose of them. There are no companies or organizations in Mongolia that process car batteries. In general, there is no centralized waste disposal center in the country. Construction materials and chemicals used in the printing industry should be inspected as well.
The Chinese-invested Shin Shin Company, which extracts and processes zinc ore and lead from Ulaan and Mukhar deposits in Dashbalbar soum of Dornod Province, reportedly violated Mongolian laws and is causing damage to the environment. According to the latest information, the Ecological Police has proposed to prosecute the company’s director. How was it resolved?
Shin Shin LLC is being investigated on the grounds that it leaked toxic chemicals into the soil from its tailings dam and polluted the environment. Most recently, it was ruled that the company “spilled toxic chemicals spilled into the soil”. The case is being investigated by prosecutors. It is not possible to report in detail as we must get the prosecutor’s permission to share information about an ongoing case under relevant regulations.