Civil society organizations appealed to int'l community regarding environmental disaster Armenia caused

Civil society organizations operating in Azerbaijan appealed to the international community, requesting urgent attention to the environmental disaster caused by the activity of the mining industry of the Republic of Armenia, which has a regional and global impact on the Earth's ecosystem, News.az reports

The appeal follows:

"We, the undersigned Civil Society organizations operating in Azerbaijan appeal to the United Nations and international community to pay urgent attention to the environmental disasters committed by the Republic of Armenia that poses regional and global impacts on Earth’s ecosystem (Evidence and Substantiated Facts is attached). The ongoing mining operations in Azerbaijan borders by Armenia have resulted in the degradation of the ecosystem, posing a significant threat not only to Armenia's environment but also to neighboring countries. The environmental damage caused by the mining activities has a transboundary impact, jeopardizing the health and well-being of communities both in the region and beyond.

Non-transparent and non-accountable exploitation process in mining industry in Armenia harms people and the environment, given its far-reaching implications and the threat it poses to human health, the environment and true sustainability. Highly toxic chemical waste exposed from industries pollutes almost all transboundary watercourses. This environmental impact affects human health and safety, flora, fauna, soil, air and water structures.

The concerning prospect of discharging this waste into the Araz river gives rise to worries regarding the impact on the river's wildlife and the extensive farms dependent on Araz water for irrigation. The potential harm to the drinking water supply poses risks to human health and water safety, which could result in the spread of infectious diseases in border villages. This situation has the potential to create a severe public health crisis for both Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Currently, Armenia receives grants from European Union within the EU4Environment: Green Economy in Eastern Partnership Countries program for development of green industry. We recall the European Union to ensure that this financing is utilized for its intended purpose and not for activities that result in the destruction of nature and ecological imbalances in the region.

Armenia violates international environmental norms and standards and many of the UN Conventions on Environmental Assessment as its signatory part, including the UN Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary watercourses and international lakes, the Protocol "On Water and Health", the UN Economic Commission for Europe Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous waste, the UN Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution, the UN Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention), the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Transboundary Rivers Convention and etc.

We know that the United Nations and international organizations listed below play a crucial role in addressing environmental issues and can provide assistance in dealing with environmental concerns caused by Armenia. We believe they can facilitate diplomatic negotiations and dialogues between the affected countries to address the environmental challenges. They can act as mediators to foster dialogue and cooperation in finding mutually beneficial solutions, as well as can offer technical expertise by conducting environmental assessments by involving international NGOs and civil society representatives from countries in the region (including NGOs from Georgia and Azerbaijan)  to understand the extent of the damage and potential solutions. We appeal to these organizations to exert pressure on Armenia to uphold the existing environmental conventions. We request them to ensure compliance with international environmental norms by monitoring the operations of industries.

We appeal to:

United Nations Secretary General

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

United Nations Human Settlements Programme

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

United Nations Population Fund

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

UN Women

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

World Health Organization (WHO)

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment

UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change

European Commission

European Council

European Parliament

European Environment Agency

Council of Europe

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

The Global Environment Facility (GEF)

Friends of the Earth

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)

Greenpeace

EVIDENCE AND SUBSTANTIATED FACTS

The Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum combine in Gajaran and the mining complex in Gafan in Armenia are responsible for releasing mining wastes containing heavy metals into the Okchuchay and Araz rivers, which flow across borders of Iran and Azerbaijan. The Artsevanik reservoir, spanning 270 million square meters and serving as the mine tailings pool, poses a substantial risk to the entire region.

Furthermore, the Gutgum (Qeganush) mining waste deposit in Armenia, covering an area of 4.6 million square meters within the Gafan mining complex, presents a significant threat to the region. The mining waste containing heavy metals from the Akarak (Agarak) Copper-Molybdenum combine further contaminates the Araz River through the Karchivanchay river, exacerbating the pollution issue.

The ongoing operations at the Dashdam Gold Mine in Goyce (Sevan), where approximately 10,000 ounces of gold are processed annually, have led to continuous pollution and the toxic wastewater contaminates nearby rivers, including the Barghushad (Vorotan) River, which serves as a crucial source of fresh water. The Barghushad River, in turn, flows into the transboundary Araz River.

In the Lori region of Armenia, the Akhtala mine produces around 5 thousand tons of copper and lead per year, leading to pollution of the nearby Tona (Debed) River. The Tona River then flows into the Kur River. The Akhtala mine was closed in 2017 by the government according to the pressions by civil society, Eco activists of Armenia due to environmental concerns but was unfortunately restored for operation in 2020.

The Gafan Manganese Plant that responsible for the production of manganese ore, manganese dioxide, and other manganese products, with an annual output of approximately 1.5 million tons of ore significantly pollutes the nearby Barghushad River, which serves as an important source of drinking water for the South Caucasus region. These pollutants contribute to various health issues, including respiratory problems, neurological diseases, and cancer.

The Ellar (Gotayq) metallurgical plant, which engages in the production of copper, zinc, and lead, is responsible for contaminating the Arpachay River which serves as a vital source of drinking water with heavy metals such as copper, lead, and cadmium. This has a detrimental impact on human health, primarily through significant air pollution that includes sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter.

The Goyche (Gegharkunik) Copper Smelting Plant, processing approximately 100,000 tons of copper annually, emits significant quantities of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere. This leads to air pollution and the occurrence of acid rain. Similar to the Ellar plant, the Goyche Copper Smelting Plant also discharges its wastewater into the Arpachay River, the main source of drinking water. As a result, pollutants carried by the Arpachay River eventually reach the Araz River.

The construction of a sizable metallurgical plant in Arazdeyan (Yeraskh) that disregards environmental regulations and international conventions must be halted. The potential impact of toxic chemical waste from this plant on the local ecosystem is potentially immense. This contamination of drinking water supplies also increases the risk of infectious diseases spreading in border areas, creating a significant public health crisis affecting both Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The mining wastes containing heavy metals resulting from the operations at the Amuldagh (Amulsar) gold deposit significantly accelerates the erosion process in the Caucasus mountains.The wastes of the deposit are being discharged into the Araz river through Bargushad (Vorotan) and Hakari rivers. The deposit is also situated in the area between the Arpachay and Bazarchay rivers, both of which flow through Azerbaijan's territory. This industry represents a serious hazard to the Caspian Sea basin through Kur river which joins with polluted Araz river. As a result, it causes a significant ecological damage not only to Azerbaijan but also to Iran and other Caspian countries.

According to the report on the complaint submitted by 4 dominant Civil Society Organizations operating in Armenia to Standing Committee of the Council of Europe Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats on February 28, 2023, the leopard remains critically endangered after the area of Amuldagh (Amulsar) gold mine started to be exploited. According to the Distribution and status of the Persian leopard in the Caucasus Ecoregion research article leopards appear to be threatened predominantly by fragmentation of habitat patches intensified by socio-economic development and politically challenging conditions.

The sewage water from the industries mentioned above negatively impact aquatic life, poses a grave environmental threat to both the ecosystem and human beings.

The mining industries in Armenia violates majority of environmental norms and standards, as well as UN Conventions, including:

  1. The UN Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary watercourses and international lakes - the Helsinki Convention, adopted on March 17, 1992, focuses on safeguarding and utilizing shared water bodies and international lakes. The convention recognizes that any significant adverse impact on the environment resulting from changes in transboundary waters, caused by human activities, falls within the jurisdiction of the involved parties. However, Armenia violates the rules and modalities of this Convention with its committing environmental damage to transboundary watercourses.
  1. The Protocol "On Water and Health", a component of the UN Economic Commission for Europe Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, strongly emphasize on preserving water ecosystems and preventing, controlling, and decreasing water-related diseases. To accomplish its objectives, parties participating in the protocol must establish national and local targets for drinking water quality, discharge quality, and the efficiency of water supply and wastewater treatment systems. As the signatory part of the protocol, Armenia does not follow its commitments with its mining operations that damage to transboundary watercourses and lakes. 
  1. The UN Economic Commission for Europe Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous waste; the overarching objective of the Basel Convention is to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes. As the supporting part of the Convention, Armenia violates its objectives damaging to environment with hazardous wastes of the above-mentioned mining industries. 
  1. The UN Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution provides a framework on international coordination of air pollution policy. Ratification and implementation of the Convention and its protocols aims for many Parties, reduce health and environmental impacts in a more cost-effective way than with unilateral action. Up to date Armenia has not introduced a level of negotiations playing field for mining industry.
  1. The UN Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention) is one of the documents violated by Armenia. The Espoo Convention acknowledges that environmental matters transcend national borders and emphasizes the necessity of international discourse when multiple states are involved in specific cases. The constructions by Armenia on the border without mutual agreement from the Azerbaijani side constitutes a blatant violation of the 1991 Espoo Convention, which addresses the assessment of environmental impact in transboundary contexts.
  1. By committing these environmental crimes, Armenia violates the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, especially the 3rd on "Good Health and Well-being", the 6th on "Clean Water and Sanitation", the 12th on “Responsible Production and Consumption”, and 16th on the "Climate Change the 13th on "combating the consequences of climate change" and the 15th on "Protection of the Earth 's Ecosystem".
  1. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights set out a framework for promoting responsible behavior in business, including the mining industry. These principles emphasize the need for companies to protect human rights, prevent negative environmental impacts, and communicate with affected communities in a transparent, inclusive manner. We also call the companies to acknowledge the afore-mentioned risks and cease its support to the mining industry that have tremendous negative environmental impacts.
  1. The Aarhus Convention plays an important role in ensuring access to information, public participation and justice in environmental issues. As a signatory to this convention, Armenia must fulfill its obligations by ensuring that the population of the affected region has access to information on mining activities, participation in decision-making processes, and ways to eliminate environmental damage.

We call upon the UN and international organizations to respond to ongoing committed environmental catastrophes listed above, considering violation of the international norms and principles ensure put an end to Armenia's ongoing environmental transgressions".

Signatures:


Fund for Assistance to Development of Entrepreneurship and Market Economy
Sabit Bagirov

“Support to Health” Public Union
Parvana Valiyeva

“Hope” Support to Social Development Public Union
Israyil Iskandarov

Azerbaijan Women's Rights Protection Society named after D. Aliyeva
Novella Jafarova

Environmental Education and Monitoring Public Association
Gamza Yusubova

“Legal Analysis and Research” Public Union
Ramil Isgandarli

“Experts in the Field of Water Use” Public Association
Amin Mammadov

"Priority" Socio-economic Research Center Public Union
Zaur Ibrahimli

Constituition Research Foundation
Alimammad Nuriyev

Civil Study and Development Public Union
Gunel Safarova

Citizens’ Labor Rights Protection League
Sahib Mammadov

“Regional Human Rights and Media Center” Public Union
Khalid Kazimov

“Protection of Human Rights and Legality” Public Union
Saltanat Gojamanli

“Caspian Barrel” Oil Research Center
Ilham Shaban

"Development of Society and Civil Relations" Public Union
Ahmad Abbasbayli

"Azerbaijan National Section of the International Society for Human Rights" Public Union
Saadat Bananyarli

Democracy və Human Rights Committee
Chingiz Ganizada

"Healthy Development and Education" Public Union
Anar Khalilov

“Scientific Research” Public Union
Telman Gasimov

“Green World” Ecological Education Public Union
Elman Jafarli

“Biosphere” Public Union
Gorkhmaz Ibrahimli

Socioeconomic and Ecological Development” Public Association
Rahila Mehtiyeva

“Sky and Eco” Public Association of Support for Social Economic Development
İrada Hasanova

"Shafag" Ecotourism Public Union
Vamiq Babayev

“Towards a TB-free Future” Public Association
Chingiz Ramazanli

Hemophilia Patients’ Public Association
Ayaz Huseynov

“Children of Azerbaijan” Public Union
Kamala Agazada

“Muvakkil” Law Center Public Union
Samad Vakilov

"Health Protection" Public Union
Yazgul Abdiyeva


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