Approval of Armenian gold mine shows corporate courts ‘crush democracy’

Tuesday, 20 August, 2019
  • Armenian Prime Minister approves controversial Amulsar gold mine in live online address
  • UK-registered mining company Lydian International had threatened $2 billion ‘corporate courts’ claim
  • Protest outside Armenian embassy in London tomorrow


Global Justice Now and War on Want have today condemned the announcement by the Prime Minister of Armenia that he is authorising the controversial Amulsar gold mine in southern Armenia.

In a live online address last night, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who came to power last year after a wave of pro-democracy protests dubbed the ‘Velvet Revolution’, announced that the open-cast mine would go ahead.

The mine, approved before the revolution, has been the subject of a long-standing campaign in Armenia. There are concerns about the ecological and social impacts of the mine, and in particular fears around the contamination of Armenia’s water supply. As a result, the Amulsar site has been subject to a permanent blockade by residents and environmentalists since mid-2018, with construction brought to a halt and no gold extracted.

Last year Pashinyan commissioned a review of previous processes around the mine’s approval. Then at the start of this year, Lydian International, the UK and Jersey-registered company behind the mine, threatened to lodge a massive $2 billion claim against the Armenian government in an international ‘corporate court’. Although the final review found many problems, Pashinyen now wants to let the mine continue, saying that if mitigating steps are taken, that will be sufficient.

Global Justice Now and War on Want argue that the Armenian case is just the latest evidence that corporate courts are an unacceptable attack on democratic sovereignty. They are demanding that the UK government commits to excluding ISDS from post-Brexit trade deals and removing it from existing UK investment deals.

James Angel, campaigner at Global Justice Now, said:
“A few months after Lydian announced the threat of a $2 billion claim, the Armenian government has folded. This is just the latest example of how corporate courts crush democracy. We send our solidarity to the campaigners in Armenia, we call on Lydian to drop their plans for toxic mining and we call on the UK government to urgently withdraw from trade deals that include corporate courts."

Liz McKean, campaigner at War on Want, said:
"We are seeing corporate courts in action, holding the Armenian government to ransom until it backs down. Open cast gold mining poses serious environmental and social threats, but corporate courts hand corporations a powerful tool to override that. The Armenian government should be able to listen to its people, who do not want this mine, and the UK should get rid of corporate courts."

The campaign groups will be protesting against the decision, and in solidarity with campaigners in Armenia, outside the Armenian Embassy in London, 25A Cheniston Gardens, Kensington, London W8 6TG, at 5.30pm on Wednesday evening.

Background
Independent geological experts have previously warned that the Amulsar mine will lead to acid water contaminating the nearby Lake Sevan, the largest freshwater lake in the whole Caucasus region. The mine also threatens jobs in the nearby spa town of Jermuk, whose economy is based on health tourism and agriculture. Initial construction work on the mine has already caused incidents of contamination of resident’s water supplies and nearby rivers.

Corporate courts (technically known as investor state dispute settlement or ISDS) are a parallel legal system that allows foreign investors to sue governments for policies they think might curb their profits. In the past, corporate courts have been used to sue governments for a range of measures, from introducing plain cigarette packaging to banning fracking. They are written into many trade and investment deals.

Last month the campaign groups released a documentary, More Precious Than Gold: community resistance v corporate courts, featuring interviews with some of those blockading the mine, as well as Armenian environmentalists from the Save Amulsar campaign. It can be viewed at https://youtu.be/112qdK9Dees

Notes

1. PM Pashinyan Approves Amulsar Mining, Armenian Weekly, https://armenianweekly.com/2019/08/19/pm-pashinyan-approves-amulsar-mining/
2. Global Justice Now and War on Want are part of the Stop ISDS campaign in the UK.


Photo: Campaigners project a message of protest onto Lydian's London office. Credit: TJ Chuah/War on Want

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