Approximately 70 residents of the Tumanyan region of Armenia's Lori marz will defend their right to health, life, and property in court. Residents of the extended Akhtala community, including the villages of Mets Ayrum and Chochkan, have filed lawsuits against the mining and processing plant located in Akhtala that are based on analyses carried out by Arnika. According to the court information system www.datalex.am, the lawsuits concern violations of the right to health, the right to privacy, and the right to inviolability of property, along with claims for damages.
The lawsuits are based on the results of analyses of samples taken from local residents who are exposed to the polluting factories of the mining industry, as well as samples of soil, water, and agricultural products from areas of persistent pollution. The studies were conducted between 2018 and 2020 by the Czech NGO Arnika, which focuses on chemical pollution, with the participation of the NGO “Centre for Community Mobilization and Support” (CCMS) and the information NGO “EcoLur”. Published reports (1, 2, 3) show elevated levels of heavy metals, such as arsenic and cadmium, in human organisms. The high levels of these elements in the organisms of children living in the areas of chemical pollution are of particular concern.
“Protecting the rights of people living in areas contaminated by extractive industries is extremely important. The mining industry should not operate at the expense of people's health because of savings on end-of-pipe technologies,” said Oleg Dulgaryan, director of the Centre for Community Mobilization and Support. According to him, there are still no mechanisms in Armenia to compensate for damages, and therefore social justice has not been achieved. “We are keen to ensure that these mechanisms exist and work, and we are confident that the local communities, aware of the damage caused, will be able to organize themselves and will have more and more supporters of protecting the right to life and health,” Dulgaryan added. He stressed that it is also necessary to put in place precautionary measures regarding insurance and the scope and mechanism of compensation payments to minimize the adverse impacts caused by mining companies.
Inga Zarafyan, director of the NGO EcoLur, noted: “For the first time, people are defending their rights on the basis of the results of chemical pollution analysis. We expect a legal precedent to be set where mining companies will be held accountable to specific people affected by toxic emissions and spills from mining facilities. The right to a healthy environment means the right to life. This is what the people of the Akhtala community intend to prove in court.”
Arnika's project coordinator, Valeriya Grechko, believes that such a response to the threats to health and living conditions by local mining companies was desirable. “The trial is an important stage in a series of actions and measures aimed at improving the environmental situation in the Tumanyan region. It is also an indicator of the willingness of local activists to fight to improve the situation. The lawsuits can highlight the problems of the mining industry both in the region and at the state level. We do not rule out filing complaints with the European Court of Human Rights. In this case, the international community will also be involved in the proceedings,” she said.
The project “Raising Awareness of Pollution in the Tumanyan Region” is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic under the Transition Promotion Program.
(1) Heavy metals in the surrounding of mining and metallurgic sites in Lori region in Armenia: https://english.arnika.org/publications/heavy-metals-in-lori-region
(2) Heavy metals in soils, foodstuffs, and human hair in the mining and metallurgical communities of Alaverdi and Akhtala, Lori province of Armenia: https://english.arnika.org/publications/heavy-metals-in-soils-foodstuffs-and-human-hair-in-the-mining-and-metallurgical-communities-of-alaverdi-and-akthala-lori-province-of-armenia
(3) Heavy metals in urine samples from residents of the Akhtala amalgamated community located in the mining region of Lori Province, Armenia: https://english.arnika.org/publications/heavy-metals-in-urine-samples-from-residents-of-the-akhtala-amalgamated-community-located-in-the-mining-region-of-lori-province-armenia