«I decided to work for the welfare of thousands of miners»

Article, 16.05.2014

Little by little the miners, once persecuted and viewed as criminals, have organised to defend their rights. Testimony of Oidov Tsetsegmaa, director general of the Umbrella Federation of Artisanal Miners.

Oidov Tsetsegmaa showing artisanal stone sculptures made by miners.

«When I finished my university studies in accountancy, I could never have imagined that one day I would work in the field of mining», says Oidov Tsetsegmaa. The forty-year-old’s income from her work for the Umbrella Federation of Artisanal Miners is enough to pay school and university tuition for her three children.

Having met her husband while they were unemployed, Oidov Tsetsegmaa began her career in 2007. One year later she launched an appeal for miners to organise to defend their rights and interests: «The miners have often been victims of discrimination as a result of the lack of a legal framework to cover them», she explains. «In 2008 I had the opportunity to attend a meeting jointly organised by the Mongolian mining authorities and officials of the SDC’s Sustainable Artisanal Mining Project (SAM). It got me extremely motivated to get involved, and I immediately called on the miners to come together using local television. We succeeded in gathering about 150 people.»

A voice for the miners
To manage problems of access to mining territories and bring their activities up out of the informal sector, the miners founded an NGO which rapidly evolved into a coordinating organisation that now numbers 500 members. «After over 20 years of indifference, for the first time the miners got a sense that their opinion was being taken into account, that they were being treated as citizens», recalls the initiator.

«Since our NGO was established we’ve worked closely with the SDC’s SAM project. We took part in training and workshops. Through our political engagement, discussions of legal arrangements, televised debates, press conferences and national forums, we have been able to share our experiences and information with other NGOs dealing with the same issues», says Tsetsegmaa.

Oidov Tsetsegmaa speaking into a mike, surrounded by four other people
Tsetsegmaa representing the interests of small-scale miners at a press conference. © SDC

Organisation at the national level
"Little by little, I realised the importance of establishing a national sustainable artisanal mining association so we could draw attention to our rights with a single voice." At the end of 2012, a group of leaders organised by Oidov Tsetsegmaa formed a working group to get the Umbrella Federation of Small-Scale Miners on its feet. After covering over 13,000 kilometres and presenting the project to some 3,200 miners, the federation saw the light of day in 2013, electing Tsetsegmaa as its director general.

Today Oidov Tsetsegmaa represents the interests of small-scale miners before Mongolian ministers and members of parliament. She negotiates contracts for access to mining territories with local authorities and with the large private-sector mining companies that also exploit these riches. The miners are becoming better and better organised, and their voice is finally being heard. "It’s hard to believe that these people who were marginalised and called criminals now have leaders who represent them at the political level. That is encouraging to me. I’ve decided to work even more for the welfare of thousands of Mongolian miners." 

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