Southern Mongolia: Petition over a Lang Grab Not Properly Compensated
A group of Southern Mongolians travelled to the capital of China to submit complaints with the National Government. The group asserts that they had been promised more money than they eventually received in compensation for their loss of land. They also insist on the need to respect previous agreements concerning 30-year leases of grasslands and protest the violence of Chinese police during some of the evictions.
Below are articles by Radio Free Asia and the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC):
Photo courtesy of Xianyi Shen@flickr
Dozens of herders from China's Inner Mongolia region converged on Beijing on Tuesday to lodge a complaint with the national government over a land grab they say left them with scant income.
The ethnic Mongolian herders said they were forced in 2011 to move from traditional grazing lands to the north of the regional capital, Hohhot, as the area was taken over by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Herding communities in Durbed (in Chinese, Siziwang) Banner told RFA they were promised far larger sums in compensation than they had actually received.
"The Beijing Military Command District [of the PLA] took over our grazing lands starting in 2011, and by June 2012 we had all moved out," said Altanhuala, a herder from the banner—the administrative equivalent of a county.
"Here in Durbed, authorities told us that the government would pay us 1.8 million yuan (U.S. $290,530) in compensation, averaging 96,000 yuan (U.S. $15,500) per person," he said.
"Up until now, we have received 147,000 yuan (U.S. $23,730)," Altanhuala said. "At the time, they told us that the grasslands didn't belong to us, but to the state, and that we had to move out because we were on someone else's land."
Huge tracts of grassland on which ethnic Mongolian herding communities depend for a living are constantly being taken over, forcing them to take action to protect their culture and livelihood, rights groups say.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million, are increasingly complaining of widespread environmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.
Clashes between Chinese companies and ethnic Mongolian herders are common in the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.
Local herding communities took out 30-year "household responsibility" leases on the grasslands around Durbed between 1988 and 1998, Altanhuala said.
"We have a contract which promises that they will remain unchanged for 30 years," he said. "We still have more than a dozen years left on the lease."
He said a typical household could expect an income of 40,000-50,000 yuan (U.S. $6,460-8,070) annually from several hundred sheep on the grassland.
"We herders have no education, so all we can get now is 1,000 yuan (U.S. $160) a month as laborers, and those who are a bit older have no income at all," he said. "They have to rely on social subsistence payments."
"The elderly have a pension. That's how we are getting by."
Repeated calls to the Durbed Banner government complaints department rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
An official who answered the phone at the Durbed municipal government complaints office declined to comment.
"You'll have to talk to the [local] government about that," the official said. "We're not in charge of that here."
A second Durbed Banner resident who declined to be named said many local people were injured in clashes when the authorities came to evict them from their land.
"These were forced evictions; they forced us to leave," the resident said. "We went to [state-run] China Central Television about it ... but they refused to report it."
"We have also taken it to court, where the judge said that we were in the right, but that he would have to rule against us," he said.
In a bid to make their voices heard at the heart of China's government, dozens of Durbed residents arrived in Beijing after traveling there on Tuesday in a bid to lodge a formal complaint at the State Council's "Letters and Visits" complaints bureau.
"We have been complaining for five years, but they never resolve it for us," Altanhuala said on arriving in Beijing. "Some herders took the local government to court to get the Durbed government to make the information public, but they refused, and said it was a military secret."
"How did the takeover of our grazing lands turn into a state secret?"
Mass land grab
Retired Shandong University professor and veteran rights activist Sun Wenguang said China is currently in the throes of a mass land grab by the government, including the grasslands of Inner Mongolia.
"Everything is owned by the state; the grasslands, forests, rivers, lakes and hills," Sun said. "A lot of local residents are being violently evicted by the authorities, because the land under their property belongs to the state."
"This means that government departments and agencies and state-owned enterprises can do what they like with the grasslands," Sun said.
He added: "There is often corruption involved, so that many of these land disputes turn into thorny problems that can't be solved."
Since taking power in November 2012, President Xi Jinping has launched a nationwide anti-corruption campaign targeting high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies."
But the party regards any popular involvement in the anti-corruption campaign as potentially threatening, and has already sentenced a number of activists to jail for calling on officials to reveal their wealth.
From January 11 to 13, 2015, more than 50 herders from western Southern (Inner) Mongolia’s Durbed Banner (“si zi wang qi” in Chinese), and Sunid Right Banner ("su ni te you qi" in Chinese) marched toward Beijing. They are demanding Chinese authorities halt the Zureh (“zhu ri he” in Chinese) Military Training Base’s illegal occupation of the herders’ grazing land and end the forced displacement of Mongolian herders from their lands. Mr. Davshilt, one of the protest organizers, was questioned by local public security personnel and threatened with harsh punishment if he continued activities.
“Davshilt’s freedom has been restricted due to his activism and strong organizing skills. He is barred from traveling to Beijing and blocked from social media outlets, ” a close friend of Davshilt told the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC).
The pictures sent from the herders protesting in Beijing show the herders, including several elderly women in traditional Mongolian garments, holding hand-written appeals (in both Mongolian and Chinese) urging the Chinese authorities to answer the following demands:
1. To stop the illegal military and local government occupation and appropriation of herders’ grazing lands;
2. To conduct a thorough central government investigation into the Zureh Military Training Base’s land appropriation;
3. To halt the authorities’ forced and violent displacement of Mongolian herders from their lands; and
4. To ensure that rural herders’ basic rights are not violated.
Mr. Hada, prominent political prisoner who was released from a “black jail” after serving a 15-year imprisonment and a 4-year extrajudicial detention, also sent out a statement to urge the Chinese authorities to protect Mongolian herders’ legal rights. In his statement, Hada asks the Chinese government to:
1. Give justice to rural herders by carrying out a thorough investigation of the Zureh Military Training Base criminal acts and bringing those criminals to justice;
2. Adopt a legal mechanism to guarantee similar cases will not happen again; and
3. Respond appropriately to herders’ grievances and correct local authorities’ illegal actions to prevent Southern Mongolia’s frequent ethnic conflicts, including the escalating murder rates of herders.
Beijing-based lawyer Mo Shaoping expressed his willingness to assist the herders in filing a lawsuit against the local authorities and the Zureh Military Training Base.
Chinese official reports show the Zureh Military Training Base occupies more than 1,066 square kilometers of Durbed and neighboring Shiliin-gol League’s grazing lands. Based off written communications from the affected communities last year, the SMHRIC counted a total of 708 Mongolian herder households consisting of 2,907 individuals who were forcefully relocated from their grazing lands to “immigration villages” near their respective Banner capitals. Neither proper compensation nor adequate housing was provided to the relocated herders.
In an effort to halt the military base’s destruction of their grazing lands, local herders carried out multiple protests near the base and appealed to various levels of the government, including the central government. All appeals were ignored, and protesters were forcefully dispersed.
In March 2013, led by Durbed Banner government officials, the local public security personnel arrived in the regional capital of Hohhot to block the herders from travelling to Beijing and making an appeal to the Chinese National People’s Congress. The public security personnel physically assaulted protestors before taking them back to their homes.
“We have been complaining to the local authorities for years,” stated a herder in a web chat group, “if they continue to ignore our plight, we will stage a coordinated large-scale demonstration across the herders’ communities.”