Statement in solidarity with traditional communities and protection of nature in Sinjajevina, Montenegro who’s land is under threat from a Military Training Ground.
URGENT REQUEST TO THE PRESIDENT OF MONTENEGRO, MR. MILO DJUKANOVIC, AND THE PRIME MINISTER, THE MINISTER OF DEFENSE OF MONTENEGRO THE PRESIDENT OF THE PARLIAMENT, AND THE GOVERNMENT OF MONTENEGRO
A crisis is brewing in the Sinjajevina-Durmitor massif mountain range in Montenegro which is at risk by military ‘development’.
Traditional communal pastoralism has preserved local ecosystems for millennia in this territory of life, one of the most outstanding alpine landscapes of Europe. The area is part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Tara River Basin and borders on the Durmitor National Park, one of the oldest in the Balkans, as well as not one, but two, UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
On 27 September 2019, the Montenegrin army blocked road access to the South-Eastern part of Sinjajevina to inaugurate a military training ground covering over 7,500 hectares in the heart of the Tara River Biosphere reserve, ignoring more than 3000 signatures requesting a parliamentary debate and without prior assessment of the socio-economic, health or environmental impact or any consultation of the area’s population.
That same day, Montenegrin, American, Austrian, Slovenian and Italian troops engaged in the first international NATO military training, using over half a ton of explosives, with local population still present in the area, including shepherds and their flocks.
Upon the inauguration of the military training ground, local people were prohibited from accessing their traditional common pastoral lands. The exact limits of the military training ground, including on whether it overlaps with private property and communal pastureland, remain unclear, as does the impact of such activities and the detritus left behind on water sources, rivers, and pastures. The approximately 250 families living in Sinjajevina are at risk of losing their livelihoods by losing their customary rights to pasture- and farmland, their access to non-timber forest products such as honey and medicinal plants, as well as their homes. While the food security of up to 25,000 people in the surrounding area could be affected by contamination of the water, food and animal fodder in the area. Protecting the area is paramount for the survival of local culture and traditions, for the livelihoods of the population but also for the conservation of biodiversity and local ecosystems that have co-evolved and are dependent on the practice of pastoralism.
According to the Montenegro National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2016-2020, which was a subject in accession negotiations with the European Union (EU), Sinjajevina was to be declared as regional park before the end of 2020. It has been an Important Plant Area (IPA) since in 2016 and has been proposed as bird protection area and an Area of Special Conservation Interest in the EMERALD network, a status it would gain once Montenegro enters the EU.
We, the undersigned civil society organizations, urge the President of Montenegro, Mr. Milo Djukanovic, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, the President of the Parliament and the Government of Montenegro to stop development of the military training ground immediately, grant due access and protection to these pasturelands and allow traditional use to continue!
The following organizations (see at Land Rights Now) stand in solidarity with traditional communities in Sinjajevina and express their gravest concerns about the militarization of the areas and, given the following circumstances:
- The designation of the area for use as a military training ground has been met with resistance from the local population, who have not been consulted, as well as a petition that reached the necessary number of signatures for a governmental debate and to subsequently forward it to the Parliament, which never took place.
- Although customary rights in Sinjajevina have been formally recognized through different royal decrees since the 1880s and even if customary law preceded them, the Government of Montenegro undertook no consultation of communities and provided no justification for failing to carry out an open and public review when considering whether or not to construct a military training ground in Sinjajevina, in violation of the Montenegrin Constitution and International Environmental Law, as well as of the UN Aarhus Convention of which Montenegro is a Party.
- There has been no assessment of the environmental, medical and socio-economic impact of creating a military training ground in an area recognized for its distinctive natural and cultural landscapes but, equally importantly, the livelihoods of thousands of people and a unique biodiversity that is deeply dependent of the pastoralists’ way of life.
- Such an assessment has also been requested by a delegation of European parliamentarians (Parliamentary Committee for Stabilization and Association of the European Union and Montenegro) visiting Montenegro in February 2020, who expressed serious concern about the status of the Tara River and the Sinjajevina mountain areas.
We call on the President of Montenegro, Mr. Milo Djukanovic, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, the President of the Parliament and the Government of Montenegro:
- To immediately stop the militarization of the territory and prohibitions to access the Sinjajevina and support a thorough, independent socio-environmental impact assessment;
- To encourage a debate in the national parliament, respect the results of a totally independent impact assessment in all its aspects (environmental, health, social and economic) and ensuring that voices from Sinjajevina are heard;
- To provide shelter and protect of the traditional activities and ecosystems, and act in line with Chapter 27 of accession talks to the EU on tackling environmentally related challenges like the Sinjajevina case;
- To start implementing European environmental standards as defined in the Green New Deal for Europe, and in the relevant EC directives (EIA Directive 85/337/EEC) as well as the declaration of the UN Aarhus Convention by:
- Including Sinjajevinan local communities in political processes, whenever they are affected by these decisions, and adopting collaborative territorial management approaches;
- Justifying ‘if public participation in the decision-making process, would have a clearly adverse effect on national defense’ in order to omit public participation (see for example UN Aarhus Convention pp. 133-134)
- Informing the local communities of the intended military training ground official borders and protecting this territory in which the Sinjajevinans have customary private and communal property rights within the plateau.
- To recognize that local communities play a crucial role not just in preserving cultural diversity, but also in tackling the climate crisis.
- To define a shared and collaborative pastoral management plan for the protection of the traditional pastures together with representatives of the Sinjajevina communities.
NOT JUST SINJAJEVINA – COMMUNITIES ARE SAFEGUARDING OUR PLANET
All over Montenegro, the environment is under threat from uncontrolled development and construction. Attacks on the environment and people’s rights to nature continue to increase.
Saving the unique biodiversity and natural beauty of Sinjajevina is not just important for Sinjaevians, Montenegro and its citizens, or the EU – it is important for humanity as a whole, to help us confront climate change, food insecurity, poverty and political instability, and to protect the diversity of life, culture and language that brings beauty and meaning to all of our lives.
SIGNED BY (see at Land Rights Now)