Chapter 4: Dealing with other claims relating to cultural heritage protection in the mining

4.3 Dealing with claims raised by parties other than the host state about cultural heritage

4.3.1 Case analysis The Mes Aynak case

There have been campaigns launched by Afghans, environmentalists, Buddhists, archaeologists and other supporters aiming to oppose a mining project in Mes Aynak and stop the destruction of the mining areas. Campaigns also asked the UNESCO to add the mining site to the list of World Heritage In Danger. Petition signatures were also given to former Afghan president, but the petition was ignored.643 Mes Aynak holds historical, cultural, environmental and spiritual

significance to both rural and urban Afghans and to Buddhists across the globe.644

The Mes Aynak case raises a practical issue of how to balance different targets including the protection of cultural heritage, the safeguard of the environment, the

642 Peace Park Foundation, Mining in the Mapungubwe area cease – for now, note 639.

643 Sacred Land Film Project, Mes Aynak (September, 2017), available at (accessed on 15/03/2019).

644 For background about the heritage site Mes Aynak and the mining project, see the White Paper

published by Alliance for the restoration of cultural heritage (ARCH), December 2011. The text is available at (accessed on 15/03/2019).


safety of public health; and the economic benefits for both the host state and local people at the mid and long terms.

In November 2007, Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC), a Chinese state- owned company concluded a 30-year lease for a $3 billion contract with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MMP) to develop copper and iron- ore deposits. In 2008, Afghanistan’s first major mining agreement gave exploitation rights of Mes Aynak to not only MCC but also Jiangxi Copper Company Limited (known collectively as MJAM).645 An estimated $40 billion worth of copper can be

mined from this project.646 MCC forecasted that the mine could eventually produce

up to 343,000 tonnes of copper a year and create tens of thousands of jobs indirectly.647 The mining project has huge potentials but also huge risks to the

environment, ecology and cultural heritage. None of the involved parties has studied and assessed the environmental and cultural impacts of proposed operations in Mes Aynak.648

Archaeological work has been carried out in this cultural heritage site by the Ministry of Mine and Petroleum and progress reports have been issued up to August 2015.649 Archaeologists have had the support of the French Archaeological Mission

in Afghanistan (Delegation Archeologique Francaise en Afghanistan - DAFA) for conducting ‘salvage archaeology’ or ‘rescue archaeology’ as they struggled to document the sacred site.650 Although the World Bank did not provide financial

645 M. Amin, The story behind China’s long-stalled mine in Afghanistan (January, 2017), available

at (accessed on 15/03/2019).

646 Plesch, note 8.

647 F. J. Daniel, M. Harooni, Chinese demands, rebels and Buddhist ruins stall Afghan copper

dreams (April, 2015), available at copper/chinese-demands-rebels-and-buddhist-ruins-stall-afghan-copper-dream-

idUSKBN0N304320150412 (accessed on 15/03/2019).

648 C. Benard, E. Sugarman, H. Rehm, Cultural heritage vs. Mining on the new silk road? Finding

technical solutions for Mes Aynak and beyond, 13. The text is available at

Report_Website-Version.pdf (accessed on 15/03/2019).

649 For the progress reports of archaeological rescue excavation, see (accessed on 15/03/2019).

650 (accessed on 15/03/2019). DAFA has published a

two part mini-survey ‘Mes Aynak, Archaeological Assessment Report, Transitory Document’,

DAFA Assessment 15/XI/2010, available at (accessed on 15/03/2019).


support to the Chinese investors, it was still involved in this case as it has provided technical and policy guidance, capacity building, advisory services and a combined $92 million in grants to promote sustainable development of the minerals sectors. Significantly, the World Bank has funded a nationwide assessment of the intersection of mining and cultural antiquities in areas in which the Ministry of Information and Culture has awarded licences.651 It issued a document of more than

two hundred pages called ‘Report and Recommendation Afghanistan: Sustainable Development of Natural Resources Project Additional Financing and Sustainable Development of Natural Resources Project II’652 in April 2013. Archaeologists have

claimed that they have not had the chance to fully explore and analyse and repeatedly rushed to finish excavations that would otherwise take at least 30 years to complete.653

The case also received much attention from non-governmental bodies as a conference called ‘Cultural heritage vs. Mining on the new Silk Road? Finding technical solutions for Mes Aynak and beyond’ organized by the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage and the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute took place in June 2012. Experienced experts in the fields of geology, mining engineering, archaeology, history and economic development as well as academic credentials, historians, development economists and political scientists gathered in the conference to find our solutions for preserving not only Afghanistan’s cultural heritage but also economic and social development.654

The Chinese companies have spent nearly $200 million on payments to the Afghan government and on preliminary work on the site. Before the archaeological work is completed, the mining project is still at a standstill, and copper has yet to be mined from the area. Opponents to the mining activity argued that it would take an

651 For more on the World Bank’s involvement in mining in Afghanistan, see (accessed on 15/03/2019).

652 The text is available at QUEST0RQ013001.pdf (accessed on 15/03/2019).

653 B. Huffman, The fate of Mes Aynak (Spring, 2013), available at (accessed on 15/03/2019)


estimated dozen of years to excavate the entire site, and the government would not likely allow a long time for professional excavations.655

The Mes Aynak case gave rise to concerns relating to not only archaeological aspects but also environmental effects and the security situation. There is a real concern that mining activities could contaminate the environment including water, air and so on. Looting of Buddhist statues and multiple attacks occurred. Since the spring of 2012, in response to increased security incidents, almost all Chinese employees have been evacuated.656 Security concerns have delayed work on the

project since 2007.

Since 2014, the Chinese companies attempted to renegotiate contract terms due to security concerns and the complexity and controversy of the project. Renegotiation has continued in private, and mining has been suspended for the time being pending better security and results of contract renegotiation.657 The Mes Aynak case has not

been fully reported and resolved at the time of writing. The last updated on the media was about news from the Internet that the project is to be stopped due to corruption charges since April 2017.658

In document The issue of cultural heritage protection in international investment in the mining and construction sectors (Page 179-182)