UN experts call on govt to stop mass evictions along Karachi’s Gujjar, Orangi nullahs

Karachi Development Authority (KDA) staffers demolishing illegally constructed residences during an anti-encroachment operation on the Gujar Nullah,in Gulberg. — Online
Karachi Development Authority (KDA) staffers demolishing illegally constructed residences during an anti-encroachment operation on the Gujar Nullah,in Gulberg. — Online
  • UN human rights experts demand Pakistan stop mass evictions along Karachi’s Gujjar and Orangi nullahs.
  • Evictions and demolitions “may affect up to 12,000 homes housing 96,000 people”, experts say.
  • Experts express concerns over ” intimidation and unlawful detention” of residents.


 

GENEVA: UN human rights experts on Friday called on Pakistan to “stop evicting close to 100,000 people living along two of Karachi’s narrow watercourses”— the Gujjar nullah and Orangi nullah.

According to a statement by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the anti-encroachment drive by city authorities was carried out “without adequate consultation with the affected residents, no relocation plan, and disparate and insufficient compensation for the displaced”.

“The legal basis for this mass displacement and the remedies available to those who are affected are unclear. What is clear is the horrid effect on the displaced population, putting many poor families out on the street in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to OHCHR statement, the evictions and demolitions, ordered after last year’s devastating rains, “may affect up to 12,000 homes housing 96,000 people”.

The statement, citing “latest data”, said that more than 66,500 people have already been affected — in Gujjar nullah, 4,900 homes of 50,000 people have been demolished, along with 1,700 homes housing 16,500 people in Orangi nullah.

“Many of the affected homeowners have established tenure through land leases, or were connected to public utilities such as gas, water and electricity,” the UN experts noted.

“We are extremely concerned that on Monday, June 14, the Supreme Court of Pakistan dismissed the stay orders issued earlier by the Anti-Encroachment Tribunal, which so far protected some of the homes from demolitions,” the experts said.

“In the wake of this decision, there are worrying reports that demolitions are underway again in Gujjar and Orangi nullahs, causing continuing stress and anxiety to residents.”

According to the experts, human rights law does not prohibit resettling people who live along waterways if they are exposed to significant flood risk that cannot be mitigated otherwise.

“However, any project to reduce risks of natural disasters requires due process and full compliance with international human rights norms governing relocation and resettlement, and guaranteeing that no one is rendered into homelessness,” they stressed.

“We are also extremely worried that intimidation and unlawful detention have allegedly been used on numerous occasions against residents protesting the demolitions, and even against their allies, human rights defenders,” the experts said. “This raises additional concerns about access to justice and remedies for those concerned.”

The UN human rights experts have urged Pakistan, which is currently a member of the Human Rights Council, to ensure that its policies and practices are in full compliance with international human rights standards governing relocations, evictions, and internal displacement.

Protests against evictions break out

On Monday, multiple people were detained by police after affectees of the Gujjar nullah anti-encroachment drive and activists carried out a protest outside Bilawal House in Karachi.

The protestors, which included women and children, held placards in their hands as they chanted slogans and spoke out against the evictions.

Police had already barricaded the roads leading to the Bilawal House. However, when the protestors tried removing those barricades, police stopped them from doing so and arrested multiple people.

The police later released the protestors and the demonstration was called off.

Operation against Gujjar nullah encroachments

Last year, an operation to remove encroachments along the Gujjar Nullah was launched, a week after heavy rains devastated the city and flooded residential areas.

Authorities removed commercial encroachments, such as cattle markets and parking spots alongside the Gujjar nullah to ensure the drain does not get clogged in the future.

The drive has now progressed to demolishing illegal residential structures, leading to mass evictions.

Published in Jeo News 25 June 2021

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