UN experts express concern over eviction, demolition drive along drains

The evictions and demolitions, ordered after last year’s devastating rains, may affect up to 12,000 homes housing 96,000 people. — White Star/File
The evictions and demolitions, ordered after last year’s devastating rains, may affect up to 12,000 homes housing 96,000 people. — White Star/File

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

“These actions were undertaken by city authorities without adequate consultation with the affected residents, no relocation plan, and disparate and insufficient compensation for the displaced,” the experts said in a statement issued in Geneva.

The experts are: Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination; Ms Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Ms Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; and Ms Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“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.”

The evictions and demolitions, ordered after last year’s devastating rains, may affect up to 12,000 homes housing 96,000 people. According to latest data, 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.

‘These actions were undertaken without consultation with the affected residents’

“We are extremely concerned that on 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.”

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.

“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 added.

“This raises additional concerns about access to justice and remedies for those concerned.”

The UN human rights experts urge Pakistan, 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.

Published in Dawn, By Amin Ahmed June 26th, 2021

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