UN experts demand halt to evictions along Gujjar, Orangi nullahs

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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 Oranginullah.

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 Oranginullah.

“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 Oranginullahs, 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.

 

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