Pakistan: UN experts demand halt to mass evictions along Karachi’s watercourses

Geneva, June 2021.- UN human rights experts* today called on Pakistan to stop evicting close to 100,000 people living along two of Karachi’s narrow watercourses, locally known as nullahs – 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.

“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.

“We are extremely concerned that on Monday, 14 June, 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 said. “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.

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