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Two UN Special Rapporteurs urge Pakistan to halt construction of new metro line in Lahore that is causing evictions and threaten protected heritage sites

28 January 2016

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GENEVA (22 January 2016) – Two United Nations experts today called on the Government of Pakistan to halt the ongoing construction work of the Orange metro line in Lahore, which has resulted in numerous forced evictions and threatens a large number of protected heritage sites and historic buildings.

“Lahore residents have been forced to vacate their homes and businesses with little to no notice, receiving in some cases only verbal information within days of demolition,” noted the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha.

Ms. Farha also expressed concern about the lack of resettlement and compensation schemes for people who will lose their homes as construction of the line advances, especially since many in the affected area live well below the poverty line. “Many of the residents simply do not have the means to find alternative housing. This project is creating homelessness amongst an already vulnerable population,” she warned.

“The project passes through the historic center of Lahore, threatening prepartition buildings, minority places of worship, historic tombs and shrines and great gardens, many of which are registered protected heritage sites,” said the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune. “These are of importance not only to local people and the entire cultural landscape of Lahore but are of national significance for the history and cultural heritage of Pakistan.”

“These historic neighbourhoods form an organic, living heritage with the people who inhabit them. The project will not only destroy physical sites but the ways of life that have developed there, that people cherish and through which they express their dignity and identity,” Ms. Bennoune pointed out.

The UN human rights experts also drew attention to the lack of information concerning the project and the fact that the route of the Orange line has reportedly changed several times since the initial public hearing in July 2015. Many have contested the project and its procedural flaws, and some cases presented before the Court of appeal are still pending decision.

“The details about the tendering projects, financing and costs, structural details, design,route and environmental impact have not been shared with the citizens, who have been protesting against the project since the beginning of construction work,” the UN Special Rapporteurs said.

For the independent experts, it is also unclear why alternative options, which would be less damaging, would result in less displacement and which would include strict measures to protect heritage, community and the environment, were not considered.

“The Pakistani authorities must take all necessary steps to secure the right to an adequate standard of living including housing and cultural rights as defined in international human rights laws and standards recognized by the country, and to halt all ongoing demolition and construction works that do not meet these standards,” they said.

Ms. Leilani Farha (Canada) is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. She took her function in June 2014.

Ms. Karima Bennoune (United States of America) was appointed UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights in October 2015.