The old question of planners versus squatters.
NEPAL: Concern over the condition of the elderly, women and children rendered homeless by evictions
The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns the excessive use of force and the lack of due process in the eviction of the community living in the squatter settlements in Thapathali, Kathmandu on the banks of the Bagmati River on 8 May 2012. Over 248 houses, including a school, were destroyed in the process. According to the information received, 994 persons, including 401 children below 15, have been affected by this eviction. This eviction is the first part of a government plan to clear the banks of the river from encroachment by squatters, for further details on the eviction process please seeNEPAL: Community threatened with eviction, no alternative housing offered or provided. Eviction of other squatter communities also residing on the river bank may follow. (PHOTO: People looking for their belongings in their destroyed houses on 9 May 2012 Thapathali, Kathmandu – source: Jin Ju)
More than 2000 police personnel from the Nepal police and the Armed Police Forces and three bulldozers were deployed in the area to conduct the eviction. Sources report that many families were not informed in advance that the eviction would take place on that day and that they were awoken at 5 am by the police asking them to gather their belongings and leave. The destruction of the houses lasted until 1 pm.
The AHRC deplores the violence with which the evictions were conducted. Police used rubber bullets and tear gas to control the community. Several civilians including the elderly, pregnant women and children were beaten, ill-treated or suffered injuries from the tear gas and rubber bullets. As of the information available on 9 May, 25 to 30 people had been injured from the beatings, including four who suffered serious head injuries. There are reports that women who wanted to get back inside their houses to save some of their belongings were beaten up by the police. The police prevented those injured from getting treatment until 4 pm when they were allowed to receive treatment at the Bir hospital. According to the police 31 people were taken into custody, which according to NGOs included several children. Women and children were released in the evening and the other arrested were released the following day.
Prior to the eviction, the government came under the scrutiny of the civil society for failing to take appropriate steps to identify those who were ‘genuine’ landless squatters. Neither was any research done to determine the number of children and elderly persons who would be affected by the relocation or to evaluate the socio-economical situation of the community. The government announced that it was ready to provide 15000 NPR as a housing allowance to those identified as genuinely landless and that it was getting ready to relocate them to Ichangunarayan area. Nevertheless, the first round of evictions was conducted before steps to provide such allowance or to organize for the relocation were taken and must therefore simply be classified as evictions. As a result, many found themselves without shelter and deprived of food and water. The community has lost valuable property as they were not given enough time to gather their belongings including cooking utensils, tools, clothes, citizenship papers etc. Some saw their income sources, a small shop, a vegetable cart and other essential items destroyed in the eviction. The AHRC is further appalled to hear that a school run by an NGO in which 150 children were enrolled was among the first buildings to be destroyed.
The AHRC is concerned at the situation of children, the elderly and pregnant women who have been made to sleep outside for the past two nights. We are concerned that the eviction may lead to further violation of their rights, including their right to food, health, water and education as embodied by the destruction of the school.
On 16 March 2012 the AHRC issued an Urgent Appeal calling on the government to abide by the UN Basic principles and guidelines on development-based evictions and displacement; to see that the eviction would not result in any family being rendered homeless and to conduct a thorough assessment of the affected families’ socio-economic situation and specific needs beforehand. The appeal further urged the government to see that the police officers conducting the eviction would show restraint and moderation.
Although there is no domestic legal framework regulating forced evictions, Nepal is bound to respect international norms and standards as laid out in the UN basic principles mentioned above as party to the international covenant on economic social and cultural rights. We wish in particular to recall that the UN Basic Principles mentioned above specifically mention that the evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to violations of other human rights; such as the right to life with dignity and those rights upheld in Nepal’s Interim Constitution including right to health; right to education and right of the child. We therefore call on the government of Nepal to take immediate steps to provide shelter, food, water and access to health and education services to those affected by the eviction. We further urge it to suspend its move to conduct further evictions until an appropriate assessment of the impact of the eviction on the situation of the affected families, in accordance with international law1, is conducted and appropriate alternative housing arrangements are taken for the landless and vulnerable. The government is responsible for providing just compensation and sufficient alternative accommodation immediately and without discrimination.
In its plan to relocate the community to Ichangunarayan area, the government has further the responsibility to ensure that the relocation site will fulfill the criteria for adequate housing according to international human rights law, including services for attaining water and access to employment options, schools, and health-care facilities.
The UN principles further state that “Evictions shall not be carried out in a manner that violates the dignity and human rights to life and security of those affected. Any legal use of force must respect the principles of necessity and proportionality”. This has clearly not been the case in Thapathali and the AHRC calls on the government to investigate into the allegations of excessive use of force by the security forces against the community; including elderly, women and children.
The AHRC further urges the government to develop a domestic legislative framework in line with its international obligations upholding due process in development related evictions.
1 The UN Basic principles mandate that “Impact assessments must take into account the differential impacts of forced evictions on women, children, the elderly, and marginalized sectors of society. All such assessments should be based on the collection of disaggregated data, such that all differential impacts can be appropriately identified and addressed.”