UN urges Pakistan to halt construction of Orange Metro Train

Source: Daily Times

LAHORE: Experts from the United Nations have urged Pakistan to halt the ongoing construction of Orange Line Metro Train (OMT), as it poses a direct threat to a large number of protected heritage sites and historic buildings.

They said the government’s forced eviction of residents from their houses is unjustified, as it has no resettlement plan.

UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune, in a press release issued on Friday by the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, said that the project (OMT) passes through the historic centre of Lahore, threatening pre-partition buildings, minority places of worship, historic tombs, shrines and great gardens, many of which are registered protected heritage sites. She said that these sites were 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.

“The project will not only destroy physical sites but the ways of life that have been developed there, that people cherish and through which they express their dignity and identity,” she said.

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

She expressed concern about the lack of resettlement and compensation schemes for people who would lose their homes as construction of the line advances, especially since majority of the people live 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 said.

They also drew attention to the lack of information concerning the project and the fact that the route of OMT has reportedly changed several times since the initial public hearing in July 2015.

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, they said.

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

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