Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of Home Affairs
Mahesh Bahadur Basnet
Chairperson of High Powered Committee for Integrated Development of the Bagmati Civilisation and coordinator of Task Force on Forced Evictions
Dear Deputy Prime Minister and Mr. Chairperson,
We write to express our deep concern at the Nepali government’s impending plans to evict thousands of citizens from squatter settlements along the Bagmati River in Kathmandu. While we understand these evictions are part of a broader urban planning and environmental sustainability plan, such developments must be in compliance with Nepal’s obligations under international law and, for the welfare of the individuals and communities concerned, should conform to the best international practices. The government should immediately suspend the evictions until it can ensure that the relocations of squatters are respected in accordance with the standards set out below.
The Bagmati Action Plan reports that there are over 4,000 squatters living along the Bagmati River. Squatters rights groups say that the figure is even higher and point to the government’s High-Powered Committee for Integrated Development of the Bagmati Civilization which puts the figure at 10,500 individuals over 76 hectares of riverside land. According to research by Lumanti, an urban poverty NGO in Kathmandu, 41% of the population in the city’s squatter settlements is under 19.
Recent NGO and media reports claim that the forced evictions will be carried out by personnel from the Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force, led by their respective Deputy Inspector Generals. Although the government has not given any specific dates as to the evictions, recent public statements indicate that the evictions are imminent. Under international law a “forced eviction” is the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection. Forced evictions are well established as a fundamental violation of international law and result in violations of many rights protected by treaties to which Nepal is a party, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Human rights groups who have visited the squatter settlements along the Bagmati River have reported that the squatters have not received any formal notification of the impending eviction. They report that they only learned of it through news programs or in conversations with neighbors. Squatters with children express concern about the potential interruption in NGO-provided school services, including a free mid-day meal for all students. With no information as to where they will be resettled, many are concerned about being able to continue in their jobs.
It was precisely to protect against such outcomes that the UN developed specific guidelines for states to follow when embarking upon such development-based evictions. In order to comply with these standards, the Nepali government must ensure that:
- Evictions never render individuals homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights.
- Evictions should only take place following a fair and transparent public process.
- All members of a community, including the poor, illiterate people, women, the elderly, and children living without parents, should be informed of, and have the opportunity to be involved in, this process.
- The period of advance notice should include enough time for the negotiation of compensation agreements and for resettlement.
- The exact date of evictions should be open to negotiation with the affected community to ensure they are adequately prepared.
- As part of the notification process, communities should be informed of available legal remedies so that individuals who wish to challenge the eviction or raise due process concerns are able to do so. In addition, indigent residents should be provided with legal assistance for such claims.
- Adequate, market value/replacement cost compensation should be provided to all right-holders and occupants on the land to cover any loss of property, fixed or movable, and any other injury suffered.
- If the government wants to offer alternative land, aim to use sites as close as possible to the original area, and ensure that alternative sites offer residents adequate opportunities to continue existing livelihood activities, taking into consideration commuting distance to current employment and schools for children.
- Evictions should not occur during the school year or at times when the displacement of families will interrupt children's education. Compensation to families or guardians of children should cover fees associated with changing schools.
- Evictions should not take place in particularly bad weather or at night.
The government also has an obligation to minimize the use of force during the eviction process. Steps to this end include ensuring that:
- Private individuals and gangs should not be allowed to be involved in the eviction process.
- Public safety officials receive appropriate professional training for carrying out evictions.
- Review rules of engagement to ensure their compliance with international law enforcement standards, such as the U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms.
- Provide public order officials trainings on human rights and the needs and problems faced by the poor.
The government needs to ensure that alternative housing arrangements are adequate and sustainable, and needs to provide a clear timeline for the period of transition. Arrangements for sustainable alternatives must be in place prior to the eviction and any temporary solution must provide the affected families with adequate access to hygiene, schooling, health care and social assistance.
We thank you in advance for your urgent attention to these concerns and your action to address them.
Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai
Hon. Minister Hridayesh Tripathi, Ministry of Physical Planning and Works
Hon. Minister Hem Raj Tater, Ministry of Environment
Hon. Minister Bhim Prasad Gautam, Ministry of Land Reforms and Management
Kedar Bahadur Adhikari, Joint Secretary, Kathmandu Metropolitan City Nepal Police
Shailendra Kumar Shrestha, Inspector General, Chief, Armed Police Force, Nepal