GENEVA (26 March 2019) – Plans to press ahead with the redevelopment of the Seven Sisters Indoor Market in London threaten the cultural rights of residents and traders who are mainly of minority origin, say a group of UN human rights experts*.
The market, also known as the Latin Village, comprises around 120 small shops, most of them family-run and having few employees. More than 55 percent of the business owners are of Latin American or Hispanic origin.
A recent decision by the UK’s Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government dismissed the relevance of any possible disadvantage for people affected, arguing that it was justified in the public interest1.
"To disregard the rights of minorities in the name of an ultimate collective social goal that fails to include their own wishes is incompatible with the State’s obligations under international human rights norms protecting minorities," the UN experts said.
"The regeneration project would force traders to stop or relocate their activities, and may displace an estimated 160 people, affecting how they live and earn their livelihoods."
The market provides a space for vibrant social and intercultural interactions, and is particularly important for women and young people. For Latin Americans, the centre offers opportunities for cultural exchange, intergenerational dialogue, and social support. It is reportedly the only Latin village in the United Kingdom.
The experts expressed concern that the closure of the market in its current form would leave people of Latin American origin and descent without their cultural hub. This could have a detrimental effect on their right to practice their culture, and as such could constitute indirect discrimination.
The experts said the local authorities involved in the project had failed to adequately assess and mitigate the impact of the project on the cultural rights of minorities, including children.
"Such measures could include ensuring and facilitating the establishment of an alternative space in the redeveloped market where people can pursue their culture in an equally meaningful way," they said.
Since 2008, local residents and shop owners have been part of a legal battle to preserve the market and the area, challenging planning applications, organising protests and raising awareness about the importance of the site.
The UN experts have received reports of the mistreatment and intimidation of traders and residents which has caused distress.
"We are concerned that, according to reports, this treatment appears to be particularly targeted at people of Latin American origin and descent and includes language with racial and discriminatory undertones," the experts said.
"We urge the authorities to investigate and, where necessary, sanction such behaviour to protect the affected people from any abuse or infringement of their human rights."
"In addition, the companies involved in the redevelopment have an independent responsibility to respect all internationally recognised human rights under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This entails, among others, carrying out human rights due diligence to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for adverse impacts on the human rights of affected communities."
The experts also expressed concern at renewed reports of inadequate consultation and representation of traders in the decision-making process, insufficient consideration given to their views and concerns, and obstacles placed in the way of traders expressing their views about the project.
"We urge all relevant parties to guarantee the human rights, including cultural rights, of the people affected and to ensure that all planning and consultation processes related to the redevelopment give due consideration to the opinions of the representatives selected by the traders, to guarantee effective consultation," they said.
The experts have been in contact with the Government of the United Kingdom regarding their concerns. See a previous statement on the issue.
(*) The experts: Ms. Karima Bennoune (Algeria/USA), Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Mr. Surya Deva (India), current Chairperson of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights; Mr. Fernand de Varennes (Canada), Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and Mr. David Kaye (USA), Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, Country Page — United Kingdom
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1. http://bailey.persona-pi.com/Public-Inquiries/seven-sisters/decision.pdf, see para. 26