Traveller rights being abused, claims UN adviser


THE BRITISH government is failing in its international obligations to house Travellers, despite promoting democracy and the protection of human rights in other countries, a United Nations adviser complained yesterday during a visit to the Dale Farm Travellers’ site in Essex.

Council workers continued to make preparations yesterday, including the laying of a temporary road across a field, for the evictions of up to 80 Traveller families from the site outside Basildon yesterday, scheduled to begin early next Monday.

UN adviser Prof Yves Cabannes said the local council was infringing international human rights in three key areas – the right of ethnic minorities to be protected, the right to have adequate housing and security of tenure and the right to be protected from forced evictions.

The Travellers affected by the evictions, who are living on land they own but for which they have been refused planning permission, were not “the ones breaking the law”, he said. Instead, it was the council which had failed to provide the required number of Travellers’ pitches.

Police officers are on duty at the entry roads to Dale Farm. However, residents among the settled community and Travellers, the Travellers’ supporters and members of the press are allowed access, The Irish Times found yesterday.

Grattan Puxon of the Gypsy Council said it would serve papers on Basildon council tomorrow charging that seven Travellers were unfit to be moved. He claimed that the Court of Appeal was on a four-hour standby to hear the case tomorrow.

However, the council said it had no knowledge of the last-minute legal bid. “As far as we are concerned, we have reached the end of the legal road on this one,” a spokesman said. “There isn’t anything more to be said.”

Seven travellers have been examined by Dr Frank Arnold, who found that one is disabled and bed-bound and two have life-threatening illnesses and need electric-powered nebulisers, which, if lost, would “certainly” mean that they would develop pneumonia and “die within days or weeks”.

“It is my professional opinion that a significant number of the residents of Dale Farm who are being ordered to leave would come to serious and predictable harm if they are evicted under present arrangements.

“For some, this harm would be irreversible,” he said, adding that Basildon Borough Council’s examination of the Travellers’ health has “been conducted with a lack of appropriate medical advice, due attention to obvious health concerns and common sense”.

Some Travellers living on the illegal part of Dale Farm are expected to move into legal pitches elsewhere on the encampment. Basildon council has said in a letter that it would not interfere with any such moves.

Former Unicef official Sir Richard Jolly has supported the Travellers, saying that he had watched the events at Dale Farm “with a growing sense of outrage”, adding that the British government has “clear obligations” under UN law to protect children.

A Travellers delegation met the House of Commons all-Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsies and Travellers, where they called on communities secretary of state Eric Pickles to order a last-minute halt to the evictions.