Eviction of travellers defies human rights, says UN official
The Telegraph, 8 Aug 2011She hails from one of the most lawless countries in the world where human rights abuses and police violence are commonplace
So it is no wonder that Basildon council found it a little galling when Racquel Rolnik, a Brazilian professor, criticised its decision to evict hundreds of gypsies from an illegal camp.
Prof Rolnik, the UN's special rapporteur on housing, has written to the Government insisting that the eviction be delayed until alternative housing is found.
Basildon council served an eviction notice to more than 400 travellers living on 51 unauthorised pitches at Dale Farm, Essex. It is the biggest eviction of travellers in Britain and the 28–day countdown began on Thursday.
But Prof Rolnik claimed it would breach their human rights. She said in a statement that evictions could "constitute a grave breach of human rights if not carried out with full respect for international standards".
"We urge the UK authorities to halt the evictions process and to pursue negotiations with the residents until an acceptable agreement for relocation is reached in full conformity with international human rights obligations," she said.
"It is now of utmost importance that the rights of the residents to fair compensation for their lost homes and property and the provision of adequate alternative housing are fully respected."
Prof Rolnik, a professor at the faculty of architecture and urbanism of the University of Sao Paulo, has been a UN special rapporteur on adequate housing since 2008. She is an independent unpaid expert appointed by the Human Rights Council and it is believed she was asked to intervene by campaign groups.
Human rights are a pressing issue in her home country. Police killed 1,195 people in 2007 in the state of Rio de Janeiro alone, while Sao Paulo state officers killed 340 civilians in nine months in the same year. Another 1,940 vanished. Child labour is commonplace and torture has been widely reported in detention centres and prisons.
Although the Government is not obliged to act on her findings, her comments will add weight to calls for the eviction to be put on hold.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said British courts had found that the developments at Dale Farm are in breach of planning law and the council was "within its rights" to evict the travellers.
Tony Ball, the leader of Basildon council, accused charities of giving the travellers false hope by pursuing challenges. "It has made them believe a last–minute legal ruling could stop the site clearance. As a result, over the years few people on this site have accepted our offers of help."
Travellers began to set up pitches illegally on the former scrap–yard in 2001 and numbers are believed to have reached 400. The council said that more than half of the 100 pitches do not have planning permission and issued 51 sites with eviction notices in July. The notice requires them to vacate the land or the council will dismantle the camp.
Policing the clearance of the site is expected to cost up to £9.5million.
Richard Sheridan, president of the Gypsy Council, said it was unlikely residents would leave before the deadline. "You have to ask if it is value for money for taxpayers to pay millions for the police operation and millions more when these people are left homeless," he said.
"They will not leave voluntarily so I suppose the police will have to go in and I don't suppose the residents will welcome them with open arms."
Travellers at Dale farm, Essex, vow to fight on as eviction countdown begins
guardian.co.uk, 3 August 2011
Three pitches spared as Basildon council goes ahead with biggest eviction of traveller families in British history
Traveller families at Dale farm have reaffirmed their intention to stay put at the start of a 28-day eviction period as it emerged that several homes will be spared from the mass removal.
The enforcement action will cost the local council in Crays Hill, Billericay, Essex, up to £8m. Eviction notices were issued in July but the 28-day countdown begins on Thursday.
The Travellers' spokesman, Grattan Puxon, said three of the 54 plots would be saved but claimed there were few options left for families still residing illegally on the former scrapyard after plans to carry out the biggest eviction in British history were waved through at a meeting of Basildon council on Tuesday night.
"People are generally very desperate because this is a terrible threat which has been hanging over them for a number of years," said Puxon. "Several of the residents are simply not well enough to go out on the road; it's like a death sentence for them. People are certainly not leaving, though – they are determined to fight it out."
He said the main focus of resistance would be to use a team of international observers to monitor bailiffs and to oppose any attempt by them to go beyond the terms of the enforcement notices.
Three families in at least eight caravans would be spared eviction, he said, though the council still has the right to remove the hardstandings underneath their homes. The stands were the only part of the trailers served with the original enforcement notices in 2004 – before a string of legal appeals – because the occupants were away at the time.
Dawn French, Basildon council's head of corporate services, said: "The council confirms that there are three pitches where it has no authority to remove caravans from the land. It does, however, have authority to remove the hardstanding from beneath the caravans and the private roadways from which the pitches are accessed.
Basildon council leader Tony Ball said the three plots had already been included in plans for the site's clearance. "The council has a statutory homelessness duty and has been very proactive in seeking applications from as many families as possible and has been processing those accordingly," he said.
"Further applications are likely following the service of the 28-day notice and once the site clearance commences. There is no need for the elderly, the vulnerable or the young to live on the roadside, as has been suggested."