Thomas Hammarberg: Please end this disgrace, Mr Pickles

Instead of more confrontation surely it is time for a mediated settlement on Traveller sites?

Related Topics

Gypsies and Travellers throughout the UK are being denied their human rights. Adequate housing – a basic human right and a precondition for other rights, such as education and health – is now an urgent concern. Despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the UK has an obligation to "facilitate the Gypsy way of life", access to culturally acceptable accommodation is still out of reach for many.

A powerful illustration is the Traveller site at Dale Farm in Essex. Last October, 86 families, including more than 100 children, were evicted from the site where they had lived for many years, on land they own. But many of those who were removed, or who left before the much-publicised evictions began, have returned. They have either squeezed in to the much-reduced authorised part of the site or parked their trailers and caravans along the roads leading up to Dale Farm. As a result, many families including old people, babies or the sick are currently exposed to unacceptable health and safety hazards including poor sanitation.

Basildon Council has warned of further evictions. But instead of a fresh round of confrontations, surely it is time for negotiations. This could, I believe, be done with the help of an independent mediator. More effort could be made to find sustainable solutions acceptable to both local communities, travellers and non-travellers. I am calling on Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to ensure that a settlement is found to the crisis, which would protect the Travellers' legal right to housing and respect their cultural diversity.

Failure to do so risks creating further human rights violations. In a climate of intensifying popular prejudice against Travellers, it is already becoming harder and harder for them to find adequate accommodation. The system which required local authorities to carry out assessments of accommodation needs and to develop strategies in response has been virtually dismantled. As a result, many local authorities are building fewer residential pitches than they would have done in the past. Difficulties in obtaining planning permission to develop land that Travellers actually own means they are often pushed towards unauthorised encampment. This is the case for approximately a quarter of the 60,000 to 70,000 Gypsies and Travellers living in caravans in the UK.

Involving local authorities is important. But central government has a duty to ensure that local acts do not lead to human rights violations. Dale Farm must not be left to set a negative example for other local authorities. Gypsies and Travellers deserve better than the neglectful official treatment they are currently receiving in the UK.

Thomas Hammarberg is the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions