Appeal by Leticia Osorio, director of Essex Human Rights Clinic, PhD (candidate) in Law University of Essex, to Basildon District Council

On the day of your Council meeting (9 December) which we understand will include an update on plans for the Dale Farm forced eviction operation I would like to bring to your attention some relevant aspects that were not considered in the report elaborated by the Leader of the Council and posted in the Council’s website today.

We would like also to appeal to you to reconsider the Council’s position to forcibly evict the Gypsy and Traveller families.

Among the most important is the protection of the human rights of the affected families not to be rendered homeless as a result of the eviction operation. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has recently written to the UK (see letter attached) urging “your Government and its institutions to consider suspending any planned eviction until an adequate solutions is achieved, with meaningful participation of the Dale Farm community, to guarantee protection of their housing rights, including the provision of suitable and adequate accommodation”. In this regard it is a shame that a number of meetings have already been held between the local MP, John Baron, the Council and Essex Police, as informed in the Leader of the Council’s report, without the participation of the affected community. Such conduct is inconsistent with the undertakings which the Council presented to the High Court on 9 May 2008 and which were held to be part of the Court of Appeal judgment of 22 January 2009.

Given that a large and vulnerable group is involved, the responsibility does rest with the Council to guarantee the greatest possible security to the residents’ present property and accommodation. The United Kingdom is bound by Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by the UK on 20 May 1976, which guarantees the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living including adequate housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. Furthermore, the Court of Appeal’s judgment expressly established that

“[…] Officers will take the necessary steps to comply with Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 as part of the process of deciding how and when to carry out their delegation functions under the council’s decision” (Judgment, paragraph 82).

Thus there is a requirement on the Council to provide alternative accommodation for Travellers to move to following the site clearance. The letter from CERD is also clear in this respect. Is states that

“might your [the UK] Government decide to nevertheless proceed with the intended eviction, the Committee recommends that the same should be carried out in a human manner, in accordance with international human rights Law, and to designate alternative sites that are adequate, suitable for relocation, and compatible with the culture and traditions of the people affected. It also wishes to draw the Government’s attention in this regard to its General Recommendation No. 27 on Discrimination against Roma.”

Another relevant aspect of the eviction operation is the cost. The Leader of the Council’s report states that more than £13m is been sought by the Council to support the costs of the operation. Small evictions and legal costs, not to mention administrative work, have already cost around £2m. Considering that the area to be cleared has not more than five acres, the amount to be spent per acre can reach a sum of £3m. Not only would Basildon District Council avoid the costs of providing new pitches by giving planning permission for the pitches already occupied at Dale Farm, but more importantly, they could avoid spending such amount of money on an eviction and demolition operation; money that could be used for improving the living conditions of the whole population of BDC in a more constructive way. And, more importantly, this will not provide a permanent and sustainable solution for the accommodation of the Dale Farm families, who will have to resort to another unauthorised development or end up on the road.

As the Council’s position remains that its preference is for a peaceful resolution, which would avoid a forced eviction and save tax payers money; we suggest that the recommendations offered by CERD and by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing are taken into account.

Lastly, as noted by the Leader of the Council’s report, the significant risks that might arise in connection with the site clearance will be comprehensively detailed in a future report to Council. We request that a copy of this comprehensive report be sent to the affected community at Dale Farm, as well as to CERD. The Essex Human Rights Clinics has just concluded a detailed survey (inventory) containing the financial appraisal of affected material and non-material assets as a result of the eviction operation. Basildon District Council might want to consider such appraisal when completing service impact and community impact assessments ahead of the site clearance at Dale Farm.

We recommend that the Council takes into consideration the appeal issued by CERD in order to achieve the best solution in the interests of the parties involved, in accordance with the relevant provisions of human rights legislation.

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