-UN adviser Yves Cabanne says the UK is breaking travellers' human rights three times over
-Argues that 'the people who are abusing the law are the council, not the travellers'
By Paul Harris
'Human rights violation': UN adviser Yves Chabanne, front, held a press conference at Dale Farm travellers' site
A United Nations adviser championed Britain's biggest illegal gipsy site yesterday by comparing the travellers' situation there to some of the world's most appalling acts of oppression.
The astonishing parallel was drawn by Professor Yves Cabannes in an 11th hour visit to Dale Farm in Essex, where he branded Monday's planned eviction an 'inhumane and illegal' violation of international law.
The French academic said the UN was used to dealing with millions losing their homes in countries such as Zimbabwe, China and Nigeria - yet no one seemed to be able to solve a dispute involving 86 families.
Although half of the six-acre site is legal, an estimated 400 people are said to be living on 51 unauthorised plots.
Travellers and supporters say they will resist the eviction peacefully but police are preparing a major operation starting on Monday to ensure the Basildon Council-led eviction passes off peacefully.
During an extraordinary press conference in front of the UN flag, Mr Cabannes said the council had failed to provide the pitches it should make available to travellers.
Flanked by Gipsy Council officials and travellers’ supporters in the front garden of one of the homes earmarked for demolition, he said: ‘The people who are abusing the law are the council, not the travellers. The council is not fulfilling its duties.
Outburst: Prof Chabannes, speaking in front of the UN flag, compared the eviction to human-rights abuses in Zimbabwe, China and Nigeria
Conference: Residents and Press watch the UN adviser's controversial speech
Prof Yves Cabannes talks to Gypsy Council members Candy Sheridan (right) and Joseph Jones (2nd right) as they tour Dale Farm travellers' camp with residents
'There are many Dale Farms which face these issues every day and there needs to be a co-ordinated approach across the country.
‘We are used to seeing millions of people losing their homes in Zimbabwe, China and Nigeria – how is one country unable to solve the problem of 51 pitches?’
Earlier he had told Radio 4’s Today programme that council chiefs were ‘infringing’ human rights at Dale Farm.
He claimed Basildon Council had breached three international rights: The right to adequate housing, the right for protection against forced eviction and the right of ethnic minorities to be protected.
Prepared: A large police operation is planned for the eviction on Monday to ensure it passes off peacefully
Moving on: Reports have emerged that several Dale Farm families have already started to leave the site
While the UN adviser speaks inside the camp, security contractors construct fencing along the perimeter of the Dale Farm site
Council leader Tony Ball reacted angrily to the visit, which comes less than a fortnight after a UN committee urged a postponement of the eviction until a ‘culturally appropriate’ site could be found.
Mr Ball said: ‘The current site has been illegally developed. After ten years, when we have exhausted the judicial process and every effort to negotiate, we have no option but to resort to direct action to clear the site.
‘The travellers can find a culturally appropriate answer to their housing problem but it must involve a site with the proper planning permission. The UN “representative” may not be aware that Basildon provides more approved traveller sites than any other local authority area in Essex and among the greatest number on any area in the country.
‘The UN refers to the rights of the families involved. Basildon Council respects those along with the rights of the vast majority of its residents who want this illegal camp moved after ten years of stalling tactics by the travellers.’
Battle: Police will start to remove families from the Dale Farm site in Essex on Monday
Protest: A traveller family demonstrates against the eviction during Prof Chabannes' visit to Dale Farm
Last night, in a last-minute deal proposal, it emerged that the elderly and infirm may be given new pitches on the ‘authorised’ site to prevent them having to move large distances. Some travellers have started to leave – but others appear to be digging in and were placing tyres with spikes to try to deter bailiffs.
As Professor Cabannes, who is based at University College, London, toured Dale Farm he was cheered by travellers, and at one stage presented with flowers.
They must have thought that the tall, confident figure in blue suede shoes was the champion they needed with just five days to go before the deadline.
But despite his strident words and defiant assertions, the 59-year-old professor was not quite as billed. The UN Advisory Group on Forced Evictions, which he chaired, lost its mandate and packed up last September.
A report he prepared for the UN, researching traveller evictions across the world and including Dale Farm, was written and published two years ago.
And although he described himself as an ‘expert adviser’ for the UN, its Human Settlement Programme, which is monitoring developments at the Crays Hill site, said it had no part in the Dale Farm visit and described it as ‘an initiative of individuals’.
Despite the UN’s efforts to distance itself from Professor Cabannes’s comments, his tour underlined growing concern that the organisation, more normally associated with famine and disaster, should even be considering whether to back a group of law-breakers.
The outcome of Monday’s planned eviction will be crucial to action in the pipeline against other such sites around the country.
Gipsy leaders plan to make an 11th hour legal bid to stop the clearance and are still gathering support.
Meanwhile, one local resident told how he had taken three years to get planning permission for a garage extension to his house, and a neighbour had been forced to demolish and rebuild a bungalow on his own land because it was sited somewhere slightly different from the location the council approved.
‘It’s one law for us but another law for the gipsies,’ he mused.
‘Everyone seems scared stiff of infringing their so-called human rights.’
Defiant: Travellers living at the Dale Farm site in Essex have vowed to remain there
Time to move: The illegal site at Dale Farm covers 51 plots and houses around 400 people