Grattan Puxon


Father of eleven children John Ward shot at the door of a farmer's house, beaten with a stick as he lay bleeding in a patch of nettles; shot again in the back while staggering away in desperate flight, and his body dumped over a wall.

Horrific descriptions like this tend be expunged from official reports of anti-Gypsy violence. Complete statistics remain lacking, even in the latest OSCE survey, and racist murders of Irish travellers such as that of John Ward last year in Ireland have yet to impact on European records.

A new report by the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner contains only one figure for racist assaults: 109 attacks recorded in Slovakia in 2002.

Roma and pirutne or Travellers, including the Pavees of Ireland, are dying in racially-motivated
attacks at the rate of 230 a year - that's more than two a week - according to figures released by Rudko Kawczynski, chair of the European Roma and travellers Forum, which is due to meet in Strasbourg next month.

Statistics compiled by the Roma National Congress show that 1,756 Roma were killed and more than 3,500 injured in over 10,000 registered racial assaults between l990 and l998 in the countries of eastern and western Europe.

However, as no systematic monitoring or reporting yet exists, says Kawczynski, the RNC study contains only those cases revealed through media items and NGO-generated data. Bad as the figures are, they may be well below the true total.

Such words as ethnic-cleansing, even genocide, have been used to describe militia-led operations against Roma in former Yugoslavia, especially Kosovo and Bosnia. Neo-nazi killings in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia and Bulgaria,  pogroms in Romania and police-sweeps in the Russian Federation, all colour the dismal picture of increasing suppression and persecution, painted on a background of mounting intolerance and open racism.

Writing of the situation in the UK and Ireland, where thousands have been evicted from their own land and driven from traditional stopping places, I have been chided for likening travellers to the victims of terrorist bombings. But as in Zimbabwe, the state and local authorities show no compunction in pursuing enforcement policies that include the bulldozing of homes and the concomitant wrecking of our children's lives.

Lip service is paid at the highest level to the right of Roma and travellers to their own culture and
way of life. But the practices really pursued in Britain can be judged from the fact that since the passing of the anti-Gypsy Criminal Justice Act in l994, travellers have been merciless hounded and newly-arrived Roma ruthlessly detained and deported.

In the past ten years, at a conservative estimate, local authorities have spent a hundred million euro on anti-Gypsy measures, including move-on operations and blocking of potential stopping-places. The "clearance" of the Romani-owned Woodside caravan park alone cost 1.6 million euro, while five million euro has been set aside for the intended destruction of Dale Farm, the largest settlement of its kind in Britain.

Prime Minister Tony Blair on Roma Nation Day this year signed the book of condolence for Roma victims of Nazi genocide and present-day racism. Yet the UK's anti-Gypsy budget is running higher than that of the entire EU funding  for the Framework Programme for the equal integration of Europe's Romani and Traveller communities.

Ignoring the recommendations of his own planning inspector, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott
has in recent weeks refused families in Bromley and Sevenoaks permission to live, even temporarily, in their own private yards. This means eviction and the end of regular schooling for another twenty children, and places an adult in need of dialysis in peril of their life.

With the death of Charles Smith, chair of the Gypsy Council, we have lost the first Romani commissioner on the UK Commission for Racial Equality. But under the legacy of Smith's influence, CRE chairman Trevor Phillips has declared the decision by Basildon council leader Malcolm Buckley racially motivated.

Phillips will apply in the High Court next week to join Dale Farm residents in their bid to obtain a
judicial review of Basildon's blue-print for the demolition of 85 homes and expulsion of 600 people, including l50 school-age children and a score  of severely ill adults, from land they purchased and developed, on government advice, at a cost over a million euro.

Dale Farm has become a vital test case and a symbol of resistance to the misuse of planning
regulations by anti-Gypsy politicians like Buckley. It follows from the stance taken by CRE that should Prescott again withhold permanent planning consent for Dale Farm he would, for his endorsement of Buckley's malevolent plan,  share the ignominy of a racist tag.

"Our hopes are pinned on the next planning appeal." said Dale Farm yard-owner John Sheridan. "It will be the height of betrayal should Prescott turns us down this time."

Meanwhile, UK delegate Cliff Codona,  who was himself evicted from Woodside, and primary delegate Kay Beard, of the UK Association of Gypsy Women, intend to put a resolution forward at the ERTF session in Strasbourg calling for a moratorium  on evictions and other forms of legalised ethnic-cleaning currently common not only in Britain but in many parts of Europe.

A second proposed resolution from the UK representatives to the expected assembly of elected delegates from some 40 countries urges the ERTF to "encourage and promote" the celebration of 8 April as Roma Nation Day by hundreds of Romani and Traveller organisations in Council of Europe member states.

This call to take the lead in the further mobilization Europe's ten million Roma, on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of Roma Nation Day, is likely to find wide support among those delegates who are already bent on extending the role of the Forum beyond that of a mere consultative body.