On the occasion of International Roma Day (April 8), the UK Association of Gypsy Women calls on the British Government to halt the policy of violently evicting Gypsies and Travellers from their own land and to curb hate speech against our people.

These acts of physical and verbal violence are causing particular pain to our women and our families. They are poisoning relations between our people and local communities. We are convinced that they will soon result in serious injuries and even deaths. We are particularly concerned for 500 families in Dale Farm, who are threatened by eviction in May.

As a result, we are also appealing to Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Alvaro Gil-Robles, the European Human Rights Commissioner, to establish a joint EU-UN commission of inquiry, and to mediate between the British government and Roma representatives.

Third, we call on the government of Ireland to work with Britain and the Council of Europe to ease the pressure on Travellers in Ireland. More and more Travellers are moving to England because they are forbidden to travel in their own country.

The confrontation between Travellers and Gypsies on the one hand, and local authorities on the other, has now reached a crisis point in Britain. Sick people have been beaten and manhandled as they are evicted. Houses have been destroyed with families still inside.

This violence and intimidation is unacceptable. We respect the right of local communities to preserve their cultural and environmental heritage, and we accept our obligation to keep the environment clean.

But we also call for our rights to be respected as well. The repeal of the 1968 Caravan Act has drastically reduced the amount of land available for sites. At the same time, we are denied the chance of building on our own land. 90% of our requests for planning permission are rejected. As a result, at least 3,500 families are now on the move and without a home. Yet the Criminal Justice Act makes it illegal for them to travel in groups of more than 6 vehicles. When they stop to rest they are liable for prosecution under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act.

These laws are being used to target Gypsies and Travellers, with the open encouragement of the popular press, which is whipping up hatred against our people. We categorically reject the terrifying image of Gyspies that is being promoted by the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Express. We call on the British Press Council to intervene.

We also deplore the way that the Conservative Party is exploiting peoples’ fears to win votes and threatening to repeal the Human Rights Act. This is an attack on human rights itself.

The priority now is to defuse this climate of intimidation before it is too late, and to this end we are asking the United Nations and Council of Europe to intervene immediately. For our part we pledge to explore all legal channels available to us, and lobby the forthcoming session of the European Parliament. We will leave no stone unturned in our campaign for justice.

We will work with international civil society, particularly our sisters in the International Roma Women’s Network, which has members in 18 countries.

For more information, contact Catherine Beard and Rachel Francis: