Basildon has a duty to evict Dale Farm squatters

19/09/2011 16:37 BST | Updated 19/11/2011 10:12 GMT

A number of important and worrying things happened today which deserved to command the attention of the United Nations. An ageing tyrant ordered the murder of his citizens from a hospital bed in a faraway land. An equally appalling dictator, overthrown but not yet captured, used boobytraps and snipers to vent one last fit of homicidal rage as his regime crumbled to dust. An earthquake killed and injured Nepalese and Indian villagers in a region so remote there are doubts as to whether a proper rescue can be mounted. An uneasy stalemate in the Middle East looked set to slide, once more, into recriminations. Oh, and a local authority planning regulation was enforced in South East England - let's not forget that.

That's right folks, the commotion at Dale Farm in Essex - where illegal dwellings built by members of the traveller community are set to be demolished in accordance with the law - has attracted the attention of the UN. There's little to nothing that this international talking shop can do about mass murder in the likes of Syria, Yemen and Libya but when it comes to planning regulations they are as swift as they are determined. Apparently appalled at the concept of the law being applied after a decade of due process, the UN High Commission for Human Rights stepped bravely into the breach. In the words of Jan Jarab, Europe representative of the commissioner:

'We offered to be part of a negotiation to try and arrive at a less dramatic solution at Dale Farm. There was communication between the British government and our headquarters but it was made clear to us that we would receive a letter that that offer was rejected.

'It is terribly sad and I am disappointed. A forced eviction is a dramatic event for the people concerned.'

Of course we should all be deeply reassured that a man as busy as Mr. Jarab found the time to apply his benevolent gaze to the evil-doers of Basildon Council. After all, he works for the famously overworked Navanethem Pillay - who is so busy being a tireless advocate for human rights that she couldn't even find the time to attend the prize-giving ceremony for Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo. But, all the same, is it really proportionate, useful or even acceptable for the UN to be busying itself with issues of planning law whilst Arab despots slaughter their people? And what on earth does the eviction of the Dale Farm Travellers have to do with Human Rights?

These are people who have broken the law in order to build on, and live in, a patch of land at the centre of a community - essentially to squat. Their presence has caused enormous strain to local public services. It has caused a catastrophic collapse in local property values. It has given the impression - because of their ongoing, at times seemingly endless, dispute with the local authority - that some people are above the law. And it has led to strife and discontent in a community that has felt powerless to prevent itself being destabilized by new, unplanned-for, law-breaking neighbours. It is not only the right of the local authority to evict the Dale Farm Travellers, it's their duty.

Mr. Jarab is concerned that eviction is 'dramatic'. It might have been had it come out of the blue or been sprung upon the residents. But this is the end result of a decade of litigation, of countless warnings and of a tireless effort by the local authority to provide alternative housing. There is nothing 'dramatic' about it if anything, in not being more proactive on behalf of its law-abiding constituent, Basildon Council has shown itself to be somewhat lacking in a sense of urgency on the matter.

The UN should have bigger, worse things to worry about than the resolution of an ongoing planning dispute in South East England. Luckily it does. From China to Libya, from Yemen to Russia, governments daily abuse their citizens' human rights and deprive them of their dignity - perhaps the UN could concentrate on those hellholes before attacking Basildon Council?