Commission Hears the Human Rights Concerns of the Gypsy Traveller Community in Scotland
Gypsy Travellers from across Scotland have highlighted significant human rights issues facing the community to the Scottish Human Rights Commission. Here our Executive Director, Jan Savage reflects on the work still to be done.
The significance of the human rights issues faced by the Gypsy Traveller community in Scotland has been a longstanding area of concern for the Commission. In March 2023 Shelley Gray, member of the Commission, and former Chair Ian Duddy met with residents of the Bobbin Mill site in Pitlochry, Tarvit Mill in Cupar, Double Dykes sites in Perth as well as community members from Falkirk and Angus. People raised concerns on a range of human rights issues, including racism and discrimination, access to services and poor-quality accommodation. All of these had a significant impact on both physical and mental health. Community members also spoke of their ongoing investigations into reports of historic removal of children from Gypsy Traveller families and forced migration. The communities also shared a wealth of evidence relating to the ‘Tinker Experiment’[i] and spoke of their campaign for an apology as well as a permanent inter-cultural peace centre to promote understanding of Scottish Gypsy Traveller culture.
These issues were further highlighted to the Commission at a recent launch event of the report ‘Our Human Rights Matter- A Human Rights Monitoring report by the Residents of Double Dykes, in Perth’. The event which took place on the 25th of September was hosted by Mangin Manishes, a voluntary organisation run by and for Gypsy Travellers. The event was supported by Making Rights Real.
At the event the Commission heard testimony from people living at the Double Dykes Site about the findings of their monitoring report which highlighted significant concerns in relation to:
- Children’s Rights including the right to safety, social development, and play (UNCRC[ii] Article, 3, 27 and 31)
- Rights to Accommodation (ICESCR[iii] Article 11)
- Rights to Participation (UDHR[iv] Article 21 and ICESCR Article 25)
- Rights to Live Free from Discrimination (UDHR Article 1)
The Commission is committed to working alongside community members to further explore the human rights denials they are experiencing. The Gypsy Traveller community in Scotland have waited too long to have the discrimination they have faced recognised.
We will therefore take this work under consideration as we identify and develop our Spotlight Project areas of key concern in 2024-25.
Part of this work will be informed by what Commission heard from community members from Bobbin Mill, who highlighted the impact of policy and practice in relation to Gypsy Travellers including forced settlement and the ‘Tinker Experiment’.
Community members outlined the trauma they had experienced as a direct result of this attempt to eradicate the Gypsy Traveller culture, which began in 1946, and how this continues to impact the community today. This is particularly felt by community members when they are denied their right to self-define as a Gypsy Traveller and preserve their heritage. The right to free self-identification is the cornerstone of minority rights as stated under Article 3 of the National Minority Framework[v]. Individuals have the right to decide themselves whether they wish to be identified as such. This has been reinforced by the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities[vi] who outlined this identification must be made in relation to an objective criteria including, but not limited to, minority language, religion, and cultural practices.
The experiences shared by community members from Double Dykes and Bobbin Mill do not comply with international best practice, the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination[vii].
In particular, at this stage, the Commission has grounds for concern around how Article 5 of the National Minority Framework is being addressed in Scotland. This outlines there is an obligation on states to provide,
“… the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions, and cultural heritage”.
At present, Gypsy Travellers in Scotland do not have recognised legal National Minority Status, this is despite the UK ratifying the framework convention in 1998. However, test cases such as K MacLennan v GTEIP in 2008[viii] have established ethnic minority status for Gypsy Travellers in Scotland. This position was supported by Anastasia Crickey former Chair of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination who also attended at the launch of the ‘Our Human Rights Matter’ report. Anastaisa Crickey at the event stated that, in her view, the discrimination faced by the Gypsy Traveller community in Scotland is a form of racism and should be acknowledged as such.
At the event, the Commission responded to the community by welcoming and commending the ‘Our Human Rights Matter’ report and outlining the Commission’s scoping work on these issues to date.
Thanks to the publication of ‘Our Human Rights Matter’, the recommendations contained within it, and the continued engagement from campaigners from across Scotland, the Commission is developing an enhanced understanding of the human rights denials facing the Gypsy Traveller community.
The Commission is also aware of the 2019 commitments included in the Scottish Government and COSLA Improving Lives of Scotland’s Gypsy Traveller’s’ Action Plan[ix]. As part of our remit as Scotland’s National Human Rights Institution we will seek to better understand the impact of this in practice.
In the meantime, the Commission wants to assure community members of its commitment to work alongside them to identify and challenge rights abuses.
If you would like to find out more, please contact Oonagh Brown Participation and Policy Officer via email on: email@example.com
[i] From conversations with community members the Commission recognises this term has been used as a derogatory term to the community. However, community members request that in relation to the ‘Tinker Experiment’ this term be used to highlight the injustices they have faced.
[ii] United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
[iii] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
[iv] Universal Declaration on Human Rights
[vi] See: Council of Europe