22 January 2011

Protests as East Timor police evict 1,000 squatters

PM Gusmao: Local residents have not understand well of expelling them out from Govt land Televizaun Timor-Leste, January 21, 2011 language source: Tetun - Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao said the local residenst who are living in the ex-Indonesian Brimob Barracks in Bairro Pite had not well understodd why the police from the Government of expelling them from the Government's land.

PM Gusmao made the statements after the Government had give the evicted residents compensation money but they are hell bent on not leaving the houses. He added that they had not collaborated well with the Government. 

"This is a big problem we still not understand well and they should leave the land of the Government when they are asked to do so but they urge the Government to pay them before they go out and this is a problem," PM Gusmao said.

The residents who were staying in the ex-Indonesian Brimob barrack yesterday were evicted by the Timorese National Police (PNTL) Task Force officers as they were instructed by the Ministry of Justice to do so.

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Dear Readers.

The Prime Minister and Justice Minister (de facto) today endeavored to explain this issue in the National Parliament. There has clearly been some misreporting and it will be hard to get to the bottom. It seems however that there are still some things for the minister to explain regarding the legal proceedings she exercised pursuant to the law, in order for the affected people to accept the legal efficacy and transparency of this decision.

These administrative evictions are if the procedure is followed legally permissible. If the minister followed the procedures she has legal powers to do what she did. Very similar to the eviction of Mr. Mario Carrascalao, MP and former deputy PM in 2004.  The then FRETILIN government was whacked despite following the law in all respects, and were accused of political persecution blah blah blah.

Legalities aside, the matter must also be considered from another perspective, that of Timor-Leste's obligation under the international convention on the right to habitation that it signed and ratified, and from which it won a prize in 2003 for its efforts as a state to promote the rights of its citizens to habitation.

Dili, today is fast becoming the most expensive city in the region for rental, forget buying property, whilst simultaneously becoming the Mecca for what has been claimed as an explosion in economic growth, fueled by petrodollars.  It is also the fact that this growth, however exaggerated in its size by the government, is also very much created social and economic inequality, both in terms of the rural/Dili divide, as well as widening the gap between the rich and poor.  One does not have to go beyond one's extended family networks and neighborhoods to see this as a real phenomenon as plain as the nose on one's face.

Timorese have a constitutional right to live in the capital, just as many have, mostly because of the opportunities and services they miss out outside of Dili.

US$2,000 has been offered and paid to some as a one off compensation for these people to move.  This is plainly insufficient, given the cost of living in Dili. If their kids are in school here in Dili and they have economic opportunities here, they have a right to stay, but cannot afford to stay.

The issue of land and property and accommodation is a very sensitive, and will become even more so and volatile in the not too distant future.  Incidents like this one will be the mere tip of the iceberg compared to what will come in the near future as land and property become even scarcer resources and title becomes more legally defined.  The petrodollar driven Dili economic activity is generating alot of demand for land for commercial purposes as well as for ex-patriots and Timorese are being increasingly marginalized especially those already socially and economically marginalized. Like it or not, our state has a constitutional obligation to protect basic interest such as the right to social and economic security, including the right to habitation.

The reason for evicting these person is for the construction of a new office and barracks for a special police unit.

There is a similar situation with the drive to evict people from Aitarak Laran opposite the Presidential Palace to make way for a national Library. 

Regardless of legalities, it is clear that the process for moving these affected communities has not worked.  I am not arguing that the law should be be applied equally and to its full weight, but it must be done whilst ensuring that our obligations to human rights, especially economic and social rights highlighted by the President during his speech on international human rights day this year as being our major shortfalls as a state and nation.

It also affects our citizens' willingness to respect the law and authority exercised by the Minister to see the law not being applied to its full extent when it comes to those who are politically or socially influential, contrasting with very different treatment towards the ordinary person.  There are many people occupying the land of other people they know is not theirs, including senior police officers and politicians, and alot of state land is being occupied by persons who have not been moved on.  These acts and omissions have unfortunately aroused a great deal of lack of confidence in the rule of law in our country.  It is this that FRETILIN has persistently warned against with decisions by state entities and political leaders that derogate from this trust and confidence in the rule of law, such as the numerous presidential pardons, illegal release of the former militia leader Maternus Bere, misuse of state resources by the political elite and very high perception of Corruption and official misconduct with apparent impunity.

Social stability depends on a steadfast adherence and respect for the rule of law, respect for the constitution and the laws of the land.

There is still time for us to reimpose these as guiding principles in the governance and administration of this nation and state.  We can still reclaim the trust and confidence of our people by more principled and law abiding leadership in all respects. 

Regards,

Jose Teixeira  
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