Fundasaun Mahein, April, 17, 2013 PRESS RELEASE - Mahein’s Voice Report Number 48 will survey the instances of land dispute in Timor-Leste, and at the same time, will follow up the previous report “Land Disputes and National Instability in Timor-Leste,” published on 10 April 2010. FM has observed that the number of land disputes continued to increase following that report, and resulted in lost lives for some community members of Timor-Leste.
Land disputes have been occurring since the UNTAET period, and FM analyses that land disputes are a continuing type of violence in East Timor. The widespread nature of land disputes in Timor-Leste stems largely from its history of displacement, military occupation, and internal conflict. Furthermore, after 10 years of independence, Timor-Leste has fallen short in its efforts to create a legal framework for land administration. As a result, people continue to take opportunities to claim land ownership in situations and dispute claims in ways that lead to conflict.
After the horrific crisis of 2006, there was a thorough evaluation which identified that empowering land security was very important to prevent conflict in society. In this respect, the government requested that donors to establish a system that can promote the protection of land rights. As a response to the request, in 2007 the American Government – through USAID – established a program called “Ita Nia Rai”. The program greatly helps the National Direction of Land and Property (under the Ministry of Justice) develop the land administration system and conduct a national program to collect much-needed land data from 2009 to 2012. The program also supports the development of land law in Timor-Leste.
The Land and Property National Program was completed systematically from one location to another, collecting data and hearing declarations of land ownership. The declarations were announced publicly in order to help the community access and verify the results. The data is important to the government t to establish the land administration system and to allow people to claim land ownership certificates in the future. The National Program took place in all 13 districts. As listed, the Program of 12 districts only covered the capital sub-district, while in Dili district the Program covered all sub-districts. A total 18 sub-districts (out of all 13 districts) from which land data was collected indicated 51.701 (88.46%) clearly owned land, while 5.968 (11.54%) of land remained in land dispute zones. FM noted that just these first 18 sub districts indicated a high rate of land dispute. Furthermore, FM believes that the overall land dispute rate will continue to increase in East Timor if the national program “Ita Nia Rai” continues to conduct these land surveys throughout the entire territory of Timor-Leste.
Land disputes in Timor-Leste have led to physical conflict, which have in turn resulted in the lives lost for some community members – including women and innocent children. Such an incident is precisely what happened in Sama Lete and Aidabaleten. In addition, the Timorese land dispute no longer just involves person-to-person disputes, but has grown to organized group disputes like with the CPD-RDTL in Welaluhu-same. Although this CPD-RDTL occupation has since been resolved, it still remains a noteworthy example of land dispute in Timor-Leste.
The land disputes of the Catholic Church marks perhaps the saddest such episodes. In October 2011 there was a land dispute between the government, through the State Secretariat for Culture, and the Church regarding a claim to the mini park in Motael known as Jardim Borja da Costa. This issue has been covered by the media, the community has yet to find a solution. FM observed that the diocese claimed publicly, by announcing on a community board, that “This land is the property of the diocese”. Furthermore, in early April 2013, there was a land conflict between the Balide parish and Diocese of Dili. The conflict resulted in a parishioner destroying the buildings of the University of John Paul II.
Fundasaun Mahein thinks that East Timor needs solid land laws that reflect the political, economic, and cultural nuances of life in Timor-Leste and effectively protect land rights. This would be an important step to contribute to stability and economic development in Timor-Leste. FM points out that land rights are fundamental rights for everyone’s life and personal identity, and so there should be a law that can reflect the identities of all Timorese.
In 2012, the National Parliament created the land law that was considered by the President of the Republic of East Timor, Jose Ramos Horta. But the proposed land law was not discussed at that time and the land law had yet to be ratified in 2013. Somehow, currently the Ministry of Justice has begun another consultation process of land law, and will bring it to the National Parliament assembly for approval this year. FM congratulates the State, through the Government and the National Parliament, for their efforts to create land ownership laws in Timor-Leste.
1. Recommendation to the National Parliament and the Government of Timor-Leste to meet for a profound consultation and deep discussion about the proposed land law in order to guarantee the interests of all Timorese.
2. Recommendation to the Government and National Parliament to convoke a public consultation on the Real Estate Financing Fund law and the proposed laws of N0/2010 de Lei das Expropriacoes (Expropriation Law). So far, the public has no idea about the Real Estate Financing Fund Law. FM insists to Government and the National Parliament to convoke a public consultation and begin addressing this lack of communication.
3. Recommendation to the Government of East Timor to establish mechanisms for conflict prevention and conflict resolution through local authorities and the PNTL.
4. Recommendation to the Secretary of State for Land and Property to facilitate the progress of the national program “Ita Nia Rai,” so that in may complete coverage for all communities in Timor-Leste.
Land disputes a continuing cause of violence in Timor-Leste
Land conflicts the most common dispute in Timor-Leste but draft land law is incoherent
Custom and conflict:The uses and limitations of traditional systems in addressing rural land disputes in East Timor
Land dispute triggers more violence in Timor-Leste
Murder in East Timor the result of land dispute
PM Gusmao recognises land disputes as a serious problem
Four suspects in Atabae murders case in custody
See also Timor-Leste Land Studies