09 March 2009

East Timor Directorate of Land and Property promotes land dispute resolution



More than 600 land claims collected, only 5% disputed

The Ita Nia Rai (‘Our Land’) program, which is collecting land claims in Timor-Leste, together with the National Directorate for Land, Property and Cadastral Services (DNTPSC), is promoting mediation as a way of solving land disputes in communities.

Since November 2008, the USAID-funded program, together with the DNTPSC has collected 648 land claims in two pilot areas, Liquica and Manatuto. Out of these, only 35, or 5%, are disputed. Despite these small numbers, the DNTPSC and the Ita Nia Rai program are looking for ways to facilitate peaceful dispute resolution at the community level. According to the program, all land disputes can be solved without violence.

“There are four main options for solving a land dispute between two people or groups,” says Antonio Verdial de Sousa, the Director of DNTPSC. “First, the disputants should talk among themselves and their families and look for a solution. Second, if they can’t agree on their own, the disputing parties can seek support from their communties and try to resolve their problem according to the tradition of their place. Third, if a solution cannot be found this way, people can choose to try mediation, where a neutral person helps to facilitate a discussion so they can agree on a solution. Finally, if the problem can’t be solved locally, the case will be referred to the courts to await a decision from a judge.” Despite the number of options available, Director Verdial emphasises the advantages of mediation as a way to solve land disputes.

There are several legal frameworks which identify mediation as a valid dispute resolution process. Timor-Leste’s Constitution in Article 72 on Local Powers and Decree Law 12/2008, Article 16 give power to the DNTPSC to mediate land disputes. In addition, Decree Law 5/2004 bestows authority on local leaders to resolve civil cases, such as land disputes, at the Suku level. Despite this, many people are still unfamiliar with the concept of mediation and how it may benefit their situation.

The Ita Nia Rai program explains that mediation is a voluntary and free process by which people who have a dispute can sit together in a peaceful environment to seek a mutual agreement. The process uses a third party, a mediator, whose role it is to facilitate the discussion. This person can only help to maintain a peaceful environment and perhaps propose options; finding a solution is up to the disputing parties themselves. This process fits well within the cultural context of Timor-Leste. The advantages are many, including that the process is faster and simpler than the formal justice system, and in mediation, the solution is agreed upon by both parties. And a big advantage for communties is that the process is free.

In Manatuto, one of the pilot data collection areas, District Administrator Elivino Bonaparte is encouraging local leaders, the Suku Chiefs, to kontribute to solving disputes within their communities. “We are all the same blood,” he says, “and this land belongs to all of us. Everyone has a right.” He added: “People should not worry too much if there are counter claims to one piece of land, because for one piece of land 5 or 6 or more people can make a claim at this time. In the future the Land Law will help us to solve these cases – so we shouldn’t create problems now.”

The head of the District Land and Property (DTP) branch in Manatuto, Andre de Carvalho, commented: “DTP is ready to mediate disputes.” However since there is no land mediator appointed for Manatuto district he added that the local DTP would rely on support from the national office to provide mediation services to those who chose to follow this course. “The DTP can mediate disputes from a neutral and transparent perspective.” He added that in mediation it is up to the two parties to find a solution, as the mediator cannot make decisions, only facilitate distussion. “When we mediate a dispute, it is not to say that one person is right and the other is wrong, or that one person gets the land and the other doesn’t – only the courts can do that.”

The Ita Nia Rai program is working with the national and local land offices, as well as civil society partners, to facilitate dispute resolution for land cases in Manatuto and Liquica district. Ends

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