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03 July 2009

President Ramos-Horta acknowledges the start of NAIDOC Week in Australia

Embaixada Australia Dili, Timor-Leste Australia’s NAIDOC WEEK: 5-12 July 2009 3 July 2009 President Ramos-Horta acknowledges the start of NAIDOC Week in Australia

Australia will celebrate NAIDOC Week on 5-12 July 2009 featuring this year’s theme: Honouring Our Elders, Nurturing Our Youth. The theme encourages Australian communities to acknowledge the status of our Elders as leaders and role models for our youth. Closing the Gap is about addressing the disparity between the life opportunities of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

In response to a request from the Australian Embassy for a comment on NAIDOC Week, President Ramos-Horta offered the following words of solidarity and support: “On behalf of the Timorese people, I would like to recognise and acknowledge the commencement of NAIDOC Week in Australia, where Australians celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

During a visit to Australia last year, I had the honour and pleasure of being hosted by the Indigenous Elders of Kakadu in their native lands where I was delighted to accept a number of exquisite works from Indigenous Australian Artists.

I am very pleased to offer my support and the use of the new Presidential Palace as a venue for showcasing the works of the Warlayiti Artists from the Balgo Hills in Western Australia, which will be presented by the Australian Embassy in August and September 2009.

The Timorese people have a strong interest in the history and contributions of Australian indigenous peoples and their culture. Hosting the Balgo exhibition in Dili will help to strengthen the people-to-people ties between Australia and Timor-Leste and provide inspiration to our local Artists who will have the opportunity to study the widely acclaimed and coveted artistic styles of Indigenous Australians.”

The Australian Embassy encourages all Timorese people to visit the Balgo exhibition at the new Presidential Palace in Dili in August and September 2009.

Ms Ceu Federer Dr Francine Winnett
Peskizadora Segunda Sekretaria
Telefone: 3322111 Telefone: 3322111
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Image added by ETLJB: The Australian Aboriginal flag.

ETLJB Editorial: 1788 marked the beginning of the British genocide against the indigenous Australians and the start of a land war that would last a century and a half as the Crown began granting land to the invading Europeans. The indigenous Australians never ceded sovereignty to the Australian continent. They defended their ancient social organisations and their ancestral lands to the death - and their near annihilation. The Aboriginal people were massacred, poisoned and hunted like animals - kidnapped, raped and enslaved.

The history of the seizure and alienation of tribal lands in Australia was denounced by the High Court in 1992 as a national legacy of unutterable shame. (see the judgment of Justice Brennan in Mabo and Others v Queensland (No. 2) [1992] HCA 23; (1992) 175 CLR 1 (3 June 1992)).

In East Timor, the Government is conducting public consultations on a new land law.
However, the draft land law in East Timor does not permit any acquisition of title to occupied state land. Draft Article 7 provides, amongst other things, that: (Properties located within the public domain of the State) 1. The ownership right shall not be granted to an ownership claimant of a property located within the State's areas of public domain.

This exclusion would apply to traditional communities occupying what is formally state land but in respect of which customary land tenure systems have existed since time immemorial. The denial of customary land tenure systems status as legitimate land rights under the law raises serious questions for those communities that occupy them. There is some limited provision in the draft land law relating to communal lands but ultimately, it is the government that, under the present draft Article 26, will have the final say on who may use communal lands in East Timor with only an obligation to consult with the relevant traditional community.

Furthermore, traditional communities in East Timor do not have the status of a legal entity for the purposes of the draft land law. Article 19 provides that only national legal entities may hold the right of ownership. There is no law that confers corporate status on traditional communities and so it is impossible for them to hold their lands.

The future of customary land tenure systems is not assured by the new draft land law which reflects a policy of denial of the legitimacy of those land systems.

The failure of national legal systems to adequately recognise and protect the land rights of indigenous communities has had devastating impacts in other parts of the world. Under the dictatorship of Soeharto in Indonesia, the military was deployed to depopulate indigenous peoples' land to permit the exploitation of forest resources by external parties such as the holders of forestry or mining concessions or oil palm plantation developments. In many cases, these indigenous communities and their age-old land tenure systems were annihilated. To East Timor's southeast lies its other gigantic neighbour - Australia - whose indigenous people suffered one of the worst genocides in human history as land was commoditised and granted by the Crown to the invading Europeans. These lessons have not been heeded in East Timor. There is no effective advocacy on behalf of traditional communities.

Whether the government has the fortitude to engage with traditional communities in East Timor in the public consultation process it is currently undertaking remains to be seen. It will be a difficult task explaining to the traditional communities that the new law does not recognise their customary land rights as juridical rights and that this new law will entrench the dominance of the state in the decision-making process about the exploitation of traditional lands in East Timor.
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