27 May 2013

Mass executive evictions in Dili as government plans airport extension

ETLJB 27 May 2013 - The government of East Timor is planning to extend the runway of the Nicolau Lobato International Airport in Dili and many thousands of local residents affected by the plan are liable to be evicted. Some sources say up to 10,000 people will have their homes taken to make way for the extension of the runway in the project that will double its present length in order to accommodate large aircraft of international carriers.

Concerns about the project have already been raised by the local non-government organisation, Rede ba Rai (The Land Network).

There is no legal certainty to land titles in East Timor and evictions are effected by the police under Law No 1 of 2003 on Immovable Property (a law whose development was funded by the United States aid agency, USAID which funded foreign advisers to draft it). That executive evictions process is not subject to effective judicial review and the government refuses to  implement the applicable Indonesian law regarding the resumption of land in the public interest or meet the international standare of just compensation which is the the market value of the resumed land.

Previous mass evictions as well as sporadic evictions have been undertaken by successive governments of East Timor since the restoration of independence including the resumption of community lands for public interests such as the Metinaro military headquarters, new road constructions, plantations, and a government supply project relating to oil and gas development on the south coast of the country.

No or token compensation has been paid. There has been no due process with government officials unilaterally determining the status of land (government or private) and then mobilisng the police and, in some cases, the military, to intimidate and forcibly remove residents from their homes. This has lead inevitabley to conflict and violence and is the same pattern of undemocratic behaviour of the former occupying state, Indonesia, when it took the people's land for development projects and the transmigration of Indonesians to the then 27th province of Indonesia known as Timor Timur.

Despite government assurances that the people will not suffer financial or social hardship in the face of unjust and undemocratic evictions, the affected communities and individuals have no enforceable legal rights, no resort to the courts and no bargaining power vis-a-vis the state and its strong arm tactics and will have to take what they get - which will be far less than the market value of their lands. Such interventions by the government will only fuel long-standing and widespread social and political tensions caused by land problems in East Timor.

Author: Warren L. Wright BA LLB, Solicitor and Barrister of the New South Wales Supreme Court, Solicitor and Barrister of the High Court of Australia, Land Law Specialist, former Property Rights Adviser to UNTAET, International Land Law Adviser to the Indonesian Land Administration Project and Senior Legal Officer at the New South Wales Land Titles Office. 

See also on ETLJB
Communities "surrender" land for government supply base
Community land in East Timor - A New Tragedy of the Commons?
Government and Community celebrate agreement on land use for Suai Supply Base
Community Land in East Timor: Compensation for Acquisition for Public Purposes
Draft land law provisions on land rights for foreigners in East Timor will smother development

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