stories from our lives in Timor-Leste

Land and Housing Rights

(by Pam)  Over the past month, massive rains have flooded the Aitarak Laran community, a stone’s throw from Trocaire’s office where I work.  The flooding and major damage to many make-shift houses along the canal has been blamed on the slow and misguided work of a company hired by the government last year to build a new bridge in this area.  Local members of Rede ba Rai (the Land Network), partners of Trocaire, have been working for years now to assist the hundreds of families squatting on public land in Aitarak Laran and other parts of Dili. Less than a week ago, they negotiated with the company responsible for the flooding a US$20,000 settlement for 192 families whose housing was damaged.

Successes like this strengthen the movement for land justice in Timor-Leste, and show the current strength that exists.  Over the past few months, I worked with the Land Network assisting with their submission of a 3-year grant proposal to the European Union. In the process, I learned a great deal about their work and key issues around land and housing that Timor now faces.  Below are a few examples of major cases the Land Network members have worked on (photos from Rede ba Rai).

After the extreme violence of 1999, close to 200 families found shelter in the former Brimob (Indonesian riot police) headquarters.  In January 2011, 175 families were forcibly evicted  and many moved to a site in Aitarak Laran. Families are not asking for claim to the land, but with nowhere to go, they are asking the government for a process that recognizes their humanity, and the provision of alternative housing or monetary assistance to secure other housing.  Local non-profits (members of Rede ba Rai) are helping families find ways forward on a case-by-case basis.

Another major land case in Dili relates to the land on which Timor Plaza, Timor’s first mall, was built in late 2011.  While many families took monetary settlements from the company, a few individual land-owners chose to take the case to court. The company was found guilty of illegal expropriation of land, but the case remains in an appeals process.

Outside of Dili, communities are working to strengthen communal land systems and protect communal rights which were largely denied under the Portuguese and Indonesians, but which date back to pre-Portuguese times. Communities are also facing growing threats of government-led expropriation of land for mega-development projects including an oil refinery, electrical generation facilities and a southern corridor highway.

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2 responses

  1. Joan

    Thank you, Pam , for this update. I am so inspired by the work you and Curt are doing. Maybe I’ll get to see you one of these days. Joan

    March 14, 2013 at 9:28 am

  2. Hello Pam, Thanks for this insightful post about land issues in East Timor. I have been a commentator on (and critic of) successive governments’ land policies and laws ever since I was the property rights adviser to UNTAET. I am glad that someone else has taken an interest in this issue as it is one of the central issues facing the community, the government and the courts. I would be most interested in republishing your post on the East Timor Law and Justice Bulletin and posting a link to it on the East Timor Land Studies blog. May I ask you to consider appearing as a guest poster on the ETLJB by reposting this post there? ETLJB receives about 40000 page views a month (yesterday there were 2580 page views alone) and your post would be widely read if it were posted there. I am disappointed that I have only just learnt of your blog as I see you have written a lot of good material but very happy to have found it and I will also place a link to your blog on the ETLJB as well. Please let me know. You may email me or contact me using the Contact Us form on the ETLJB. Looking forward to hearing from you. Very best, Warren

    March 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm

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