14 July 2009

Land Tenure Issues in Post-Conflict East Timor


Warren L. Wright BA LLB

East Timor, like all post-conflict countries, faces unique land tenure issues as it seeks to reconstruct. The most immediate land tenure problem concerns refugees and displaced persons. Often, such groups have historical and religious ties to the land from which they have been displaced and the loss of their land has profound economic and social impacts. They need secure land tenure to rebuild their lives. Access to land where the tenure is legitimate and stable is a precondition to the resumption of economic, social and political activities. It is also the key to personal security for those displaced and traumatised by the conflict.

The land tenure agenda in relation to the resettlement of refugees must also take account of residual social conflict. Post-conflict societies tend to remain polarised for a period of time with sections of the population mistrusting and fearing other sections of the population. The hostilities during the conflict in East Timor between pro-independence supporters and pro-Indonesia supporters will not disappear immediately. This complicates the land tenure and land allocation problems because even if there are stable tenures to be given to resettled refugees, pro-Indonesian East Timorese who are still in East Timor could not be resettled in regions where independence supporters live.

In addition to the plight of internally displaced persons, the land tenure issue is compounded by the return of East Timorese refugees from Indonesia and by the fact that many in the civilian population who are not refugees have had their homes, businesses and villages destroyed in the aftermath of the referendum. They too will be competing for land along with the refugee population.

Read the full article on East Timor Law Journal

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