30 June 2012

Conflict Left Property Damaged And Burnt (from 2006 Crisis reports)

Source: UNMIT Daily Media Review 31 January 2007 - Following the recent violence, on Monday three small shops and a house was burnt in Bairro Pite around 23 hrs, reported STL today. According to this daily, it is not yet known which groups are involved in the destruction and whether it is related to martial arts groups. The house set on fire belonged to Joaquim Pereira who according to an eyewitness is a member of PSHT but gets on well with the neighbourhood.

The fire spread from Joaquim's house to the three kiosks. Joaquim told STL he is not sure why his house was targeted because he has not made enemies with anyone. He said his house was set on fire following a gun shot in Maloa Bridge and the people involved fled the scene when police arrived. Timor Post reported that five people sought medical assistance at the national hospital on Monday evening from the same area but none were in serious condition. (STL, TP)*

*STL: Suara Timor Lorosae; TP: Timor Post

Illegal Occupations of Land in East Timor

Source: UNMIT Daily Media Review 28 December 2006 - Justice Minister Domingos said that the illegal occupation of houses is against the law. He suggested to those people whose houses are occupied by other inhabitants that they should file reports with the office of the Prosecutor-General and the Office of Land Property for processing and investigation.

The Office of the Minister of Justice has instructed the Director of Land and Property to collect the data of how many houses have been occupied illegally and the government will take action against the illegal occupants in accordance with the law of Timor-Leste, added Mr. Sarmento.

Status of properties must be resolved quickly, says Prime Minister

Editor's Note: From a Media Release by the then Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta in 2006

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF TIMOR-LESTE OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER MEDIA RELEASE Dili, November 13 2006 - The status of three prominent buildings in Dili needs to be resolved quickly so that decisions can be made regarding their redevelopment and refurbishment, Prime Minister Dr José Ramos-Horta said today.

“If Timor-Leste expects to attract investment then security of property title is crucial to give investors – both local and international – the confidence to spend their money,” Dr Ramos-Horta said.

“These three buildings have essentially been in ‘limbo’ for too long. The SAPT, ACAIT and Chinese Association buildings all have gone through phases where rent has been paid and then it has stopped being paid, and of course the end result is the redevelopment and beautification of Dili suffers because of this.

“Dili suffers because these beautifully-located properties are not developed and made more attractive. When their status has been resolved once and for all then people will have the confidence to upgrade the buildings accordingly.”

The Prime Minister has instructed the Department of Land and Property to make determinations on the status of the three buildings by the end of this week.

“The department is working hard and diligently to process a large number of difficult decisions,” Dr Ramos-Horta said.

“But discussions and decisions about these three buildings have been going on for far too long and it is time for a resolution.”

The SAPT building complex is on the northern side of Dili near the ANZ Bank. The ACAIT building faces the Palacio do Governo in the heart of the city and the Chinese Association Building is located on the waterfront.

12 June 2012

Fighting for land rights in East Timor

Originally published on Oxfam New Zealand Posted: 5 APR 12 Written by: Tim Norton

Land disputes are a serious concern in East Timor, Asia’s poorest country. But Oxfam partner MCE-A is mobilising small-scale farmers to stand up for themselves and their rights, helping them to mediate disputes and take action against government land grabs.

Suai District is 185km Southwest of the capital Dili. Movimento Cooperativo Economico – Agricola (MCE-A) operates 26 co-operatives with 850 members in the region. Most families depend mainly upon subsistence agriculture, growing rice and maize to feed their families, or coffee for export.

Many farmers live on and cultivate lands that colonial Portuguese,and most recently Indonesian landholders, held before East Timor’s independence. These lands have been farmed by a generation of Timorese families who are being forcibly removed because Portuguese companies are returning to East Timor, claiming old land titles.

Other foreign companies are aggressively buying up Timor’s valuable agricultural land to grow export crops, and the current government is compulsorily acquiring 3000ha of land in Suai to develop a new city.

Smallholders risk losing their land, and with it, their livelihoods. They have few legally enshrined rights and this creates deep problems for individuals and the wider community.

Legal limbo
Turning to the law for protection is difficult. The recently passed Asset Law endorses government land grabs and leaves farmers empty-handed. If the government demands land to sell or develop, smallholders are often paid a token amount to relocate; others are forcibly moved to less productive hills and mountain regions.

Complicating the situation further, there are three layers of successive land tenure laws in East Timor: the Portuguese, the Indonesian and customary (current) tenure. There is little clarity over which laws stand. A cohesive Land Bill is currently being debated by Parliament, but in the meantime land disputes are left to be resolved through local interpretation and mediation.

This leaves many farmers voiceless, displaced, and without the means to support their families. They need to understand their rights if they are to protect their livelihoods.

Seeking a fair solution
MCE-A is providing a solution by offering smart, impartial advice to mediators to bridge these conflicts.

In November 2011, MCE-A’s advocacy division held a workshop for farmers on their land rights. Attending were more than 100 farmers, as well as the Police and the government’s Director of Land and Property.

    “Until today, many members of society haven’t had the information related to their rights…[MCE-A] has helped members understand more about the law.”
    – Alvaro Dos Santos, MCE-A cooperative member

Alvaro Dos Santos, a member of the cooperative who attended, said: “Until today, many members of society haven’t had the information related to their rights – so they had no ideas on how to defend their ownership.”

A significant achievement of the workshop was that members become aware of the law and their rights. To many members’ surprise, they found land could be protected in law by collective ownership. Groups of villagers have to prove that it is in “use” to maintain ownership; if it is lying unused, businesses can come along and claim it.

So MCE-A urged communities to protect this land instead of leaving it fallow and unmarked by flagging it out with poles or planting trees.

MCE-A also distributed materials on land tenure rights and legal obligations.

Alvaro continued: “The workshop has made members understand more about the law, especially private and communal land property rights.”

People in Suai are now better prepared and better protected when they are confronted with a land dispute. MCE-A has given a voice to its members, whose growing awareness of their rights has given them the knowledge to defend them.

03 June 2012

Australian indigenous people celebrate 20 years of native customary land title

03/06/2012 - Exactly 20 years ago today, the High Court of Australia extinguished the legal lie of terra nullius, by which theory the customary land title of the Australian aboriginal nations had been denied for two centuries of dispossession and genocide, and confirmed the juridical status of native customary land title.

To quote from the Court's judgement:

"In the result, six members of the Court (Dawson J. dissenting) are in agreement that the common law of this country recognizes a form of native title which, in the cases where it has not been extinguished, reflects the entitlement of the indigenous inhabitants, in accordance with their laws or customs, to their traditional lands and that, subject to the effect of some particular Crown leases, the land entitlement of the Murray Islanders in accordance with their laws or customs is preserved, as native title, under the law of Queensland"

The long battle between the State and the holders of customary land title in Australia had finally been won. And it had been a long, costly and bloody battle. As Justice Brennan wrote in his now famous judgement describing the land wars in Australia:

 "As time passed, the connection between different tribes or groups and particular areas of land began to emerge. The Europeans took possession of more and more of the lands in the areas nearest to Sydney Cove. Inevitably, the Aborigines resented being dispossessed. Increasingly there was violence as they sought to retain, or continue to use, their traditional lands.

An early flash point with one clan of Aborigines illustrates the first stages of the conflagration of oppression and conflict which was, over the following century, to spread across the continent to dispossess, degrade and devastate the Aboriginal peoples and leave a national legacy of unutterable shame."

Customary lands and the communities who have owned them since time immemorial in East Timor have, during the European and the Indonesian hegemonies, and through to the present period of national independence, also been confronted by the assertion of State authority over those lands. And recent attempts to regulate land ownership in East Timor have failed to adequately address the problem of customary lands.

(to be continued)

Parliament unable to amend the land law

Radio Timor-Leste, May 29, 2012 language source: Tetun - The National Parliament was not able to amend the Land Law as the number of the MPs did not constitute a quorum, MP Mario Viegas Carrascalao said.

The Land Law could not be amended within 19 days as in reality the numbers of the MPs did not meet the quorum, he said.

"The law has been canceled and will be discussed by the new MPs as so far numbers of MPs has not met with the quorum to amend it," he said.

The Land Law was vetoed by the former President Jose Ramos Horta and was to be sent back to the Parliament for amendment.

MP Aderito Hugo da Costa from CNRT Party said the Law did not benefit the Timorese people as the law itself was special regime of UNTAET which stated that the land which was used by the people belonged to the state.