Addressing past land-related disputes and developing an adequate formal land tenure system have been two main challenges for the development of Timor-Leste. Colonialism, conflict, and dispossession preceding the nation’s independence in 2002, bequeathed conflicting land claims and unclear land rights to the new state, making access and avail of land difficult and insecure. Despite some attempts from the government little has been achieved so far, and state-lead dispossession has only aggravated the problem. While several factors contribute to this problem, one crucial factor has been overlooked: the lack of reliable, consistent, and independently collected data about land that can and should inform government policies, civil society advocacy, and donor community interventions.
The Van Vollenhoven Institute (VVI) of Leiden University and The Asia Foundation (TAF) have provided a significant contribute to address this specific problem. With the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, through NWO-WOTRO and the Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law, the VVI and TAF conducted a 6 months research project with the objective of providing the key stakeholders of the Timorese land sector with relevant information for evidence-based land policy and advocacy. The research project consisted in the development of a land-related questionnaire through a participatory approach, and its implementation through a survey conducted in 3 municipalities, followed by the analysis of the information collected.
This report summarises and analyses the main findings of 1152 interviews to households’ representatives, looking at topics such as characteristics of current land tenure, access to land, tenure security, and land related disputes. The results of the survey coincided with the ongoing debate of three key laws by the Timorese Parliament: the Land Law, the Expropriation Law, and the Spatial Development law. Considering the relevance of some of the findings, the VVI and TAF are hopeful that their research will have a significant impact in the policies that will be incorporated in these laws.