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Press statement of the Representative of the Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons on his working visit to Timor Leste


12 December 2008, Dili

“At a time when many of Timor-Leste’s IDPs have been able to return home, it is crucial that this success not be seen as the conclusion but rather a milestone in the process of supporting durable solutions for the internally displaced. Whether these returns are sufficiently supported to be sustainable, and whether solutions are found for those who are unable to return, will be important indicators of whether Timor-Leste will be able to finally end the cycle of violence and displacement that have marked its history since 1975.” This is the key conclusion of the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kälin, at the end of a six-day working visit to the country.

“As a young state, Timor-Leste must be recognized for its commitment to and achievements in protecting and assisting IDPs,” the Representative said. He acknowledged the progress made in closing IDP camps and commended the National Recovery Strategy (NRS) for its holistic response to displacement, which recognizes that recovery for IDPs is not possible without reconciliation, security, housing, access to livelihoods and social protection. By assisting more than 10,000 displaced families, it is clear that the strategy has contributed to improvements in the lives of many IDPs. But the project is not complete, and some of the NRS’s pillars have progressed more than others. “As the Government sets its priorities for 2009, it is essential to maintain a focus on making return and reintegration of IDPs sustainable and to place new emphasis on providing durable solutions to those who cannot return,” the Representative stressed.

The Representative identified three key concerns, which he urges the Government and the international community, acting in support of the Government, to promptly address:

First, after visiting IDPs in return areas in Dili and the districts, and meeting IDPs remaining in camps or in transitional shelters, the Representative expressed concern that the underlying causes of the violence in 2006 have not yet been sufficiently addressed. Many returnees indicated that they felt secure only because of a nearby police presence, and those without a police post indicated this as their top priority. This suggests that more needs to be done to stabilize the communities: community dialogues have opened a path for return, and should be continued and deepened, but meaningful and enduring reconciliation will remain elusive unless impunity for crimes is addressed. At present, the lack of justice for serious crimes undermines the IDPs’ confidence in the state and may pave the way for future violence and displacement.

Unresolved land and property disputes could be another flashpoint for violence and displacement. In the short term, the Government should reinforce efforts to mediate individual disputes and, where solutions cannot be found, should make additional land available for resettlement. In the longer term, moving ahead with the adoption and implementation of a land and property law will provide a legal framework for resolution of disputes. By clarifying the basis of land rights and facilitating access to land for those presently without it, such a law would also reduce potential for further conflict and prevent new displacement.

Second, looking forward, the Representative stressed that the sustainability of the returns would be strengthened by a broader focus, with activities aimed at both returnees’ families and the receiving communities. Communities can be stabilized, and confidence built, by (1) developing the communities’ internal capacity to overcome tensions and conflicts, (2) reinforcing or augmenting basic services and local infrastructure, and (3) promoting economic opportunities and livelihoods. Community-based assessments should identify priority areas for support, looking at the needs not only of IDPs but also of the communities accepting them.

Third, with progress made on the majority of cases, the Representative encouraged renewed attention to the specific needs of particularly vulnerable IDPs. This includes female-headed households and poor families who did not receive recovery packages because they did not own a house or cannot recover their homes. The financial return package has addressed needs of those IDPs who suffered destruction of their homes and can return there. IDPs in other contexts remain with insufficient support. Until alternative solutions are found for them, land must be allocated without further delay for transitional shelters that are already planned and funded.

A continued focus on individual needs and vulnerabilities, on stabilizing local communities receiving returnees, and on resolving the underlying triggers of violence will significantly contribute to peacebuiling and nationbuilding in Timor-Leste. In this context, a dedicated and public commitment by the political leadership of the country --both in Government and in opposition -- to work together with the common objective of enabling durable solutions for the IDPs, will be a crucial factor for success.

During his visit, the Representative met with members of Government including the Vice-Prime Minister, Minister for Social Solidarity, and the Provedor; the Secretary-General of FRETILIN; the Policia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL); the Special Representative of the Secretary General for the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), UN agencies, and national and international NGOs. In Dili and both Viqueque and Ermera Districts, he visited IDPs, camp and IDP leaders and returnees.

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