Ba Distrito Launches Research Report on Community Dispute Resolution

Tuesday, November 29, 2016
USAID's Ba Distrito
USAID's Ba Distrito

USAID’s Ba Distrito project today launched a research report about community level dispute resolution in Timor-Leste, examining the methods and procedures used, and the impact it has on the community’s access to justice. The report was launched at Hotel Ramelau in Aimutin, Dili. 

Specifically, the Access to Justice Brief: Community Dispute Resolution in Timor Leste – A Legal and Human Rights Analysis, written by Ms. Megan Hirst, a lawyer specializing in international criminal law and international human rights law, examines the types of community level dispute resolution procedures and makes recommendations about how they can be better utilized to increase access to justice, as well as highlighting the limitations and human rights impacts of some local justice procedures, such as those dealing with violations of tara bandu. 

Ba Distrito, which is generously supported by the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and implemented by Counterpart International, together with local implementing partner Belun, conducted the research in 100 sucos in Baucau, Covalima, Ermera, Liquiҫa and Oecusse, and gathered information from civil society, government, court monitoring statistics, and interviews with key actors working in the field. 

Mr. Raymund Johansen, USAID’s Director of Office of General Development stated, “USAID is committed to supporting the Government of Timor-Leste’s Strategic Plan 2011-2030 and its vision for a ‘nation that recognizes the rule of law and provides access to justice for all citizens,’ including support for the establishment of effective alternative dispute mechanisms.” 

One of the purposes of the research and the ensuing report is to contribute to the ongoing discussions and plans of the Government of Timor-Leste to develop a legislative framework for customary justice, including community level dispute resolution, in order to regulate its practice and application.  

Some of the key findings outlined in the report include concerns around impartiality of community level dispute resolution, the fact that it may prevent access to the formal justice system, and questionable compliance with the law and international human rights standards in some local procedures such as those concerning violations of tara bandu.

The report acknowledges that the plural justice system of Timor-Leste is practical, and could be more effective if community leaders who are involved in community dispute resolution were made more aware of the scope of their dispute resolution powers and principles to apply when resolving disputes.

The report also identifies opportunities to better utilize community-level dispute resolution, particularly for mediating in civil claims and semi-public crimes, which are otherwise often conciliated in the formal justice system, which would relieve the burden of cases on the district courts.

“This report shows new insights into community level dispute resolution in Timor-Leste, which traditionally has been hard to research due to various reasons including the variety of approaches and procedures that exist, and the lack of record-keeping about mediation of local matters and disputes,” said Ms. Carolyn Tanner from Counterpart International, Chief of Party for the Ba Distrito project.

“The findings in this report can be used by a range of stakeholders, such as police, legal experts, the courts, government and non-government organizations to shape the delivery of programs and services in the future,” Ms. Tanner said.