Washington International Law Journal


Like many post-conflict countries, Timor-Leste grapples with land conflicts that resulted from successive waves of property dispossession. Colonized by the Portuguese, invaded and occupied by the Indonesians, and briefly administered by the United Nations, Timor-Leste’s history has produced disjointed patterns of land tenure. These land tenure systems have given rise to five separate categories of land claimants, each of whom often have conflicting interests in property. While the newly independent country has taken steps to resolve conflicting land claims through legislation, existing law does not address the longstanding tensions underlying these conflicts, making it difficult for the courts to reach durable solutions for property disputants. Applying the doctrine of adverse possession would help resolve these disputes. Relying on this doctrine would reduce strain on the judicial system by delineating a clear standard for determining which claimants have lawful rights to land. Furthermore, reliance on this doctrine would positively impact the economic and social stability of this developing country, helping to create an environment that fosters further economic growth. While the doctrine of adverse possession would not wholly eradicate land dispute issues in Timor-Leste, it has the potential to significantly improve the current situation.

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