Subject: COHRE: Housing Rights Ignored in the Reconstruction of East Timor

Press Release: Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions

4 December, 2000. Housing Rights Ignored in the Reconstruction of East Timor: A Serious Threat to Long-Term Stability and Development

The United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) and local Timorese political institutions have so far failed to adequately address the national housing crisis affecting the world's newest country. This neglect threatens East Timor's future stability and could negatively effect the nation's long-term development, says a report released today by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE).

Reiterating that housing is a basic human right, the report urges all political institutions in East Timor - international and national alike - to take immediate steps to tackle the severe denial of the housing rights of the homeless and destitute majority of the world's newest country.

Indonesian-backed militia forces destroyed over 80 percent of East Timor's housing stock in September 1999, following the massive vote in support for independence. Although the housing crisis remains one of the largest challenges facing the nation, UNTAET has yet to adopt a housing policy, allocate sufficient funds or to appoint officials responsible for national housing reconstruction or the implementation of housing rights, despite the clear legal mandate given UNTAET by the Security Council to protect and promote human rights.

As a result, the majority of East Timorese continue to live in housing that falls far short of internationally recognised standards of adequacy.

The report argues that the protection and promotion of housing rights should always form a central function of any UN governing institution. In East Timor this is not happening, and unless current policy changes, the same mistakes on housing and land committed by the UN in Cambodia, Kosovo and elsewhere will be repeated; leading to long-term disputes, instability and mass homelessness.

While the UN is given considerable credit for stabilising East Timor and for accomplishing many important tasks, including some relating to housing such as the provision of emergency shelter kits and continuing work on the allocation of abandoned properties, the report claims that the denial of housing rights continues. Given the massive scale of housing destruction and internal displacement, it would be difficult for the UN to justify its continued refusal to adequately address housing rights concerns, says the COHRE report.

The report reveals that housing was treated by officials as an 'unbudgeted priority'; essential, but not important enough to justify the allocation of sufficient funds.

The report recommends that the UN include a greater policy commitment towards compliance of international housing rights law, provide loan programmes for the poor to re-build their homes and for income generating activities, and convene a National Housing Rights Summit to find ways of addressing the housing problems plaguing East Timor.

Ken Fernandes, COHRE's Asia & Pacific Coordinator, and principal author of the report, said that during COHRE's work in the country it "found the East Timorese people eager to re-build their nation. Sadly there is little or no consultation with communities on housing or other issues that affect their lives by the UN. There are about 174 East Timorese NGOs ready to contribute to the development process, yet they are left out of the decision making process. This is frustrating to all involved."

The COHRE report also questions the approaches of the East Timorese political authorities to date on housing and land issues. It urges Timorese authorities to learn the lessons of failed housing policy models pursued in other Asian countries and to reflect these in the political decisions they take towards ensuring housing rights for all. The report also asserts that the urban and housing policies proposed by the emerging domestic authorities could exacerbate the housing crisis, and that these also fail to adequately address the severe housing rights problems in the country

The right to housing as a major component of human rights is found in a number of UN legal standards, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), both of which state that everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living including adequate housing.

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) is an independent international human rights organisation committed to ensuring the full enjoyment of the human right to adequate housing, with programmes in Asia & the Pacific, Africa and the Americas.

For more information and copies of the report Housing Rights in East Timor: Better Late Than Never please contact: Scott Leckie, COHRE Executive Director, 83 Montbrillant 1202 Geneva, Tel: +41 22 734 10 28, 7341052, 7341057, Email:, web:

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