Land Rights in Peacebuilding Discourse: Domination and Resistance in Timor Leste’s Ita Nia Rai Programme

Mr Maxim Mancino1, Dr Srinjoy Bose1

1University of New South Wales, Sydney, Sydney, Australia

The development of land rights programmes are deeply rooted in power relations. Using discourse analysis, this paper unpacks how preferences for certain programme designs reflect Western logics regarding ‘best practices’ for property rights institutions and tenure (in)security. In doing so, it interrogates the ontological positions that impact the design, scope, effectiveness, and sustainability of programs. In 2017 the Government of Timor-Leste passed the controversial Land Law Package. These laws were initially developed for a USAID land reform programme. But local dynamics, actions, and interests were ignored. Examining civil society exclusion from decision-making infers a reluctance to acknowledge local voices and practices that threatened liberal peacebuilding interests. The paper is organized into two sections. First, it provides the contextual framework for arguing how ideas of land rights are constructed and contested in Timor Leste, focusing on how dominant Western narratives create conceptual boundaries to restrict the recognition of indigenous ideas as legitimate and thus allowed to materialize. It then investigates how Western ontological positions contribute to the creation of boundaries to local participation, which contradicts liberal narratives of empowerment and capacity-building. Second, the paper focuses on civil society efforts to improve the programme through acts of resistance to bodies of authority.


Mr Maxim Mancino is an Honours student enrolled in the International Relations programme at UNSW, and recently completed a dual degree in Social Sciences and Commerce. Max researches topics in land rights, has volunteered at Refugee Advice Casework Service, and is currently working at a social justice pro-bono law firm.

Dr Srinjoy Bose is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations and researches topics in critical peace & security studies, with a focus on political order and violence, international intervention, state formation, democratisation, and the political economy of statebuilding and peacebuilding in ‘fragile’ and deeply divided states and societies.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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