Timor-Leste: A new Peace House opens in the Ermera district
March 8, 2013
Previously referred to as distritu manas, or “hot district”, due to violent confrontations that have frequently arisen from land disputes and conflicts between martial arts groups, the Ermera district of Timor-Leste now has its very own Peace House. This Peace House, which was officially inaugurated today in the presence of Timorese President Taur Matan Ruak and several members of the government, will provide a safe and neutral space for community dialogue and reconciliation.
Investing in local peace infrastructure
“The struggle to consolidate peace in Timor-Leste is not yet won. There is still a great need for the continuation of investment in local peace infrastructure countrywide, such as the Ermera Peace House,” shares João Boavida, Executive Director of Interpeace’s local partner, the Centre of Studies for Peace and Development (CEPAD). During the last two years, CEPAD has already set up three Peace Houses in different districts throughout Timor-Leste with the support of the Australian organizations The Charitable Foundation and the Global Development Group. The discussion and conflict resolution solutions offered by the Peace Houses have already contributed to a reduction in the reported number of conflicts in Peace House areas.
Beyond simply providing a physical venue for peaceful discussion and community engagement, the Peace Houses also constitute a powerful and legitimate peace- and statebuilding mechanism, founded on local tradition. As João explains, “the Ermera Peace House, like its existing equivalents in the Baucau, Aileu and Bobonaro districts, will work to facilitate local community dialogue by building on what has already been accomplished. This makes for a relatively simple, yet highly effective solution for reducing the recurrence of conflict.”
Engaging all groups
Construction of the Ermera Peace House, which is centrally located in the town of Gleno next to the District Youth Centre, began on the symbolic date of 21 September 2012, the International Day of Peace. The idea of establishing Peace Houses initially arose from requests by local citizens, who wanted a community meeting place. Now it is hoped that this new Peace House will also encourage youth to become more involved in community dialogue.
For actors from all sectors of society ranging from individuals to interest groups, organizations and political parties, the existing Peace Houses have become hubs for peacebuilding activity and central venues for community meetings and events. These include reconciliation and mediation dialogues, but also training sessions, awareness campaigns or political debates between election candidates. Whatever the subject or the occasion, the Peace Houses allow all citizens to voice their opinion, on an equal footing, about the challenges the country is facing.
The inauguration ceremony of the Ermera Peace House was attended by several key stakeholders, including Timorese President Taur Matan Ruak, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Public Works, the Vice Minister of Social Solidarity, the Secretary of State for Local Development and the Secretary of State for Environment, demonstrating the strong government support for the project. Traditional leaders (known as lia nain) and veterans from the restistance were also among the attendance, as well as representatives of international and national civil society organizations, including Peder Pedersen and Deborah Killelea from The Charitable Foundation.