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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste’s constitution contains provisions for the protection of the environment. Article 61 reads:

  • All have the right to a humane, healthy, and ecologically balanced environment and the duty to protect it and improve it for the benefit of the future generations.
  • The State recognizes the need to preserve and rationalize natural resources.
  • The State shall promote actions aimed at protecting the environment and safeguarding the sustainable development of the economy.
  • Featured Legislation

    2004: Law No. 12/2004 was passed. This Law, consisting of 12 articles, rules on Crimes Relating to Fisheries, with a view to putting an end to criminal practices that threaten marine ecosystems and their living resources, controlling and eliminating the illegal exploitation of such resources. In particular, it regulates the crime of using explosives or toxic substances in fishing, the crime of damage to aquatic resources, the crime of illegal fishing, the crime of disobedience, the loss of property in favor of the State, the criminal liability of foreigners, the safeguarding of other sanctions, the non-appearance of the presumed offender, the release of vessels and crew after providing security, the return of the security and the jurisdiction of the courts.

    2012: Decree-Law No. 26/2012 was established. This Decree-Law, consisting of 10 Chapters, establishes the Environmental Basic Legislation. It specifies the policy on environment and wildlife protection, including the basic principles for conservation, preservation and sustainable use of natural resources in order to improve the quality of life of the local populations. This Decree-Law applies for all the National territory, in particular for the land surface, internal waters, territorial sea, airspace, as well as for underground waters and Exclusive Economic Zone. The Decree-Law is divided as follows: General provisions (Chap. I); Competent authorities (Chap. II); Instruments and relationship with other sectors (Chap. III); Protection, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources (Chap. IV); Pollution and management of residues (Chap. V); Financial measures and economic instruments (Chap. VI); Information and environmental education (Chap. VII); Controls, emergency, civil responsibility insurance (Chap. VIII); Responsibility and jurisdictional guarantee (Chap. IX); Final provisions (Chap. X).

    2012: Decree-Law No. 36/2012 was approved. This Decree-Law, consisting of 5 Chapters, regulates import and export of any hazardous substance which may damage the ozone layer. It establishes the requirements to be satisfied in order to benefit from an authorization to import or export any substances which may damage the ozone layer, according to the Vienna Convention on the Ozone Layer Protection.

    2014: Decree-Law No. 12/2014 was instituted. This Decree-Law, consisting of 5 Chapters, establishes the restriction of movement in urban areas and their suburbs for released animals of various species, including bovine, buffalo, swine, sheep, goats, equine, canine and birds. Its basic objectives are: to preserve hygienic condition in urban and suburban areas, to protect public health and the environment, as well as to prevent and minimize any damage caused by released animals. This Decree-Law is divided as follows: General provisions (Chap. I); Control over animals (Chap. II); Animal owners (Chap. III); Offences and penalties (Chap. IV); and Transitional and final provisions (Chap. V).

    2016: Decree-Law No. 5/2016 was created. This Decree-Law, consisting of 55 articles divided into nine Chapters and one Annex, establishes the legal regime applicable to the creation and management of the National System of Protected Areas (SNAP). The legal regime established in this Decree-law is applicable to all national territory and waters under national jurisdiction, subject to the application of special regimes, regulated by international legislation. The State shall establish the SNAP with the following objectives: a) to protect designated areas representing all ecosystems and critical habitats for endemic species, for migratory species or other species protected by law; b) implement an ecosystem approach and ensure that ecosystems continue to provide the necessary services on which human well-being depends; c) ensure the resilience and capacity of protected areas and underlying ecosystems in mitigating and adapting natural and man-made pressures, including climate change. The Annex lays down the List of Terrestrial and Marine Protected Areas.

    2017: Law No. 14/2017 was ratified. This Law, consisting of 48 articles divided into four Chapters, defines the fundamental principles and standards for the management, protection, conservation and sustainable use of forestry and river basin resources, within the framework of a rational and integrated administration. It aims to respond to the needs of the communities that use the forests for their livelihood and prosperity, as well as promoting sustainable development. The Law applies throughout the national territory to all persons governed by public or private law, whether natural or legal entities. The main objectives of the definition of fundamental principles and norms related to the management, protection, conservation and sustainable use of forestry and river basin resources are: a) Forest protection and nature conservation; b) Conservation of river basins; c) afforestation and reclamation of soils; d) Community participation for forestry development; e) Institutional development of the forestry sector; f) Creation of favorable conditions for the development of the private sector.

    2020: Decree-Law No. 6/2020 was enacted. This Decree-Law defines the legal framework for the protection and conservation of biodiversity, completing the provisions of the National System of Protected Areas, approved by Decree-Law No. 5/2016 of 16 March and implementing the Basic Law for the Environment, approved by Decree-Law No. 26/2012 of 4 July, in which the State expressly mandates the adoption of necessary measures for the protection and conservation of species, habitats and ecosystems. It is applicable to existing biodiversity in national territory and in waters under national jurisdiction, namely the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf; as well as to all processes and activities carried out under the jurisdiction and control of East Timor with direct or indirect effects on biodiversity. It aims to promote the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of its resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits generated from genetic resources, as fundamental bases for family subsistence, food security and well-being for current and future generations. It regulates the competent entities, planning and monitoring, in situ conservation and protection of ecosystems, habitats and species, threats to biodiversity, genetic resources and traditional knowledge, environmental assessment, scientific research, information and communication, the instruments and economic incentives and the inspection and resolution of disputes, and establishing the sanctioning regime.

    Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

    • Timor-Leste has ignored a suite of environmental laws, leading to the construction of a petroleum infrastructure project which could mean serious problems for communities including environmental destruction, loss of land, and loss of livelihoods. For the most part, said projects have not fulfilled their legal obligations to do extensive environmental research and planning to mitigate any damage to the local environment. Principles of free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) have been violated because multinationals have also failed to meaningfully involve local communities, including interested experts, academics, and civil society groups, in this process. According to national laws, no large-scale project should be started until this process is completed; however, implementation of these laws has been extremely limited. Timor-Leste has faced various, serious challenges in the process on its march to modernization. According to the Tasi Mane project, Timor-Leste’s development strategy aims to build a corridor for petroleum infrastructure and industry, boasting a multi-year development of three industrial clusters on the south coast which will form the backbone of the Timor-Leste petroleum industry. This has led to many communities losing ancestral lands, which has subsequently been taken over by the government. This loss of agricultural land has led to food insecurity and environmental injustices. For example, during the preliminary phase of the project, gas line explosions have taken the lives of hundreds of residents. Toxic pollution of soil and water has also destroyed agricultural production, killing numerous species of animals. To ensure the project does not harm the environment further, a movement of civil society groups and NGOs is forming to pressure the government and project proponents to carry out best practices related to environmental protections and implementation of Timor-Leste’s environmental laws.

    References and Further Reading


    Secretary of State for the Environment: carlosximenes466@gmail.com