Dili – Timor-Leste

Dili is the small coastal capital of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste based around a port and open bay facing north directly out to Ataúro Island, which in turn sits between two Indonesian islands of Wetar and Alor. Dili became the capital of Portuguese Timor in 1769. In 1912 a treaty between the Portuguese and the Dutch consolidated the territories so that the Portuguese controlled the eastern end of Timor, and the Dutch the west with the exception of the Oecusse Exclave. Following Japanese occupation during World War II, the Portuguese resumed their control of the territory and continued their rule up until the early 1970s. In 1974, the Portuguese finally began to withdraw from Timor, leaving behind the colonial infrastructure in Dili and in turn creating more space for a growing nationalist movement to mobilize for national independence.

Following a short civil war between contending political groupings in 1975, the Indonesian military commenced attacks along the border over the following months and then launched a full-scale invasion. The Indonesian military quickly consolidated military control over Dili. By 1999 the attempt to integrate the territory into the nation of Indonesia as its twenty-seventh province had completely failed, the violent withdrawal of the armed forces and militia in 1999 left much of the material infrastructure of Dili destroyed and emptied almost entirely of its population. More than ten years on, the destruction of that time remains clearly evident in various parts of the capital; ruined buildings remain dotted across the city and basic infrastructure, such as water and electricity, remains limited.

From 1999 to 2002 Timor-Leste was governed by the United Nations Transitional Authority for East Timor, and Dili—with the most developed port and a still operational airport—again became the site of power. The capital took a newly militarized veneer with UN peacekeepers from various countries based there, accompanied by a massive number of foreigners.

The impacts on Dili of Timor-Leste becoming an independent nation-state have been dramatic. While long the centre for economic and political power in the eastern end of the island, the differences between the capital and the rural areas have becoming increasingly differentiated. Rural areas remain highly isolated and continue to be dominated by subsistence agriculture. While public infrastructure—running water and electricity, communication networks, adequate roads and transport, schooling and health—is often limited in Dili, rural areas are marked by their almost complete absence of such services. The distinction between the centre and the periphery is found in everyday discourse in Timor-Leste, where it is the norm for people to speak in oppositional terms about Dili and the foho (literally meaning mountain but used to refer to non-urban communities). The city often has the sense of being a metropolitan bubble which is separated in significant ways, both culturally and materially, from the remainder of the nation.

Numerous major projects have been conducted in Dili and across Timor-Leste by the Timor group linked to the Human Security and Global Indigeneity programs, with comparative research undertaken in Fatumean (Covalima district), Luro (Lautem district), Venilale (Baucau district), and Kampung Baru (Dili district). The Global Cities Institute has been working with Irish Aid, Oxfam Australia, Concern Worldwide, and the Office for the Promotion of Equality (now known as the Secretariat of State for the Promotion of Equality), Prime Minister’s Office, Timor-Leste. The work of the Global Cities Institute in Dili is lead by Damian Grenfell.

After the violence: truth, reconciliation and national integration in Timor-Leste

With the closure of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR) and the dissemination of its findings across 2006, this project examines the impact of CAVR on national integration.

Climate changes: Australian forces abroad

This project involves two distinct sub-projects run by Richard Tanter and Peter Hayes. 1. Australian Forces Abroad Briefing Books prepared by Nautilus Institute at RMIT with support from the Human Security Program. The Australian Forces Abroad Briefing book series draws together existing knowledge concerning ADF and AFP deployments on missions outside of Australia, with the aim of creating a pool of common knowledge which will assist both the Australian community and those communities in which ADF and AFP forces are deployed to assess Australian government policy and its impact. 2. NI-GCI CCAP project on climate change and security and Australia-Indonesia relations.

Gender and contemporary East Timorese social relations: meanings, importance and possibilities

This project seeks to understand the importance of gender in contemporary East Timorese social relations.

Human security and the Asia-Pacific

This project examines the most critical and pervasive threats to the vital core of all human lives in key cities and communities across Australia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea. Through site specific research it seeks to understand not only the nature, source and impact of human security threats in these communities, but also local, national and international sources of recovery and resilience in the region. Findings from each of the sites were presented and developed through the 2008 Human Security seminar series.

Impacts of NGO national gender programming in local communities in Timor-Leste

Working with four East Timorese NGOs in order to collaboratively research and evaluate the impacts of their NGO gender programming in local communities in Timor-Leste.

Land, power and change: globalization and customary land tenures in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste

Employing a methodology which draws upon both social theory and ethnography, with empirical research in three countries in the Pacific region — Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste — the research addresses itself to the following question: In conditions of globalization, how are systems of customary land usage and tenure in the three countries under consideration being transformed, and with what effect on structures and relationships of power?

Nation-building across the urban and rural in Timor-Leste

In July 2009, RMIT University coordinated an international conference held in Dili, Timor-Leste. This conference brought people from across Timor-Leste together with those working at national and international levels to discuss issues related to nation-building in Timor-Leste.

The NGO-military interface in post-conflict and post-disaster contexts

This project examines the interaction, cooperation and coordination between the Australian military and NGOs.