The path to Timorese independence: Dr Jose Ramos-Horta joins Peace Boat (2018)
On March 20, 2018, Peace Boat had the privilege of hosting a presentation by former President of Timor-Leste and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. José Ramos-Horta. Dr. Ramos-Horta joined the 97th Asian Voyage from Dili to Bali, and participants were eager to hear about his crucial role in helping Timor-Leste achieve its sovereignty after their own visit to the country on the previous day.
Dr. Ramos-Horta was born in Dili in 1949, only 4 years after Portugal regained control of Timor-Leste following Japanese occupation during the Second World War. On November 28, 1975, the country finally declared its independence, but this was short-lived: it was invaded and occupied only nine days later by the Indonesian military. 26-year old Dr. Ramos-Horta was exiled to the west, where he advocated for the independence of his country while studying public international law, peace studies, and human rights, as well as achieving fluency in five languages. In 1996, Dr. Ramos-Horta and Timorese Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their work toward a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor."
In his presentation onboard Peace Boat, Dr. Ramos-Horta told participants that he returned to Timor-Leste following a referendum for its independence in 1999. Under the auspices of the United Nations, Timor-Leste declared full sovereignty on May 20, 2002, becoming the first new sovereign state of the 21st century. Dr. Ramos-Horta served as the country's first Minister of Foreign Affairs, briefly as its Prime Minister, and finally as its President beginning in 2007. He has served special positions within the United Nations, including Chair of the High-level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations.
Throughout Dr. Ramos-Horta's presentation on Peace Boat, he stressed the importance of patience and determination in the pursuit of peace. "I pay tribute to those who founded Peace Boat and have continued on this journey to bring peace and harmony around the world," he said. He also warned against the temptation to see aggression as collective rather than as the actions of individuals: throughout the Indonesian occupation, he and other leaders of the resistance movement called on the East Timorese to separate non-violent Indonesians from the actions of their military. "That is why peace became possible after the occupation ended," said Dr. Ramos-Horta, who drew a parallel between his own country's peacebuilding efforts and those of post-apartheid South Africa under through the support of Nelson Mandela.
The country continues to rebuild itself through the development of internal infrastructure and education, and the fostering of strong international relationships. Central to this is the reinforcement of its bond with Indonesia, which he believes requires a willingness to forgive. "You can't tell someone to forget, but you can tell them not to hate," said Dr. Ramos-Horta to a burst of spontaneous applause. "We can't allow ourselves to be held hostage by the injustices of the past. When we offered our hand of friendship to Indonesia, they turned around and accepted it."