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José Ramos-Horta on the Complexities of Nation-Building in East Timor

Jose Ramos Horta (

Jose Ramos Horta ("Migufu"/Flickr)

José Ramos-Horta, the Foreign Minister of East Timor, was a leading figure in the country's liberation movement. Mr Ramos-Horta lived in exile for the duration of the Indonesian occupation, during which time he also served as the Permanent Representative to the UN of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin).

In 1996, Mr Ramos-Horta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with his compatriot, Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo. In granting the prize, the Nobel Committee highlighted their 'sustained efforts to hinder the oppression of a small people', hoping that 'this award will spur efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict of East Timor based on the people's right to self- determination." The Committee considers José Ramos Horta "the leading international spokesman for East Timor's cause since 1975."

Mr Ramos-Horta has been foreign minister since East Timor's independence in 2002.

The East Timor Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) has submitted a 2,500-page report documenting the atrocities that occurred during Indonesia's occupation. According to the mandate under which the report was written, however, its findings will explicitly not lead to prosecution. What interest, then, did the government of East Timor have in such a report?

Well, there are two separate entities: the CAVR, to which you just referred, and the Truth and Friendship Commission. It is the latter, the Truth and Friendship Commission, that does not lead to prosecution.

The CAVR makes recommendations and although they do not lead to prosecution, one of the recommendations of the CAVR has been setting up an international tribunal.

So could you clarify which report was presented by your president to the United Nations?

The first one, the CAVR.

Is this the same report that was criticized for not having enough of a capacity to prosecute?

No, it is not the CAVR. The second one, the joint Truth and Friendship Commission, which we started now with Indonesia, that is the one that has been criticized; its terms of reference call for providing amnesty for those who cooperate in telling the truth. It does not lead to prosecution.

The terms of reference of this one have nothing to do with the CAVR.

So can you tell me about the Truth and Friendship Commission? What was the purpose of this body?

The CTF or the Commission for Truth and Friendship, its official name, was established in August 2005 by the two presidents of Indonesia and Timor-Leste. Its aim is telling the truth about the events of 1999, but in a unique way, and it is a joint effort between Indonesia and Timor-Leste. The Commission has five commissioners from each side, plus three alternates, so all together sixteen members, people who are independent from the two governments, who have a lot of integrity, professional competence, and who have credibility in their respective countries. Working together, they will dig out the truth and nothing but the truth about what happened in '99, to assign responsibility, and to look at the institutional failings. The Commission then may recommend amnesty for those who have cooperated in telling the truth, and who apologize and show remorse. So this is the CTF.

What are the contents of the report by the CAVR?

While the CTF deals only with the '99 events, CAVR deals with events going back to 1974, so it covers a period of 24 years.

Among its findings, the CAVR report alleges that napalm and chemical weapons were used by Indonesian soldiers; that "rape, sexual slavery and sexual violence were tools used as part of the campaign designed to inflict a deep experience of terror, powerlessness and hopelessness upon pro-independence supporters"; and that Indonesia's deliberate policy of starvation could have cost the lives of between 84,000 and 183,000 people between 1975 and 1999. You have said the report was "very accurate". What kind of compensation do you think the victims of these atrocities should ideally receive?

The East Timorese government does not believe that we should consider compensation for the victims because there are tens of thousands of people who were, in one way or another, affected by the violence either directly or indirectly. There are those who died by the thousands and those who are still considered "disappeared." It would be a mind-boggling endeavor to try to identify each individual who claims to have been a survivor of victimization during this period of 24 years. The East Timorese government rejected some of the recommendations of the Commission report where it called for compensation from a number of countries implicated during the 24-year occupation on the basis that many of the countries who were involved either through direct support to Indonesia or through indifference have all, since 1999, come around and provided significant support to East Timor for the restoration of peace and security, for nation-building, development and so on. How can we now turn around and say that what they have been doing since 1999 -- providing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to the UN peacekeeping operation in East Timor, to reconstruction, relief, and development assistance -- is not enough? How can we say that we still resent their past policies and demand that they pay compensation to the East Timorese?

Such a structure would also raise a number of problems: first of all, which Timorese to pay compensation to? It would open a can of worms in terms of who was really a victim and who was not. Besides, as my president says, when we embarked on the resistance, we did not do so in the expectation that one day we would get compensation from anyone. We embarked on the resistance for our country based on our beliefs and a sense of self-sacrifice. In any case, the international community has redeemed itself by coming around unanimously and deciding in 1999 to end the violence in East Timor and to build up from the ashes a new nation. This is the greatest act of justice, and we thank the international community for that, and we are not going to support the recommendations of our CAVR members in seeking compensation, not even from Indonesia.

Our government, in its legislation, has established mechanisms and funding to support veterans of the resistance, and hopefully, at the next stage as our economy and finances allow, we will create a national solidarity fund to help widows, orphans, and all people who are in need. This is the obligation of our state towards those in need, not only those who were victims of violence in the past, but just anyone who is in need. Orphans whose parents die in a car crash deserve equal attention, do they not? They do. A Timorese woman who has recently been a victim of rape by our own people, would she not be entitled to assistance like those Timorese women who were victims of rape by the Indonesian soldiers? So that is our approach.

Could you explain the terms of the treaty that East Timor has signed with Australia regarding energy resources from the Timor Sea? Would you say that revenue allocation, as outlined in the treaty, is equitable? Do you anticipate any change in these terms in the future?

On 12 January 2005, after almost three years of negotiations, where the two sides continued to proclaim their own sovereign claims on a maritime boundary, and being unable to resolve the differences, we decided: (i) to defer the resolution of the maritime boundary for 50 years; and (ii) to have a 50/50 per cent share of the resources in the Greater Sunrise area. Greater Sunrise is one of the richest gas fields in the entire Asia Pacific region. We believe that this is a win/win proposition, and now our parliament will ratify this agreement, and then I hope the oil companies, particularly Woodside, which is the largest investor, will proceed with the work, and bring the pipeline from Greater Sunrise to East Timor's southern coast.

This is an agreement only between Australia and East Timor?


So the maritime boundary decision has been deferred for 50 years, which means that the terms of the revenue allocation will also not change and therefore, for 50 years, revenues will be split equally between Australia and East Timor?


What other form of revenue generation is the government of East Timor developing?

Besides the agreement, which we celebrated on January 12th in regard to Greater Sunrise, we have an earlier treaty called the Timor Sea Treaty between Australia and East Timor, celebrated in May 2002. In another gas field, Bayu-Undan, we get 90 per cent of the revenues while Australia receives 10 per cent but with the pipeline going to Darwin. So most of the main downstream benefits go to Australia, and we only get 90 per cent of the upstream benefits. From the Bayu-Undan field alone we are already getting substantial revenues in tax and royalties, and these revenues will go further up, maybe to about $200-400 million a year starting in 2007.

We have already significant sums of money in our petroleum fund, a fund created by law that includes all the revenues received from the Timor Sea, and invests in conservative, safe, long-term investment portfolios -- right now in US Treasury Bonds. The government can access these funds but only following approval by the parliament to support our budget requirements and investments in infrastructure development, education, public health, and so on.

There are other possible investment revenues: tourism -- we are in the process of marketing East Timor as a tourist destination. Fisheries. Coffee exports are picking up. We also hope to attract foreign direct investment in the agro-industry sector and in other mining sectors, because we have marble and other minerals on shore, as well as oil and gas on shore.