issue 318 - November 1999
East Timorese Nobel Peace Prize Winner José Ramos Horta
issues a heartfelt plea on behalf of his native country.
On 30 August I was in Australia with many native East Timorese from around the world. We had all gathered to wait for the results of the vote on the future of East Timor after many hundred of years of Portuguese colonial rule and 23 years of Indonesian occupation.
I was following the news; there was tremendous media coverage – over 100 journalists had been covering live, 24 hours, the democratic exercise. And we saw thousands and thousands of East Timorese, hundreds hungry and illiterate, emerging from the forests, coming out of their homes, walking for hours on end, barefoot, towards the United Nations ballot where they queued up for hours. By the end of the day almost 100 per cent of eligible voters had cast their ballot in a beautiful example of courage and democracy.
Despite all the violence for weeks, that day almost all the eligible voters had gone to vote. It was the greatest joy of my life – to see how the people knew their rights; how they knew the meaning and implication of that particular vote. The future of their country was in their hands.
Almost 80 per cent voted for independence – in spite of the terror. However the moment of triumph, that triumph of courage and democracy, was soon soaked in blood. The Indonesian army and all the people in the Special Forces – the two most bloody, most violent, most arrogant factions of the Indonesian military – orchestrated this campaign of destruction.
I had warned about this happening. I had written to the Secretary General about this potential for violence.
What’s most frustrating is how the media keeps reporting that this is militia violence. More than half of the militias’ personnel are not even natives of East Timor. They are groups from outside – frustrated, unemployed, marginalized elements of society who have been prepared and organized by the Indonesian army. The East Timorese who have joined the militias have done so because it was a way for them to save their lives. But to prove their loyalty to Indonesia those East Timorese who have joined the militias have often been forced to kill their own families.
I was on the phone a few hours ago with contacts who remain in East Timor. What they have seen there is unbelievable. Villages have been burned to the ground. There are over 200,000 internally displaced persons wandering around the countryside. There have been over 200,000 people who have been actively removed from their homes and taken against their will to Indonesia.
Fortunately the pictures that have come back from this conflict have shaken the world. What can the world community do? First and foremost we are extremely worried about the tens of thousands of people who are out of food. The country is thoroughly destroyed; it reminds me of pictures of World War Two, in Dresden or London.
I urge each of you to call upon your respective governments to stop sending weapons to Indonesia and all dictatorships around the world. I urge each of you to call on your governments to open a war crimes tribunal on Indonesia. We do not want revenge. We just want those who are guilty of war crimes against humanity to be brought to justice. For the sake of those who were murdered. For the sake of those were burnt to death in their houses. All over the world, we must strive to bring to justice those Indonesian ministers and political leaders who for the past 23 years have executed this crime against a small nation.
I would like to thank everyone, on behalf of East Timor, for bearing the torch that now guides us. It is the flame that we will follow to the first stage of our independence. We will not be crushed. We will prevail and rebuild our country from ashes.
José Ramos Horta
This statement was first made to a conference, ‘Awakening: inspiring a radical shift in our thinking, values and lifestyles’ organized by World Voices, a coalition of young people who have come together from countries around the world.
For more information see: www.worldvoices.org/
ACTION for East Timor
Support peace and reconstruction in East Timor. Contact the following organizations:
Free Timor Coalition Campaign Office,
Campaign for an Independent East Timor,
Urgent Appeal: Mèdecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders has sent staff to West Timor to help the refugees. They want to send more staff and medical supplies to Timorese in the West and East.
Parliamentarians for East Timor (PET)
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