Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1996)
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation
East Timor Transition Government
Speech to Oxfam
- Community Aid Abroad National Conference
Brisbane, 28-30 September
29th September 2001
Ladies and gentlemen,
The East Timorese people have known much violence in this last quarter of a century. It is estimated that at least 200,000 died between 1975 and 1979 alone. In 1999 a wave of violence and destruction befell our innocent and defenseless people.
But in the 24 years of our own struggle, though effectively abandoned by most of the world, we did not betray the values that actually were our moral sustenance.
We did not allow the injustices that befell us to destroy our own humanity. We did not allow our sadness and anger to turn into hatred towards another people.
We resisted the temptation to manipulate religion in order to win the sympathy of our fellow Christians around the world.
In the course of our struggle we never instigated ethnic hatred and religious bigotry, we never hurl ethnic slurs against those who declared us to be their enemies.
Now we are at peace. There are few places in the world today as peaceful as our country.
Our people went to the polls on August 30th to elect deputies for a Constituent Assembly in complete freedom and tranquility. Then waited patiently and against all pessimistic predictions they received the news of the election results with serenity.
We have no organized crime, no drug cartel, and no terror network has set base on our soil.
However, our new nation is still profoundly traumatized and fragile. The peace that we are living needs to be nurtured and consolidated.
Our people have shown great tolerance and compassion against fellow East Timorese who were on the other side of the fence. We harbor no hatred towards those who harmed us and called us their enemy.
Just two weeks ago, we did not hesitate to offer our poor land as temporary asylum for the 400 or so Tampa refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan who were stranded in dangerous seas.
We are a destitute people, extremely poor in material possession. But our people have a great heart.
Our Constituent Assembly is now working towards the adoption our first Constitution. Independence should occur in the first semester of 2002 after presidential elections scheduled for sometime between April and May.
A new transitional government is now in place comprising exclusively of East Timorese Ministers. and is headed by Dr. Mari Alkatiri, an old colleague and friend.
He traces his ancestry to Yemen from where his great grand parents came to East Timor. He is a devout Muslim married to a Catholic woman, Marina Ribeiro.
East Timor is a country with a 98% Catholic majority. Muslims are a few hundred and Protestants number about 50,000. Yet a Muslim leads our first elected government.
I don’t know whether there is any other Catholic nation in the world with similar experience or whether there is a Muslim nation with a Catholic as Prime Minister. Maybe there is.
The point I want to make is that as a Catholic I am proud to serve under a Muslim brother and I am even more proud that our people have accepted this as absolutely natural.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
We must all stand together against international terrorism and organized crime. We must stand together against injustice, economic inequality, and unfair trade practices. We must stand together against poverty.
Let me turn now to another subject more related to the theme that was proposed to me by Jeremy Hobs.
On the eve of the G8 meeting in Genoa in late July I was asked by the La Times Syndicated opinion editor to write something in relation to the meeting. Here are some points of that opinion piece that appeared in some newspapers around the world at the time.
The world’s economy is many times larger than it was only 50 years ago. Particularly in the Northern countries that have the greatest concentration of personal wealth, the quality of life has improved dramatically. Mind-boggling advances have occurred in vast fields of human endeavor, from genetics to computers. Human beings have walked on the moon; Mars is being studied at ever-closer range.
Yet the same human intelligence that has produced such advances seems so far unable to eliminate extreme poverty or tropical diseases such as malaria and cannot provide clean water to hundreds of millions in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
And the gap between the rich and poor has grown, not diminished. Hundreds of millions survive on less than $1 a day; children walk miles togo to school, if at all, or to fetch firewood and water for the household. Child labor, prostitution and sex slavery are rampant in the impoverished societies.
In their pursuit of ever greater wealth, weapons producing countries aggressively push arms exports to developingcountries that cannot even afford to provide clean water to most of their people, fueling local, often ethnic, conflicts.
Do we have some answers to this challenge from the dark side of the human condition?
There is no dispute that abject poverty; child labor and prostitution are a moral indictment of all humanity.
However, poverty should not only touch our conscience: It is also a matter of peace and security because it destabilizes entire countries and regions. In turnit threatens the integration of the global economy that is vital if the rich are to stay rich or if the poor are to move up, if only an inch.
Peace will be illusory as long the rich ignore the clamor of the poor for a better life, as long as hundreds of millions of people live below the poverty line, cannot afford a meal a day, do not have access to clean water and a roof.
One need not be original to propose some key elements of a solution to these problems, as those more enlightened than I have.
Drawing on the ideas already in circulation, here is the agenda I propose:
Debt cancellation. The G8, European Union and World Bank should lead the initiative in writing off the entire public sector debt of all non-oil producing countries whose per capita income is less than US$1,000.
In addition, a special fund should be established with the World Bank and the United Nations Development Agency (UNDP) to assist these countries in improving governance and generating employment for the poorest.
Other highly indebted countries (for instance Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, and Mexico) should also benefit from a special debt relief package of up to half of their public sector debt if the proceeds are aimed at poverty reduction and education.
For all cases there must be strict conditionality involving reduction in defense expenditures, democratic reforms (including of the security forces) good governance and accountability, and allocation of saved resources to eradicating poverty.
Debt cancellation or debt relief can be phased-in in tandem with the reform policies being adopted and implemented by the targeted country.
Increase Overseas Development Assistance. All rich countries should increase the percentage of their ODA within the next ten years to the UN recommended 0.8% of GDP. Perhaps on a dollar for dollar basis where applicable, such aid could match reduction in military expenditures associated with debt relief.
Improve market access. Following the example set by the European Union, the US, Canada and Japan should open up their markets for goods from the HIC (highly indebted countries) and ease some of the stringent quality control and quarantine rules that make it impossible for the poorest countries to export their goods and commodities.
In fact, for every $1 provided through aid and debt relief, developing countries lose another $14 as a consequence of protectionist barriers in the rich world.
Interesting to note that the animal and agriculture goods produced by the rich countries leave a lot to be desired in terms of quality.
The “Mad Cow” and the “Foot and Mouse” diseases are only two of the most publicized cases that cloud the integrity of the claims of the Europeans in regard to quality control.
José Ramos-Horta Updated Sep 22
* Dr Jose Ramos-Horta is an internationally-renowned spokesperson for the East Timorese cause. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for “sustained efforts to hinder the oppression of small people”.
* Dr Ramos-Horta has been a dynamic and determined advocate for a free and independent East Timor. From 1976 until 1989, he was the permanent representative of the Frente Revolucionaria de Timor Leste Independente (FRETILIN) at the United Nations. He currently holds the position of Senior Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in the United Nations appointed, all East Timorese, second transitional cabinet of East Timor.
Aid Abroad - Oxfam Australia Updated Feb 17
CAA is an independent, Australian, secular and voluntary community-based organisation that brings together people from diverse backgrounds, beliefs and cultures in order to build a fairer world. Community Aid Abroad merged with the Australian Freedom From Hunger Campaign in 1992, and the combined organisation is the Australian member of Oxfam International.
CAA's work in East Timor includes rehabilitation of urban water supply systems; health promotion; capacity building with Timorese groups involved in environmental health activities, as well as other local community groups undertaking activities ranging from women's collectives, to human rights, and carpentry and other start-up ventures.
Homepage: http://www.caa.org.au/ ETimor Webpage: http://www.caa.org.au/world/asia/east_timor/index.html
BD: Financing Reconstruction in East Timor / Fundu Ba Rekonstrusaun Timor Loro Sa’e / Bantu uang: Rékonstruksi - A collection of recent reports and articles