The dreams shall never die, we must keep the faith, the struggle goes on
Speech marking the 10th anniversary of the United Nations-sponsored “Popular Consultation”
on the status of East Timor on 30th August 1999
H. E. Jose Ramos-Horta
President of the Republic
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1996)
Díli, Timor-Leste, 30th August 2009
The title of my address today was borrowed from the concession speech by a Great American, Sen. Edward Kennedy, when he addressed the Democrat Party Convention in New York on 12th August 1980.
When I began drafting this speech, Sen. Kennedy was still alive courageously battling a brain tumour, his last big battle, this one for his own life. He who had won many battles throughout his rich life could not vanquish the tumour and the giant was defeated.
The US lost one of the most accomplished and prolific legislators, a man of deep convictions, a passionate and committed advocate of the poor, of equal rights and social justice.
The last of the three great Kennedy brothers has departed but his and his brothers’ legacy will continue to inspire millions around the world and I believe the new Kennedy generation will carry on the torch – and the dreams shall never die.
Sen. Ted Kennedy and his son Congressman Patrick Kennedy are counted among Timor-Leste most dedicated friends in the US Congress. To Patrick and the whole Kennedy family, to the American people, I extend a heartfelt message of sorrow and friendship from all of us in Timor-Leste. We are here today, ten years after the historic “Popular Consultation”, to celebrate. And how should we celebrate?
We celebrate, first by remembering those who are not with us, those who lost their lives, in this epic struggle for freedom.
Life, every life, is too precious, and sometimes each of us might ask ourselves is there a cause,
worthy of sacrificing a human life?
What a mother who lost four of her children in this epic struggle will say in the intimacy of her prayers?
In homes, churches, “uma luliks”, “knuas” and cemeteries around the country, mothers are in mourning and reflection, in prayers.
A mother somewhere in the cold mountains of Ramelau might be crying and saying
“I lost my children so that others can live in freedom, so that my country may be free”.
Another mother who lives somewhere in the hot and humid fields of Lore, Lospalos or Natarbora, might be whispering in contained anger
“No, my children should not have died. It was unfair, cruel, what a heavy price to pay for one’s freedom”.
Another mother from Oe-Cussi still might be saying
“What cause can justify taking the lives of my children, so many innocent loved ones?”
The debate, with certainty and doubts, go on and having been going for many generations about life and death, war and peace, about when one should go to the battle front and die or when one must say no even when the arguments for going to war seem very valid.
Should we accept tyranny, enslavement, in order to be alive, even if living in constant fear and humiliation, but living nevertheless?
But what is “living” when one is deprived of freedom and dignity?
Even animals have sentiments, feelings, of pain or happiness. When we desecrate a bird’s nest and steal a bird, the mother cries out.
Grandmothers, mothers, aunties, sisters, strong men, young and old, do cry when a love one passes away no matter the circumstances.
So many young lives were lost, first in a senseless civil war, in August 1975, a war of our own making, the first display of our political leadership immaturity and failure; then as the invasion of our country began and war was raging, our political leaders were able to find time to carry out ideologically cleansing purges; and in the long years that followed many thousands of our loved ones died in this great battle for freedom that ended with our victory in 1999, exactly 10 years ago.
We realized the dream of freedom, our dreams did not die, we kept our hopes, we held on to our faith. But we all paid a heavy price.
In the mountains and valleys of this sacred island, thousands of crosses stand out to remind us of those killed or died of starvation. Many elderly, children and the weak died and were abandoned in the fields. Many thousands have not being buried till this day, as we have not being able to determine where and when they were killed.
I speak of my sister Mariazinha and brothers Nuno and Gui. My sister Mariazinha was the lucky one because when she was killed during an air raid conducted by two US-supplied Bronco aircraft, the humble, simple people of Lolotoe saw her being killed and buried her. But Nuno and Gui were not so fortunate. We still don’t know exactly when, where, how they died. Their bodies rotted somewhere and their souls are still in pain because we have not buried them.
So I speak for all those mothers and fathers, grand parents, brothers and sisters of those whose souls are still wondering in the sacred Matebian and Ramelau mountains awaiting a dignified burial of their body.
Yesterday I presided over the burial of some of our heroes in the Heroes Cemetery in Metinaro, their final resting place.
To them I bow in sadness and love for they must know we have not forgotten them.
We are still awaiting the return of the body of our greatest hero Nicolau Lobato. We have asked our Indonesian brothers and sisters to return the body of our beloved brother Nicolau Lobato who died a hero’s death on New Year’s Eve of 1978.
Following his death in combat, the body was flown to Dili, examined, confirmed to be Nicolau Lobato, and was then taken to, and buried in Indonesia.
In the name of our country and people, in the name of the State, and of the family, I am asking here for the return of the body of Nicolau Lobato.
Almost the entire Central Committee of FRETILIN was decimated by 1979. To all of them I bow in tribute for they are the heroes who initiated this long march to freedom.
We all paid a heavy price for our freedom. The wounds of the body have been sealed but the wounds of the soul, the emotional scars, are still there, deep in our lives that so often flare up and contribute to violence at homes and in the country.
My beloved compatriots,
I have spoken of our beloved ones who died in this epic battle. Now I owe some words for the mothers and fathers of the many young Indonesian soldiers and officers who died in this land. Many are still buried here.
Indonesian mothers, like East Timorese mothers, still mourn the loss of their sons in this tragic war and to these mothers and fathers, from Java to Sumatra, Irian, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Bali and Nusa Tenggara Timur, whose sons and daughters died in our country, I bow in shared sorrow.
I invite them to visit the graves of their sons. Most are poor people who cannot afford such trips but those who wish to make the journey, we will welcome with open arms and facilitate entry.
Our relations with Indonesia are exemplary at both government to government and people to people levels.
Our two countries were locked in a conflict that cost us immensely in every sense. Indonesia is a country of 250 million with a rich civilization, history and diverse culture, and they are rightly a very proud people.
They fought heroically for their own independence from the Dutch and after independence they were torn by wars of secession, some of which were fomented from outside. In 1965-66 the country experienced the worst ever period of violence where hundreds of thousands of people died.
The 1965-66 violence and the invasion of our country can be better understood in the context of the Cold War and the Vietnam War.
The idiocy of the Bolshevik Revolution intoxicated millions of people around the world into believing in the promise of a poor’s man paradise on Earth and then marched to the tune of a proletariat utopia only to discover even greater poverty and tyranny.
How many millions of human beings were sacrificed on the altars of Marxism-Leninism and how many millions more died in the strategic and ideological wars waged between the super-powers for the control of our minds, land and resources?
The 1975 US humiliating retreat from Vietnam and the military and political triumph of the Communists caused real fears throughout Southeast Asia and in the West about an almost inevitable domino effect, a phrase coined by President Lyndon B. Johnson to justify the escalation of American troop deployment to Vietnam. I must add that the fear of a domino effect was not entirely irrational. Soviet and China’s stated strategic goals of expanding communism were clearly articulated and their support for communist forces in Asia confirmed these objectives.
The left-wing Portuguese “Carnation Revolution” in 1974 and communist attempts at wrestling control there only served to cause more fears among our neighbours.
And as a result of these external elements, Indonesia and Timor-Leste became victims of this chapter of the world history.
It took the Indonesian people more than 30 years to free themselves from the Suharto dictatorship. Burdened with Indonesia’s own internal economic collapse and tired of the Timor conflict, President BJ Habibie and the Army accepted to hold the “Popular Consultation” on the future of our country, mediated tirelessly by the United Nations.
I praise and thank former Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his staff for their great patience, perseverance and diplomatic skills in securing a very complex agreement known as the May 5th Agreement.
I must also pay tribute to the two Foreign Ministers, Pak Ali Alatas, of Indonesia, and Jaime Gama of Portugal, for their role in this process. Pak Alatas passed away last year. He was a veteran diplomat, a patriot in the service of his country, a formidable adversary, charming, engaging and with endless energy.
Jaime Gama, today President of the Portuguese National Parliament, is with us. I thank you, Jaime Gama, for his endless patience, serenity in the face of adversity and for your great diplomatic skills.
The State will honour him this afternoon with the Ordem de Timor-Leste together with former Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres, now United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Following the announcement of the result on 4th September the Indonesian leadership accepted the verdict and the army began to withdraw from Timor-Leste. But violence followed, destruction was systematic, widespread.
The facts of the violence by all sides from 1974 to 1999 are detailed in two major reports issued by our national Comissao de Acolhimento, Verdade e Reconciliacao and the bi-national Comissao de Verdade e Amizade.
The historic CTF initiative and the conclusions have been accepted by the leaders of the two countries.
So I will not repeat here the horrors that we all know, and are still very much alive in our mind and spirit.
The CTF process was meant to research the truth, establish responsibilities and finally a closure.
My stated preference, both as a human being, victim and Head of State, is that we, once and for all, close the 1975-1999 chapters of our tragic experience, forgive those who did harm to us.
The greater good, the greater justice, is that we are today free and with this gift from God we must forgive our brothers and sisters and those in the Indonesian army who committed heinous crimes against us.
We are free, in body and spirit, and we are free and clean in the eyes of God. Those who committed crimes are the ones who have to live with these crimes and the ghosts of their victims haunting them for the rest of their lives.
Ten years after the “Popular Consultation” we must put the past behind us. There are some voices at home but primarily abroad in the West calling for an International Tribunal for East Timor.
As the Nation knows, my position is clear and firm on this issue: as an East Timorese and Head of State, as someone who lost brothers and a sister, as someone who almost lost his life, as someone who have crisscrossed this beautiful island of ours in the past 10 years, and know what the vast majority of the people feel and demand today, I am saying let’s put the past behind. There will be no International Tribunal.
If there were to be one, where, how far back, should it investigate, starting in 1975, or it should start in 1999 and then backwards or only 1999? Those who died in the August 1975 Civil War, and in Aileu and Same in December 1975 were lesser human beings? Or an International Tribunal should try only East Timorese militias and Indonesian military and not East Timorese Resistance leaders responsible for crimes in 1975-1977?
While I am respectful of all those in the US and UK who are most insistent on an International Tribunal, I beg to disagree with their simplistic assertion that the absence of prosecutorial justice fosters impunity and violence. Historical evidence challenges these academic jargons.
May I respectfully ask, was there an International Tribunal on the Vietnam War and were those who carpet-bombed Vietnam and Cambodia brought to trial? Is there a culture of impunity in the US or Vietnam as a result?
Was there an International Tribunal on Apartheid? No major Apartheid leader was ever brought to trial. Is there a culture of impunity in South Africa as a result? Is the violence in South Africa a consequence of South Africa’s truth telling and reconciliation process?
Was there an International Tribunal on Mozambique where more than one million people died over a 10-year period from the early 80’s till late 90’s? A Peace Agreement brokered by the Community of Santo Egidio in Rome was signed between the government and the insurgent group responsible for most of the violence ending the 10-year war and the price of peace was that there would be no prosecution of anyone involved in the heinous crimes of the past. This Peace Accord remains in place and Mozambique has been at peace for almost two decades now and experiencing impressive economic growth.
Was there an International Tribunal in Spain to try Franco’s crimes? Is Spain less democratic for fostering reconciliation rather than pursuing a witch-hunt of Franco’s secret services and politicians?
Was there an International Tribunal to judge the Portuguese Salazar regime for the 50 years of abuse and for waging colonial wars in Africa? Is Portugal less democratic and peaceful as a result?
In response to those in the international community who are so heroic and so insistent that I be equally brave fight like Dom Quixote de la Mancha and drag to jail every living person who did harm to us, from Indonesia to Australia to Europe and the USA, I can only say, I have faith that Indonesia progresses on consolidating democracy and rule of law, and that Indonesians will bring to justice those who committed serious crimes in Indonesia and in Timor-Leste from 1975 to 1999.
We will not replace the Indonesians in their own fight for democracy, human rights and justice. No one will. And no one will replace us in our own fight for democracy, human right and justice. Slowly, gradually, steadily justice will prevail.
I call on the United Nations to disband the Serious Crimes Unit and to direct the funds towards strengthening our own judiciary. The tens of millions of dollars spent on the Serious Crime Unit and Panel could have made a greater difference in providing training and resources to our young judiciary.
I give an example of how often the donor community fails to set priorities right. A very diligent, hard-working and competent Brazilian public defender saw his contract recently terminated because a Western donor that was covering his local salary was no longer willing to continue to fund such a critical post. However, the same donors are prepared to spend millions of dollars in funding the serious crimes unit.
In the course of our struggle, many Indonesians, men and women, civilians and military, disregarding their own wellbeing and safety, followed their heart and conscience and supported us. Some are here today and we honour them.
Our history is specially filled with some of the most inspiring examples of international solidarity, from the young and not so young, across this world, many of whom were with us on day one in 1974 till today.
Throughout history, young men and women were sent by political leaders to fight in foreign lands, landing on shores they had never being to before, killing and being killed without having met the people they were sent to subjugate (some say to liberate), without knowing their language, culture and beliefs.
Such has been the history of humanity – a humanity, endowed with intelligence and feelings, and yet has perpetrated abominable violence on itself and on the planet that God gave us as our common Home.
Sometimes we act like lesser beings, like the four- legged animals or vultures. The big devour the smaller. Big countries invade small countries. The ferocious animal attacks a more peaceful, indefensible one. Often animals strike out of fear and in self-preservation. Nations often go to war out of fear, ignorance, prejudice or greed about the other side and what the other side might possess.
But if we were to talk, communicate, learn more about each other, if we were to share resources, the richer helping the less fortunate, the stronger helping the weaker, we might have less violence in our own communities, and there will be less wars between countries.
So we are here today, ten years after the historic “Popular Consultation”, to celebrate. And how should we celebrate?
By remembering those who are not with us, who lost their lives, in this epic struggle for freedom.
We celebrate by honouring the many heroes who fortunately are still with us today.
We celebrate also by making a renewed commitment to build a peaceful, democratic and prosperous nation, to root our violence and extreme poverty in one generation! The poor who have been poor for centuries must not remain poor!
We must improve governance, stamp out corruption and waste, improved services delivery so that the budget that is approved by our National Parliament can have a real impact on the lives of our people.
The State began in 2007 to honour the many thousands of resistance fighters, clandestine activists; it began to provide some financial assistance to certain categories of veterans; it is assisting more than 70,000 elderly, widows, handicapped; hundreds of young people are now studying abroad, in Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Cuba, Brazil. Most of those who are in Indonesia, are supported by their families, but many others elsewhere are benefitting from full scholarships provided by our Nations budget.
I must make a special reference to the Cuba-Timor-Leste bi-lateral cooperation in the health sector as this stands out as of the most significant.
Some 800 East Timorese youth are studying medicine in Cuba with all expenses covered by the Cuban Government; close to 200 are studying medicine in Timor-Leste, under the guidance of Cuban medical professors. There are 300 Cuban medical doctors, including specialists, working in all 13 districts and 60 sub-districts.
The Governor-General of Australia and a great Australian general and friend of Timor-Leste, Gen. Peter Cosgrove, are here among us, her second visit to Timor-Leste in less than a year.
Through the Governor-General I wish to convey to all in Australia our most sincere gratitude for your country’s support for our independence, security and development. Timor-Leste and Australia are neighbours and friends sharing deep bonds based in history and common values of freedom, democracy and human dignity.
Australians from all walks of life and a wide political spectrum have shown a genuine friendship and solidarity towards Timor-Leste and Australia is our most generous development partner contributing US$100 million p/year for our overall development needs.
Portugal occupies a unique position in our country’s history; I would say, Portugal occupies a central position in our history! We share hundreds of years of a colonial link that, in spite of, and above, the obvious dimension of subjugation, unites peoples and cultures, introducing new belief systems like Christianity that super imposes on the ancestral animist practices, and forging a new common identity, helping us progress from tribal communities to nation-state.
In more recent times, Portugal stood behind us in the 24 years of our lonely struggle for independence. With determination, courage and dignity they challenged their own friends and allies who were either indifferent or even connived with others.
The question of East Timor would have disappeared from the United Nations agenda if it were not for the courageous stance taken by Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and Sao Tome and Principe.
To them all I bow in eternal gratitude in the name of all our people.
Since 1999 many institutions and countries have made generous contributions to our country, namely, the United Nations and its agencies, the Bretton Woods Institutions, the European Commission, China, Japan, Malaysia, ROK, New Zealand, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, the US.
No less significant has been the contribution made by our neighbours and friends in the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) either in directly assisting us or via the UN system, in the areas of peace and security as well as human resources development and capacity building.
My beloved countrymen and women,
I bow to our beloved Church, the beloved bishops, priests and nuns, for She is the physical and moral fortress and glue of our Nation, through history, through good and bad times.
While Catholics are the majority on this sacred land, we must continue to accept and honour anyone and everyone who professes another religion or a different way of worshiping the common Creator and a different path to Heaven.
Many missionaries from different nationalities have served our people with total devotion for five to 50 years, all their lives. Yet they have not being able to acquired East Timorese citizenship and when they have to travel they are treated as aliens. I’m calling on our National Parliament to grant every foreign missionary and foreign volunteer worker who have served in our country more than 10 years counting from before 1974 East Timorese citizenship.
Many foreign workers have flocked into our country coming from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Vietnam, China, etc. Some are here on work visas. Others entered on tourist visas. Many are here illegally.
When I drive around and see their faces, observe their hard work in trying to earn a modest income, I think of the villages and families they left behind pursuing the dream and often illusion of a better life elsewhere.
How they end up here is still a mystery to me. But here they are, many thousands of them. We welcome them and must find ways to legalize their stay.
History shows how immigrants, legal and illegal, have contributed enormously to the countries they migrated to, from Brazil to Australia, the US, to mention just a few that have become cultural and ethnical melting pots. Timor-Leste will be greater with these brothers and sisters from other parts of the world with their beliefs and culture, and their enterprising spirit.
It is not possible to acknowledge every country, international or regional institution, and every individual who has played a part in the last 10 years of our country’s road to peace and recovery as the list is a very long one. To all I extend our country’s eternal gratitude.
But I cannot fail to once again pay tribute to the United Nations family, from UNAMET to UNTAET to UNMIT, to everyone who has served in our country these long years. To the UN staff, civilian and military personnel, members of Interfet and PKF, who lost their lives in our country, I bow in their memory and pray for their souls.
How Sergio Vieira De Mello would be so pleased and proud to be here today among us. He died a Martyr’s death in Iraq as he tried to help the people of Iraq come to terms with themselves. I bow to Sergio’s memory and pray for his soul. He will be forever part of us.
May God the Almighty and the Merciful Bless Us All.