|Subject: JRH speech to Oxfam - CAA National
Jose Ramos-Horta Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1996) Senior Minister 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,
It is always a pleasure to be among friends, among those who have been with us through the darkest years of our lives and our struggle for freedom and dignity. You now call yourselves "Oxfam", maybe to sound more European but I am used to the old name, Community Aid Abroad, a great organization.
Of all the international NGOs I have come across over the past 25 years, you are the one that never hesitated when confronted with the moral and ethical question of whether to support us and thus risk your "reputation" and "interests" with the other side, usually a repressive regime. You chose your conscience and supported us.
I am therefore very pleased to be here and I regret that I can stay only a few hours.
Jeremy Hobbs asked me to address one topic "Conflict and Development" but I know he will be forgiving if I bring together other issues that in any case are inter-connected.
I understand Jeremy is leaving for Oxford to head Oxfam International. The parent international body wins but Australia is a bit poorer. The Crown always wins at the expense of the colony. But I hope that from his new job in the glorious metropolis you will not forget us the poor subjects.
After the challenge of 1999 and the ongoing commitment by Australia to safeguard East Timor borders and peace and security, another major challenge, many times more delicate and complex, now faces Australia and its allies.
I cannot speak about my country before I say a few words about the tragedy that has shaken all of us. After all, the fallout of the New York and Washington terrorist attacks impact upon all of us no matter where we are.
Last week, Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and myself hosted an ecumenical service in the Dili Cathedral for the victims of the terrorist attacks. About 1,000 people attended this service that was led by bishop Belo, an East Timorese Muslim clergy and the head of the Evangelical Church.
I want to share with you my personal reflection and grief over the New York tragedy.
I lived for over a decade in New York. In the course of the many years of living there I can claim to know the US well, having visited almost all 50 States of the Union. There I met thousands of people of different nationalities and beliefs.
There is no other country in the world with this extraordinary ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. And it is this diversity that has made America such a unique country, resilient, creative and rich.
It was with horror and incredulity that I learned the news of the tragedy that befell my American friends.
Our poor and humble people received the news of the tragedy with profound sadness. Hundreds of simple family people visited the US Mission in Dili to pay their respects.
Those behind this cowardly barbaric act justify it in the name of Islam and the Palestinian cause. Yet they have done immense harm to the true believers of Islam and the Palestinian cause.
No cause, however noble, no grievance or claim however valid, will ever be greater than the sanctity of human life.
Fanatics have existed through centuries and caused incalculable suffering to humankind.
Religion and ideologies have been invoked to justify abominable acts. Let us remember the Inquisition in Middle Ages, the Crusades, and slavery that uprooted an estimated 10 million Africans from their homes and shipped as cargo to the Americas.
And could we ever forget the greatest calamity of all, the Holocaust unleashed by Adolf Hitler against Jews and Gypsies.
In the sixties we witnessed a wave of terror in Europe by extreme left fanatics such as Action Directe in France, the Red Brigade in Italy, the Bader Meinhof in Gemany, Carlos "the Jackal", the Japanese Red Army and many others. This terror network has been effectively obliterated.
Other forms of organized violence such as state terrorism against its own citizens should be mentioned. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia was a prime example of how a State uses its power to unleash violence on its own people. Others, the Suharto regime in Indonesia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Idi Amin in Uganda, etc are among some past and present examples of state terrorism.
The difference between these two extreme forms of violence is that the first is practiced by non-state actors with or without the involvement of one or more governments that provide them resources and sanctuary, and state terrorism which is almost always directed at its own citizens.
But in recent years we have witnessed the rising of a new form of terrorism that is mostly located in the Islamic world notably in the Middle East and parts of Asia.
True there are other violent groups operating in Latin America with dubious ideological claims but their modus operandi seldom involves terrorist activities outside their home countries.
Terrorist networks branch out of Afghanistan and the Middle East. Some enjoy the support of certain governments while other terrorist organizations claiming to be the true guardians of Islam have caused widespread suffering among their own people.
But we must be very clear. Islam does not advocate violence; rather it calls for tolerance, justice and compassion.
I appeal to peoples in Australia, the US and Europe to resist the temptation to blame entire nations, religions, or peoples for the actions of a small number of political extremists.
I am saddened by, and strongly condemn, the attacks on mosques and Muslim believers long time residents or citizens of Australia and US. Here in Brisbane a dastardly arsonist attack took place against a Mosque. What did they want to achieve? The perpetrators of the attacks are debasing and lowering themselves to the level of those they seem to condemn.
In the flurry of the media coverage, little has been said of the fact that the attacks against New York and the Pentagon killed also many Muslims and Arab-Americans, innocent victims like the rest of the casualties.
The tragedy that befell our brothers and sisters in America is already impacting on the lives of many Arabs and Muslims living in the West who are labeled "enemies" and are harassed.
I commend the Australian government as well the Bush Administration and the Europeans for their emphatic appeals to all not to blame their fellow citizens of Arab and Muslim background.
While we mourn our American friends, I should add that Islamic fundamentalist terrorists do not discriminate. Their targets and victims have been very diverse.
Islamic terrorist groups in Algeria have murdered at least 100,000 innocent Algerian women and children in the last 10 years alone.
These victims were not Americans or Christians. They were devout poor Muslims. Pursuing an effective counter-terrorism campaign, the Algerian authorities have managed to cause severe disruption in the terrorist network.
The target and the victims of the terrorist groups in Afghanistan are fellow Afghans. An unimaginable human catastrophe is unfolding there with millions of innocent people facing death by starvation.
The cause of this tragedy are the radical fundamentalist leaders of Afghanistan who have destroyed their own country and who have not stopped fighting each other after the Soviet withdrawal more than 10 years ago.
Unimaginable suffering has been inflicted by the Taliban regime on its own defenseless people. These radical Islamic fundamentalists seem determined to defy our imagination about their ability to go a step further in irrational violence against fellow Muslims.
Men are executed for not sporting beard. Afghan women are disfigured with acid for not covering their face with the veil; they are denied basic freedom and dignity in the name of a version of Islam concocted by a minority of lunatic radicals who have taken that proud country back to Stone Age.
As in Europe in the 60's, the terrorists are small groups of fanatic elements that indiscriminately kill men, women and children, of any nationality and religion, and have no popular base.
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.
Can we inspire others? Maybe not as we are too small, we are not so important. But if our message can reach somewhere in the Middle East, if Palestinians and Jews gain courage to meet half-way, bury their hatred and build the bridges of a new future, we the East Timorese would rejoice and thank God.
The Palestinians have been humiliated and suffered for far too long. Can one imagine how to be born and grow up in refugee camps, to be denied citizenship, and suffer daily humiliation and abuse?
The East Timorese can grasp the depth of the suffering of our Palestinian brothers and sisters because we endured 25 years of enormous of incalculable loss.
We must also try to understand the rights and fears of the Israelis, right to live in peace and security, and fear that those around them wish their destruction.
This after all is a nation of peoples that for hundreds of years endured humiliation and persecution and suffered the greatest tragedy humanity ever witnessed, the Holocaust.
Palestinians and Israelis have among them some of the most gifted people in the world and yet have suffered far too much. Both are entitled to the God-giving right to live peacefully, in freedom and dignity.
The leaders of both nations must show courage and vision and break the cycle of violence.
Israelis must stop demonizing the Palestinians and their leader Yasser Arafat, and the shelling and bombing of Gaza and West Bank.
Maybe Arafat is not a Jeffersonian democrat or a saint. But he has shown enormous courage and leadership in accepting a flawed Oslo Accord that has been roundly denounced by its many critics. It is far too easy and unfair to blame the Palestinian leadership for the actions of those who are determined to undermine the peace process.
Israelis must turn their hearts to the plight of the millions of Palestinians for whom the past 50 years have been life in refugee camps, living in humiliation and fear, without much hope of a better future.
The Palestinians and other Arab neighbors of Israel must stop their inflammatory speeches and the demonizing of the Jews.
The logic of war and of an eye for an eye will turn these proud communities and uniquely gifted people into nations of the blind and handicapped.
The US remains the only power in the world with a real influence to stir the parties in the conflict to a durable settlement.
Critics of the US do not seem able to ever find anything positive about that great country. Much has been said and written about its imperial history with its glory and sins.
I will not dwell on this now simply because I believe that this is not the time for anyone to lecture and moralize those still mourning their dead.
However I dare to say that no country has invested more time and energy in putting he building blocks towards a Palestinian state and durable peace in the region. But there is a perception that Washington is anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim. If this perception is unfounded, then it is the US that must try to better communicate its intentions and policies to the peoples in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
There are many who argue that the US should distance itself from Israel. This is not going to happen. We should not expect the US to abandon Israel, impose sanctions or cut off military assistance.
What we can expect is that the US should use its influence in a more aggressive manner to compel Israel to be more realistic and compassionate. Israel must realize that the Palestinians will never give up and as long as they feel aggrieved there will be no peace for the Jewish state.
There are others who argue that it is the US support for certain unpopular regimes in the Arab world that has angered the Arab masses. I find this assertion a bit hard to swallow.
Which are the most unsavory regimes in the region if not the Iraqi, Libyan, Sudanese? But it seems that those who demonstrate in the streets against the US view Saddam Hussein, Muhamar Khadafi and other sponsors of terrorism as heroes.
Moderate leaders such as the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadate, murdered by a fanatic, and his predecessor Hosni Mubarak, or the late King Hussein of Jordan who have courageously tried to search for an honorable solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, are labeled stooges of the West.
Critics of the US seem to have already forgotten that in one single decade Saddam Hussein has invaded two fellow Muslim countries, Iran and Kuwait, causing incalculable human suffering and environmental destruction. They seem to have forgotten that it was Saddam Hussein who for the first time since WW I unleashed chemical weapons against civilians.
The US might not be the chosen child of God, as it sometimes wants us to believe through its constant invocations of God. But it is certainly far better than what its detractors paint through their discredited ideological cliches.
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 Hobbs.
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.
Build an anti-poverty coalition. The violent demonstrations that greet every gathering of world leaders from Seattle to Prague and Davos to Gothenberg reflect the justified frustration of those who are genuinely concerned about the effects of globalization on the poorest of the world.
However, one can also see the opportunistic manipulation of these people by communist-era hard liners who, seeing their world revolution agenda discredited with the collapse of the Soviet Union, now try to hijack what is otherwise a genuine anti-poverty movement.
This past year I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland during the last week of January. Looking around me, I saw the richest and the most powerful people in the world and realized that I was the poorest among that lot. Yet I did not see, hear or read any complicated plot by the rich to rule the world.
From that modern day Robin Hood, George Soros, to Bill Gates and James Wolfenshon, the World Bank president, I heard genuine concern and motivation to help the poor.
An ocean away in Porto Alegre, Brazil, thousands were meeting in defiance of the rich running the world from Davos.
From that snowy perch in the Alps, as one of the poorest among the richest, I concluded there was enough good will on both sides of the divide to meet half way.
The poor will not see their lot improved if we opt for the arrogant and discredited Marxist dogma still trotted out by far too many as a solution to the world's ills. The rich will not able to continue to reap the profits of their investment in globalization if they do not seriously address the issues of poverty on a world scale.
To the end of establishing this middle position, I propose a world summit bringing togetherrepresentatives from the G8, World Bank, Group of 77 (developing nation's group in the UN), development and human rights NGOs as well as the corporate world to debate and fashion a global strategy.
The ultimate aim should be to boost the poorest with a sort of global Marshall Plan that involves debt cancellation or relief as well as proactive programs to reduce poverty.
Globalization has tied the G8 to the ROW (rest of the world). To sink or to swim is the choice they now have to make together.
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