Subject: TLGOV: JRH press conf at UN


Press Briefing

Press conference by FOREIGN MINISTER of Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste’s Foreign Minister, José Ramos-Horta, said this afternoon at a Headquarters press conference that neither he nor the President supported the establishment of an international tribunal to try crimes committed in the wake of his country’s vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999. “We don’t believe that an international tribunal would be in Timor’s national interest”, he said, “Or that it would be the only way to serve justice”.

Asked by a journalist whether the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta had delivered justice to victims of the violence in East Timor, Ramos-Horta replied, “definitely not”. Democracy was still fragile in Indonesia, as it was in his own country. Indonesia’s success in holding two free and open elections, after decades of authoritarian rule, was “a real triumph for democracy”, he added. “But democracy is not only elections. Democracy is ending impunity, human rights violations, strengthening the rule of law, the courts ­- and that will take time.”

He said he was looking forward to the forthcoming justice initiative to be proposed by the Secretary-General, which he expected would be announced within the coming days or weeks. It appeared from press accounts that the Secretary-General would recommend the appointment of a group of experts to review the work of the human rights tribunal in Jakarta and of the judicial process for the prosecution of “serious crimes” in Timor-Leste itself. Only once this group of experts made its recommendations would Timor-Leste offer its formal reaction.

Asked about the dispute with Australia over the Timor Gap oil fields, he said that negotiations were taking place under a “new framework”, following his August 11 meeting in Canberra with Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer. “We managed to agree that the two sides should move away from legal confrontation”, he said, adding that, “We are prepared to be extraordinarily creative and flexible as long as we feel it is an arrangement that does justice to the people of East Timor. Anything short of that will not work.” Meetings on the issue were continuing this week, and he hoped the two countries would reach a comprehensive agreement by year’s end.

While acknowledging the fragility of Timor-Leste’s young democracy, in particular the weakness of its judiciary, he also noted that the situation in the country was generally peaceful and stable, and credited Indonesian authorities for preserving security along the border. Despite dire predictions by the World Bank and others about Timor-Leste’s economy, the country was doing reasonably well.

He paid tribute to the Portuguese bank Caixa Geral de Depósitos, which he said had been “very brave” in lending $100 million to small- and medium-sized business, “to the common people.” That constituted critical infusion of capital in a country where the annual budget of the Government is less than $80 million, repayment rates were exceptionally high. He also noted that microcredit schemes were flourishing in his country, including one he had established with Timor Aid using part of his Nobel Peace Prize fund.

* *** *

Support ETAN, make a secure financial contribution at

Back to October menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu