|UNITED NATIONS Special Committee 24, New York, June 30, 1998
José Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate
Rua São Lázaro n 16, 1 1150 Lisboa PORTUGAL e-mail: email@example.com' Tel: + 351 1 886 3727 Fax:
+ 351 1 886 3791
I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving me the floor. Before I proceed, Mr. Chairman, I
would be failing if I were not to congratulate you and the committee members for the
decolonization seminar held in Fiji this month. These seminars you have conducted in the
South Pacific and in the Caribbean regions were most beneficial for the peoples concerned
and for the UN itself. Taking a UN political body to the people helps improving the image
of a UN that is perceived to be an elitist and exclusive body without any link with the
real people it is supposed to serve.
I regret that I was unable to attend the Fiji seminar, an island state that has been
one of the most active members of this committee and indeed in the whole UN system. I last
visited Fiji in December 1995 and was warmly received by everyone there, including in the
department of Foreign Affairs. Fiji is a shining example that we, the small island nations
can be viable, prosperous and democratic. We hear too often arguments concerning the
viability and stability of small nation states.
Fiji, the Caribbean islands and many other small countries prove that in spite of our
smallness we are more viable and stable than larger ones. I havent heard of the case
of one small island state invading and occupying another country or being involved in
destabilizing their neighbors. In fact, most conflicts in the world through history have
been caused by the large powers in their pursuit of territorial expansion and resources.
Last year, as I spoke before this committee, I said the following in my introduction
Since I first addressed this Committee in the mid seventies, the political map of
the world has been redesigned as empires disintegrated, mighty regimes and armies
collapsed, dictators were overthrown, and many ideologies and myths evaporated. Only one
truth has survived the test of time and this is -- no amount of force is ever enough to
crush the will and spirit of a people. Time and again we learn that the use of force and
violence does not resolve conflicts that are eminently political, economic and social. The
mightiest armies were not able to prevent the disintegration of empires and regimes that
are based on fear and repression.
In an interview to CNN taped in May 1996, and aired on June 1, I dared to challenge all
those, particularly the IMF, World Bank and government experts who lavishly praised
Indonesias economic performance and the stability of the Suharto regime. I had dared
to predict the collapse of the Suharto regime within two to three years as the regime
became increasingly discredited and illegitimate because of corruption, cronyism and
arrogance. One year later, in April 1997, in the journal Multinational Monitor, I urged
the US to compel the Suharto regime to change policies and warned that unless reforms were
urgently implemented in Indonesia, Western economic interests in the Republic could go up
in flames in the next two, three years. No one took my comments too seriously then. But
the events in Indonesia in the last few months proved me right.
It is now well over three decades since the adoption of UNGA Res. 1542 which listed all
the Portuguese overseas territories to which GA Res. 1514 (XV) and 1541 (XV) were
applicable. Of the territories listed, Angola, the islands of Cape Verde, Portuguese
Guinea, Mozambique and the islands of Sao Tome and Principe, in Africa, and Portuguese
Timor in Asia, all have attained independence with the exception of East Timor.
I shall not elaborate on the historical, political and legal aspects of the issue as
they are well known. The UN General Assembly, through the Fourth Committee, Security
Council and the International Court of Justice have debated and adopted numerous decisions
or rulings on this issue. However, it might be useful to recall that this Committee,
through its then Chairman, Ambassador Salim A. Salim of Tanzania, stated in 1976 that it
could not discharge fully its responsibilities in regards the non-self-governing territory
of East Timor as long as the government of Indonesia did not implement the relevant SC
Res. 384 (1975) and 389 (1976).
What the Special Committee meant was that as long as Indonesian troops remained in East
Timor, no valid act of self-determination could be undertaken.
Having said this, allow me Mr. Chairman to elaborate on some key themes that I believe
are central to the task of this committee in its efforts to implement the General Assembly
Resolution on eradicating colonialism by the year 2000.
The administering powers must fully cooperate with the committee and in this regard I
can not fail to express my sincere appreciation to Portugal for its unrelenting efforts in
discharging its responsibilities toward the colonized people of East Timor. Recently, at
the ASEM II meeting in London, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres announced a
humanitarian aid package for East Timor amounting to US $ 4 million to help the East
Timorese cope with the impact of the Indonesian economic and financial crisis. I register
However, Portugal is not the only entity today with responsibilities over East Timor,
as this issue is not a bilateral one between Portugal and Indonesia. This is an issue
involving the UN, Portugal, the people of East Timor and a third country, Indonesia, by
virtue of the relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions.
I am happy that these entities are all represented in this forum: the UN through its
competent organ the special committee on decolonization; Portugal, the administering
power, the people of East Timor through the National Council of Timorese Resistance.
We are at a unique juncture in history to settle the conflict in East Timor. In my CNN
interview, I had said that with Suhartos departure from the scene, a dialogue to
resolve the conflict would be easier. I hope that I am right on this point. I welcome the
release of some East Timorese prisoners and hope that it does not amount to a cosmetic
gesture. All East Timorese guilty of the crime of wanting freedom must be
released without delay. One day longer for those unjustly in prison is unacceptable. Their
release requires no economic or political structural adjustment.
I welcome the more conciliatory statements by the authorities in Jakarta, but regret
that Indonesias puppet in East Timor, Mr. Abilio Osorio Soares seems to be still
living under the influence of his godfather Suharto, his mentor Prabowo, and continue to
make incendiary statements, with threats of violence against students who wish to
peacefully demonstrated in support of a UN supervised referendum in east Timor. Tens of
thousands of East Timorese, most of whom are of the post 1975 generation have peacefully
flocked to the streets in East Timor and Indonesia, demanding that their right to
self-determination be upheld.
By and large, the Indonesian security forces have behaved in a manner that was
unthinkable only a year ago.
However, there have been some tragic incidents where Indonesian security forces used
violence against local demonstrator. According to Reuters and AFP: Indonesia
intelligence agents shot dead one man and wounded five other people in Baucau
yesterday upon the arrival of the three European Union Ambassadors.
When the convoy arrived at Baucau Cathedral, several hundred well-wishers, who
had been shouting pro-independence slogans, rushed forward to welcome them. But when they
saw the third car carrying the agents some of them started to beat on its windows, and
bombard it with rocks, smashing a rear window, an AFP reporter said. An agent in the back
seat of the car pulled out a pistol and shot one man. Then they fired tear gas, and
several agents used rifles, the witness said. [AFP, Baucau, East Timor, June 29 -
Earlier this month, the Indonesian military shot dead a young man, Herman Dasdores
Soares, 21 years old, whom they suspected to be stealing wood. We note that in this case
and for the first time, the Indonesia command in Dili took responsibility for the killing
and apologized. East Timor Military Commander Colonel Mujiono declared to the media:
There was no reason for shots to be fired.
I also welcome the recent meeting between Dom Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, Bishop of
Dili, and Indonesias transitional President, Jusuf Habibie. However, it is
regrettable that the Indonesian authorities still refuse to engage our leader, Xanana
Gusmão in dialogue. There cannot be peace, stability and a lasting resolution of East
Timor without the leadership of the Resistance being involved in the dialogue. Our leader,
Xanana Gusmão has met with numerous international dignitaries: President Mandela, South
African Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo, British State Minister for Foreign Affairs Derek
Fatchett, American Assistant Secretary of State for Asian Affairs Stanley Roth. I
wholeheartedly applaud President Mandelas interest and support for our struggle. I
am heartened by the increasing sympathy and support for our cause at the level of the US
administration, the European Union and other countries.
The just concluded EU troika mission to East Timor reflects the importance the European
block attach to the struggle of East Timor. As the British presidency hands over the
leadership of the European Union to Austria, I wish to commend Foreign Secretary Robin
Cook for his personal concern and support to our cause. I cannot overlook the personal
interest also shown by President Jacques Santer on this issue. The Ibero-Latin-American
conference of head of states and governments has for years now steadfastly supported the
resolution of the conflict which oppose the people of East Timor and the Republic of
Indonesia. The Portuguese speaking community throughout the world has been in the
forefront of our struggle.
President Habibies recent announcement that Indonesia is prepared to grant
special status to East Timor with a certain degree of local autonomy would be a welcome
step in the right direction if it were not poisoned by an impossible demand on the East
Timorese and the international community that we all accept now as legal, valid and
legitimate an act of invasion and territorial annexation in blatant violation of the UN
Charter and international law.
If the world community were to reverse the Security Council and General Assembly
resolutions as well as numerous other resolutions adopted by multilateral institutions
like the European Parliament, the joint assembly of EU-APC and inter-parliamentary Union
all recognizing the East Timorese peoples right to self-determination it would not
only be an injustice to the east Timorese but would also constitute a grave assault on the
international order. The international community cannot simply afford to undermine the
fragile body of laws that govern relations among states through selective application of
For progress to be made, Indonesia needs only to make a simple gesture by dropping its
insistence on the precondition that we first accept its illegal annexation before it
proceeds with granting genuine autonomy to the territory. The conflicting views on the
legal status of the territory should not be an obstacle to the fundamental changes that
must occur on the ground for Indonesia to gain international credibility and for a degree
of peace to prevail in East Timor.
Indonesian troop presence in East Timor must be reduced to a minimal level equivalent
to the Portuguese troops level in East Timor in 1974 which never exceeded 1000. In 1975,
in the course of the decolonization process there were fewer than 500 troops in East
Timor. Indonesias remaining troops should be confined to their barracks. East
Timorese resistance fighter should observe a cessation of all armed activities. A
protection zone should be created in an agreed region of East Timor where the armed
resistance forces and their families can assemble under international humanitarian
protection. Prisoners should released. Torture must end.
Now is the time for a representative office of the UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights should be established in East Timor. Such an office could serve as useful bridge of
communication between the local people and the authorities; it can facilitate dialogue and
mediate local conflicts. It should also provide training in international human rights and
humanitarian law for the law enforcement agents, the armed forces and police, as well
members of the civil society.
As a transitional measure, East Timorese should be given the right to govern their own
country. Examples of genuine political and administrative autonomy abound that attest to
the openness and tolerance of all involved, such as in Azores, Madeira, Macao, the Basque
country, and the Cook Islands to mention a few.
The most vexing issue of the legal status of the territory should be decided upon at a
Mr. Chairman, no one is free from guilt and responsibilities over the tragedy of the
people of East Timor.
The United Nations itself, Portugal, Indonesia, Australia, the U.S., Japan and we, the
East Timorese political leaders, must share responsibility over the tragedy that has
affected the people of East Timor. The people of East Timor were and are still the victims
of our collective irresponsibility, of the errors of judgment of some, and the
indifference of too many. It serves no purpose to put the blame on one side or the other;
in as much as we can identify the responsibility of each of the parties involved, we can
also find good arguments that would explain their behavior at the time. For instance, no
one can deny that Portugal faced in 1974 and 75 the traumatic end of an empire, the
virtual collapse of the army and other institutions, and had no means even if it had had
the political will to effectively control the situation in East Timor. Indonesia feared a
potential Marxist takeover in East Timor and the disintegration of the Republic if East
Timor were to be allowed to become independent. The U.S. was handicapped by its
humiliating retreat from Indochina.
Let us then work in good faith with the Secretary General and try to find a formula
that satisfies all parties. As I did in June 1974, when I flew from Dili to Jakarta and
met with the then Foreign Minister Adam Malik, I am prepared at a moments notice to
fly again to Jakarta to meet with the Indonesian authorities if they show willingness to
engage us in dialogue.
A few years form now, God willing, Indonesia will have changed beyond recognition. That
new Indonesia, more open, tolerant and democratic, where the rule of law prevails, will
look at an independent East Timor as a natural evolution. An independent East Timor would
be just as natural as Papua New Guinea which shares the other half of the New Guinea
island with Irian Jaya, or as Brunei, three time smaller in territory and population than
East Timor. However, the people of East Timor might also decide without coercion, in total
freedom that they wish to be part of Indonesia or to form an association with the colonial
power. The options offered to the people of East Timor should not be restricted or limited
to integration to Indonesia or independence. Whatever the outcome of a referendum of
self-determination under UN supervision will be honored by all of us.
More complex and seemingly intractable issues involving nations that once swore mutual
destruction are on the way of resolution. We can do no less.
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