JRH: War for Peace? It Worked in My Country
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Response to Inquiries

In response to many inquiries and in the interest of amplifying the voices of East Timorese civil society, the East Timor Action Network/U.S. notes the following in relation to José Ramos-Horta's 25 February New York Times op-ed "War for Peace? It Worked in My Country":

Historical records and statements available to us indicate the East Timorese did not ask for violent intervention to end the brutal, U.S.-backed, quarter-century-long Indonesian military occupation of their country. Far from calling for other countries to bomb Jakarta, the people of East Timor asked for United Nations peacekeepers.

East Timor is free today because its people were courageous and far-sighted enough to emphasize nonviolent means of struggle. Even during the April 1999 massacres, then-resistance leader (and now President) Xanana Gusmao disavowed retaliation. The nearly universal participation in the August 1999 referendum on independence was a historic renunciation of violence and terror. Even today, the East Timorese people's demand for an international tribunal -- not revenge -- for the many war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Indonesian military and government officials is a truly remarkable and principled response to decades of genocidal violence.

Many in East Timor have publicly rejected war as a solution to the Iraq crisis. A coalition of civil society organizations (called "Hapara Funu" or Stop War) presented a statement to the embassies of the United States, United Kingdom and Australia in Dili on 15 February, the international day of action for peace.

The statement reads, in part: "There is no moral principle in [the] current desire to overthrow Saddam Hussein... As every East Timorese knows, the Indonesian invasion of this country resulted in massive civilian casualties and destruction. Yet, during 24 years of illegal occupation, neither East Timor's resistance nor any foreign government advocated invading Indonesia or attacking Indonesian civilians. The Indonesian people, like the East Timorese, were victims of Suharto, not to be punished for his crimes."

The statement continues: "We know quite a lot about the death and destruction that come with war. We don't want to see similar destruction anywhere... Human life is too precious to be wasted for political or economic profit."

Additional Responses and East Timor's Official Position

The New York Times 
February 25, 2003

Op-Ed Contributor

War for Peace? It Worked in My Country


DILI, East Timor

I often find myself counting how many of us are left in this world. One recent morning my two surviving brothers and I had coffee together. And I found myself counting again. We were seven brothers and five sisters, another large family in this tiny Catholic country.

One brother died when he was a baby. Antonio, our oldest brother, died in 1992 of lack of medical care. Three other siblings were murdered in our country's long conflict with Indonesia. One, a younger sister, Maria Ortencia, died on Dec. 19, 1978, killed by a rocket fired from a OV-10 Bronco aircraft, which the United States had sold to Indonesia. She was buried on a majestic mountaintop and her grave was tended by the humble people of the area for 20 years.

Early in September of last year, I went through the heart-wrenching process of unearthing the improvised grave of our sister, whom I last saw when she was 18. As her body was exhumed, I noticed that the back of her head and one side of her face had been blown off. She must have died instantly. We reburied our sister in the cemetery in the capital, Dili. Two other siblings who were killed, our brothers Nuno and Guilherme, were executed by Indonesian soldiers in 1977. With little information on the area where they were killed and disposed of, we have no hope of recovering their bodies for a dignified burial.

There is hardly a family in my country that has not lost a loved one. Many families were entirely wiped out during the decades of occupation by Indonesia and the war of resistance against it. The United States and other Western nations contributed to this tragedy. Some bear a direct responsibility because they helped Indonesia by providing military aid. Others were accomplices through indifference and silence. But all redeemed themselves. In 1999, a global peacekeeping force helped East Timor secure its independence and protect its people. It is now a free nation.

But I still acutely remember the suffering and misery brought about by war. It would certainly be a better world if war were not necessary. Yet I also remember the desperation and anger I felt when the rest of the world chose to ignore the tragedy that was drowning my people. We begged a foreign power to free us from oppression, by force if necessary.

So I follow with some consternation the debate on Iraq in the United Nations Security Council and in NATO. I am unimpressed by the grandstanding of certain European leaders. Their actions undermine the only truly effective means of pressure on the Iraqi dictator: the threat of the use of force.

Critics of the United States give no credit to the Bush administration's aggressive strategy, even though it is the real reason that Iraq has allowed weapons inspectors to return and why Baghdad is cooperating a bit more, if it indeed is at all.

The antiwar demonstrations are truly noble. I know that differences of opinion and public debate over issues like war and peace are vital. We enjoy the right to demonstrate and express opinions today because East Timor is an independent democracy — something we didn't have during a 25-year reeign of terror. Fortunately for all of us, the age of globalization has meant that citizens have a greater say in almost every major issue.

But if the antiwar movement dissuades the United States and its allies from going to war with Iraq, it will have contributed to the peace of the dead. Saddam Hussein will emerge victorious and ever more defiant. What has been accomplished so far will unravel. Containment is doomed to fail. We cannot forget that despots protected by their own elaborate security apparatus are still able to make decisions.

Saddam Hussein has dragged his people into at least two wars. He has used chemical weapons on them. He has killed hundreds of thousands of people and tortured and oppressed countless others. So why, in all of these demonstrations, did I not see one single banner or hear one speech calling for the end of human rights abuses in Iraq, the removal of the dictator and freedom for the Iraqis and the Kurdish people? If we are going to demonstrate and exert pressure, shouldn't it be focused on the real villain, with the goal of getting him to surrender his weapons of mass destruction and resign from power? To neglect this reality, in favor of simplistic and irrational anti-Americanism, is obfuscating the true debate on war and peace.

I agree that the Bush administration must give more time to the weapons inspectors to fulfill their mandate. The United States is an unchallenged world power and will survive its enemies. It can afford to be a little more patient. Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations, has proved himself to be a strong mediator and no friend of dictators. He and a group of world leaders should use this time to persuade Saddam Hussein to resign and go into exile. In turn, Saddam Hussein could be credited with preventing another war and sparing his people. But even this approach will not work without the continued threat of force.

Abandoning such a threat would be perilous. Yes, the antiwar movement would be able to claim its own victory in preventing a war. But it would have to accept that it also helped keep a ruthless dictator in power and explain itself to the tens of thousands of his victims.

History has shown that the use of force is often the necessary price of liberation. A respected Kosovar intellectual once told me how he felt when the world finally interceded in his country: "I am a pacifist. But I was happy, I felt liberated, when I saw NATO bombs falling."

Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timor's minister of foreign affairs and cooperation, shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.

International Herald Tribune

The Iraq debate
Thursday, February 27, 2003

Regarding "The case for going to war" (Views, Feb. 26) by José Ramos-Horta:

This article contained some editorial alteration from the original, due to incorrect transmission of copy, which inadvertently altered the original intent.

My article was not entitled "The case for going to war," and was not intended to present such a case.

In fact it was a case for averting war by maintaining the credible threat of force against Saddam Hussein while the United Nations inspectors are in Iraq doing their job.

The original article stated, as you printed, that I agree that the Bush administration must give more time to the weapons inspectors to fulfill their mandate.

It then said, "United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has proven himself to be a strong mediator, and no friend of dictators. He and a group of world leaders should use this time to persuade Saddam Hussein to resign and leave for exile. In turn, Saddam Hussein could be credited with preventing another war and sparing his people."

My article does say, and I do believe, that even this approach will not work without the continued credible threat of force. It has been that threat that has gotten the inspectors back into Iraq. But using the existing threat of force hanging over Iraq's head to strategically execute diplomatic methods and avert outright armed conflict is a very different activity than rushing headlong into war. I do not endorse war except as an absolute last resort after all other avenues have been exhausted, and we have not reached that point.

José Ramos-Horta, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Dili, East Timor

Additional Responses and East Timor's Official Position


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