ISSN #1088-8136

Vol. 9, No. 1
Spring 2003


Spring 2003 Home

Accomplishments and Challenges After One Year of Independence

(In)Justice and the Struggle for Accountability

Legislation, Language and Lobbying

The Iraq War as Seen from East Timor

Justice for East Timor: We Can't Stop Now!

We're All Organizers

back issues

ETAN Home Page


The Iraq War as Seen from East Timor

by Joseph Nevins

Like any national society, East Timor is a complex one with different perspectives on a great variety of issues. On the matter of the United States-led war on Iraq, however, public and official opinion — before and after the invasion — has been largely critical of Washington.

An important exception was Foreign Minister José Ramos-Horta, who was the first within the new government to voice his opinion publicly on the matter. In an op-ed published in The New York Times, Boston Globe, International Herald Tribune, and Sydney Morning Herald in late February, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate wrote, “History has shown that the use of force is often the necessary price of liberation.” Implying that such force had helped to bring about East Timor’s freedom, Ramos-Horta argued that the threat of force by the international community was the only way to contain Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime and to get him to surrender his alleged weapons of mass destruction and resign from office. He also praised the Bush administration’s “aggressive strategy,” stating that it was the reason that Baghdad had allowed United Nations inspections to restart. At the same time, however, the foreign minister called upon Washington to allow more time for the inspections to work.

Dili, Feb 15.

Ramos-Horta’s statement generated a great deal of controversy within the international solidarity movement. Numerous long-time activists wrote public statements denouncing his position.

Once the war started, other government officials also let their positions be known. While visiting Australia — one of the few countries that provided troops in support of Washington’s war — East Timor’s president Xanana Gusmão stated: “As a human being I will not support [the war].” “We came from a war and we know the consequences,” he explained. “We know all the psychological and social impacts.”

And Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri issued a statement saying his government was “shocked” that the UN Security Council had not arrived at a “peaceful and consensual solution,” while arguing that UN inspectors had needed “more time.” “The UN system should function in such a way as to never permit unilateral decisions by any country or group of countries in the search of solutions for problems that affect all humanity,” Alkatiri stated.

In terms of East Timorese civil society, a coalition of the country’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs) held a demonstration in Dili on Feb. 15 as part of an international day of action against the looming war. Over 100 East Timorese participated, along with people from 11 different countries. Because of the stature of these organizations, Their statement can be found here.