Subject: AGE: Pursuit Of Nobel Cause

The Age

July 15, 2003 Tuesday

Pursuit Of Nobel Cause

Sian Prior

Jose Ramos-Horta spent years battling to draw attention to East Timor's plight, yet even with independence gained, the Nobel Peace Prize winner can't take a rest. Sian Prior reports.

Jose Ramos-Horta is leaning back in his chair, sipping bottled water and talking about his political aspirations. The Foreign Minister of East Timor wants democracy and human rights for Burma, reform and rehabilitation for the United Nations, humility and compassion from the United States, peace and prosperity for his own country, and an end to genocidal civil wars.

But right now, what he'd love most is a holiday. The Nobel Peace Prize winner hasn't had a proper break in years, and when he tried to take a month off in January, political problems in East Timor drew him home to Dili after only four days' rest.

Jose Ramos-Horta thought his days of gruelling international travel were over when East Timor finally gained independence. In reality, he still spends many months of the year criss-crossing the globe in pursuit of his ideals.

This week he's been in Melbourne to address the International Perspectives on Peace and Reconciliation conference at the University of Melbourne.

His speech was about reform of the United Nations, an institution he came to know almost too well during the 15 years he spent in New York, trying to persuade the world to care about the fate of East Timor.

Ramos-Horta is highly critical of the UN's failure to prevent tragedies such as the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, and the decades of slaughter in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. However, he remains optimistic that the United Nations could still fulfil the peaceful objectives upon which it was founded almost six decades ago.

"For example, why should little France and little UK still hold veto powers (within the Security Council)? It made sense in the '50s and '60s but it has been abused, and they should get rid of the veto.

"The number of permanent members should be expanded to include the new powers in the world, and they should introduce a two-thirds majority vote in the Security Council, to make it more democratic." Ramos-Horta also believes there should be a UN standing army that the Secretary-General can call upon at short notice to intervene in crises such as the one that occurred in Rwanda. "Whether it will be more effective then really boils down to political will, to the maturity and ability of countries to reach a consensus. But the existing collective security arrangements no longer reflect 21st-century realities."

In the lead-up to the recent war in Iraq, the Nobel Peace Prize winner published a controversial opinion piece in which he criticised the debate in the UN Security Council and what he described as the "grandstanding" of those opposing the Bush Administration's aggressive strategy.

The only means of putting pressure on Saddam Hussein was "the threat of the use of force", he argued. "Abandoning such a threat would be perilous. Yes, the anti-war 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."

Jose Ramos-Horta knows all about what happens to the victims of ruthless political regimes. His sister and two of his brothers were killed by the Indonesian military. In recent times, in his role as East Timorese Foreign Minister, Ramos-Horta has been lobbying Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders to try to influence the repressive military junta in Burma.

"I once entered Burma illegally in 1994 to spend a few days in some mosquito-infested jungle to teach human rights and diplomacy. The Burmese are wonderful people and they have suffered for so long, with 50 years of hardship and isolation.

"But this is an Asian problem, and Asians must show courage and leadership in addressing problems in our own back yard. If we don't want outsiders like the US or the Europeans to lecture us and take the leadership, then we must do something about it ourselves."

Kyi, and is proud of the fact that he was the only Nobel Laureate who attended her husband's funeral in Oxford.

He agrees that Suu Kyi is paying a high personal price for her political ideals, but says there are many people like her.

"Look at Nelson Mandela, 27 years of his life wasted away in prison, and my President, Xanana Gusmao, who fought in the jungle and spent seven years in prison. Each of them came out of prison better people, more humane and compassionate, not bitter.

"I believe Suu Kyi will survive and she will have tremendous influence in South-East Asia."

And what of the price Jose Ramos-Horta has paid in pursuit of East Timorese independence? He refuses to compare himself to Mandela or Gusmao, but admits that those 15 years in New York were difficult.

"I had no money, no status, I was in no man's land, neither a refugee nor a resident. I had a temporary visa all that time, no family in New York and I had to navigate the waters of the UN for many years. Back then, who had even heard of East Timor? "

One of the reasons Jose Ramos-Horta hasn't had a holiday in years is because of the many requests he gets to lend his Nobel Prize-winning support to good causes.

At the end of this month, for example, he's off to South Africa to help Bishop Desmond Tutu in his work with street children. Does Ramos-Horta find it hard to say no because he himself spent so many years being told 'no'?

"Yes, that's partly it. I remember knocking on so many doors and people wouldn't listen. But it's also because I think that I can have an impact with my interventions."

And if he was granted his wish and could take a month off, how would he spend the time?

"I would like a few weeks in a nice little cottage at the beach, with music, good food, doing exercise, not reading much, and writing my book. It will be called The Americans and the Rest of Us.

I want to offer a balanced view of the US. If the US were to pull out of Asia today, for example, you would have an uncontrollable arms trade between rival regional powers.

"But the US must learn that true leadership means humility and compassion, and that you cannot lead by bulldozing your way through and dragging people behind you."


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