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East Timor Environmentalist Wins Top Global Award

For Immediate Release

Contact: John M. Miller, 718-596-7668; 917-690-4391

April 19 - The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) today congratulated East Timor’s Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho on receiving the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

De Carvalho is the newly-independent country’s leading environmentalist and a strong advocate for a just resolution in establishing a permanent maritime boundary between Australia and East Timor.

Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho  

ETAN congratulates Demetrio on receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize. He is an important and vigorous advocate for East Timor’s natural environment and sovereignty,” said John M. Miller, spokesperson for the ETAN. “The prize provides important recognition and support to all those in East Timor seeking to build the new nation on a sound foundation.”

De Carvalho is director of Haburas Foundation, East Timor’s only non-governmental environmental group, which he founded in 1998. A leader of the resistance during the Indonesian occupation, de Carvalho helped head the fight to include provisions in East Timor’s constitution that call for a healthy environment, respect for traditional customary law, sustainable development, and natural resource management.

Haburas and de Carvalho are leaders in East Timor’s grassroots, nationwide effort to demand a timely and fair resolution to East Timor’s maritime boundary dispute with Australia.

“The award is especially timely as talks take place this week between East Timor and Australia on a permanent maritime boundary with Australia determining the fate of billions of dollars worth of resources underneath the Timor Sea that would belong to East Timor under international law. At stake is East Timor’s future,” said Miller. “The outcome of those talks is of deep concern to all of us concerned about the people of East Timor.”

Australia has already received more than (US) $1 billion in revenues from petroleum fields that are twice as close to East Timor as to Australia. If the Australian government continues to delay a permanent maritime boundary for decades, they will have taken 60% of East Timor's entire oil and gas entitlement.

De Carvalho and Haburas are promoting community reforestation and watershed management programs to reduce forest and land degradation. Other environmental priorities include protecting the wetlands of Lake Iralalaru in the eastern part of East Timor from a proposed hydropower station and facilitating the creation of the country’s first national park. They are also working with communities to promote eco-tourism.

De Carvalho will receive the Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco today and attend a separate ceremony in Washington, DC on April 21.

ETAN - founded in 1991 - supports human dignity for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy, sustainable development, social, legal and economic justice, and human rights, including women's rights. See for more information about the boundary talks.


From Goldman Foundation

Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho
Dili, East Timor

A Founding Father of East Timor

A former clandestine resistance leader and now the head of the first and only environmental nongovernmental organization in his homeland, Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho is a founding father of East Timor, the world’s newest country. Under his leadership, this island nation, a Portuguese colony until 1975 ravaged by centuries of occupation and warfare, is charting a new course for sustainable development and environmental protection based on Tara Bandu--the East Timorese cultural practice of acting in harmony with nature.

Early Resistance

A land of lush rainforests, tropical beaches and spectacular coral reefs, East Timor has seen its natural resources plundered over the years by military occupation and profiteering colonialists. De Carvalho was nine years old when the Indonesian military invaded East Timor. As a child, he remembers the shriek of Indonesian war planes overhead and napalm bombs exploding near his home in the jungle where his family fled in 1975 after his father was brutally murdered by FRETILIN, a former East Timorese pro-independence guerrilla group (a re-organized FRETILIN is now the country’s leading political party). While still a junior high school student, de Carvalho became an activist for East Timorese independence. In college he joined RENETIL, the leading student resistance movement, and co-founded the movement’s first magazine.

During the Indonesian occupation, resistance fighters risked their lives to gain liberation. A number of de Carvalho’s friends and colleagues were tortured and killed by Indonesian military forces, many of them in the bloody 1991 Dili massacre that killed 270 people. A week later, de Carvalho was seized by the Indonesian police and thrown in jail for three weeks without due process for his involvement in a protest in Jakarta. By the time East Timor achieved independence in 2002, one-third of the population -- an estimated 250,000 people -- had been killed by systematic slaughter, forced starvation and relocation. The island’s forests, which resistance fighters relied on for cover, had been slashed and burned to ruin by Indonesian troops.

A New Beginning

Today, the majority of East Timor’s 965,000 citizens survive on less than a dollar a day. This widespread economic hardship has put enormous strains on the country’s natural resources. For example, in communities around Dili, the nation’s capital, people with no other means of income are clearing trees to sell as firewood.

In 1998 de Carvalho founded the Haburas Foundation, which means “to make green and fresh” in Tetum, East Timor’s national language, to tackle his country’s environmental crises. Operating out of his home on a shoestring budget, de Carvalho is largely credited for spearheading the progressive inclusion of four key articles in East Timor’s constitution: the right to a healthy environment; respect for traditional customary law; prioritization of sustainable development; and natural resource management.

For a country building its republic from the ground up, these principles will play a critical legal and symbolic role in guiding the management of the island’s natural resources, from oil reserves in the Timor Sea to its rainforests and coral reefs. Today, de Carvalho and Haburas continue to advise the new government on environmental policies.

“East Timor must learn from the examples of neighboring countries in the Asia Pacific,” de Carvalho has said. “Models of development that have gone wrong there should serve as lessons for us. We do not want to repeat the same mistakes.”

The Battle Over Oil and Gas Rights

East Timor’s rise from poverty will hinge largely on its ability to mine petroleum deposits from the “Timor Gap,” a 155-mile area that lies under the Timor Sea between East Timor and Australia. In May 2002 the governments of both countries signed a yet un-ratified treaty that gives East Timor 90 percent of the oil and gas reserves in one of the Gap’s largest petroleum development areas. In dispute, however, is Greater Sunrise, one of the Timor Sea’s largest known gas reserves, estimated to be worth $36 billion. Eighty percent of this gas reserve remains under Australian jurisdiction under a 1972 agreement between Australia and Indonesia.

In April, negotiations will resume between the two nations to discuss where maritime boundaries should be drawn -- and who rightly owns the Gap’s richest deposits. East Timor maintains that according to the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, Greater Sunrise and other oil fields should fall under East Timor’s sovereignty. Haburas, as the leading representative body of the East Timorese people in these talks, is ensuring that citizen priorities are part of the discussion. De Carvalho is looking ahead to institute protections for the larger marine ecosystem from petroleum mining and development, including the surrounding seabed and fisheries.

Tara Bandu

Meanwhile, Haburas, under de Carvalho’s leadership, is tackling a number of other highpriority environmental initiatives. Among them is protecting Lake Iralalaru in the eastern part of the country, an unexplored wetlands area under threat from a proposed hydropower station, and plans to pump the lake for irrigating sugarcane plantations. De Carvalho is pushing for further environmental studies of the ecosystem and of the impact on local communities before any development moves forward.

De Carvalho and Haburas are also leading community reforestation and watershed management programs to reduce forest and land degradation. Guiding these environmental efforts is the cultural revitalization of Tara Bandu, what de Carvalho calls

East Timor’s “traditional ecological wisdom.”

As East Timor eyes tourism as its second major source of revenue beyond oil, de Carvalho is shaping this growing industry by helping communities set up cooperative eco-tourism businesses that promote folk culture and environmentally sensitive expeditions. He is also acting as a bridge between indigenous communities and government officials in the creation of East Timor’s first national park.

“It’s not just that Demetrio is heading an environmental group, Haburas is the leading group that has a handle on all of the major development and environmental issues facing East Timor,” according to Tim Anderson, a professor of political economy at the University of Sydney who worked with de Carvalho during the country’s transition to independence. “Demetrio is the one steering the country in a direction of true sustainable development. He is one of the new leaders of East Timor.”

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Tuesday, 20th April 2004
Demetrio de Carvalho, 37, a leading Timorese environmentalist and Founding Director of Fundação Haburas, an environmental NGO, has won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.
In a letter today to Mr. de Carvalho, H.E. President Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão extended his heartfelt congratulations on behalf of the people of Timor-Leste, stating that the prize was recognition of Mr. de Carvalho’s “…tireless and dedicated work in the promotion and protection of our natural environment…and [for his] unique and extraordinary service to the nation”.
Furthermore, H.E. the President commended the efforts of Mr. de Carvalho and his foundation in forging a culture of environmental awareness and management in the young nation.  The President also praised the important role played by Mr. de Carvalho in ensuring that principles of environmental justice were included in Timor-Leste’s national Constitution.
Over the past fifteen years, since its establishment, the Goldman Environmental Prize has commonly been referred to as the Nobel Prize for Environment, and is awarded every year to leading environmentalists in six geographical areas.  Mr. de Carvalho, who is currently in San Francisco for the award ceremony, has received the prize for the Oceanic Region.
For President Xanana Gusmão, the awarding of this prize to a Timorese citizen “is one more recognition and tribute to the steadfast determination and commitment of the people of Timor-Leste to building our nation on the solid foundations of respect for human rights, peace and justice”.





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