Promoting Change and Understanding Through Non-Violent Means
José Ramos-Horta received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his uncompromising and indefatigable work on behalf of the people of East Timor, brutally invaded by Indonesia in 1975. Muslim West Timor became part of Indonesia in 1946, while East Timor, settled in 1520 by the Portuguese with different language, religion, and customs, remained a colony until Portugal’s withdrawal in 1975. Twenty-five-year-old José Ramos-Horta was named foreign minister of the newly formed government in November 1975, but only a month later, Indonesian troops massed around the capital city, Dili, and, as Ramos-Horta’s plane touched down in Portugal, he was told that Indonesia had taken control of his country. In the years following the invasion, one-third of the population was to lose their lives to massacres, starvation, epidemics, and terror. Throughout the next two decades, Ramos-Horta traveled the globe speaking out against abuses, and, in 1992, he put forth a peace plan which called for a phased withdrawal of Indonesian troops culminating in a referendum in which the people of East Timor would vote for independence, integration into Indonesia, or free association with Portugal. When the September 1999 vote showed that 80 percent of Timorese had voted for independence, Indonesian armed forces and their militia allies went on a rampage. They massacred hundreds, burned to the ground 70 percent of the standing structures in the country, set fire to crops, killed thousands of farm animals, and destroyed major sewer systems and electric lines. Hundreds of thousands were forced into exile at gun-point. Ramos-Horta led the international charge against the slaughter, and, because of his appeals, the United Nations sent in troops to stop the violence. In December 1999, after twenty-four years in exile, José Ramos-Horta finally went home again to a free and independent East Timor. In May 2007, Ramos-Horta began serving as president of East Timor having previously served in other important government positions. In September 2008, Ramos-Horta survived an assassination attempt that left him critically injured. He fully recovered and served out his term as President of East TImor, leaving office on May 19, 2012.