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The Power of Non-Violence: José Ramos-Horta Speaks at Caltech

by invisible ink Sunday, Oct. 14, 2001 at 8:05 PM

"You must use your energy, dynamism, and creativity to make the cost to the other side too high."

Last night the Caltech Y in Pasadena hosted Human Rights Diplomat and Nobel Laureate Jos Ramos-Horta in a speaker's forum titled "Peacemaking: The Power of Non-Violence," as part of its 2001-2002 Social Activist Speaker Series.

Recipient of the First UNPO prize (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization) in February 1996 for his "unswerving commitment to the rights and freedoms of threatened people," José Ramos-Horta also shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with fellow countryman, Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, for "sustained efforts to hinder the oppression of a small people," for their tireless work to free the East Timorese from Indonesian military aggression.

Since 1975, José has worked, in the Nobel committee's words, as "the leading international spokesman for East Timor's cause." José's tireless efforts in promoting the East Timor cause against aggression and violence led in 1999 to an historic referendum brokered by the United Nations, in which East Timor made clear its desire for independence from Indonesia. While full independence has not yet been achieved, the groundwork has been laid. After 24 years of violence, during which 200,000 East Timorese died at the hands of the Indonesian military, East Timor recently held its first democratic election, and with 16 different political parties, and women representing roughly 30% of elected officials, it was a remarkably successful -- and peaceful -- first step toward democracy. As José pointed out, "there was not a single drop of blood lost."

José began his talks with a nod to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan and the United Nations for winning the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. He praised the U.N.'s efforts in promoting justice and fighting for the rights of poor, exploited countries, and then, without having to name names, chided those countries "who do not support the United Nations or pay their U.N. dues," and who refuse to cooperate with other nations and choose instead to "punish the U.N." in order to achieve their aims.

In outlining a successful framework of peace for effecting change, José began from the premise that "you must use your energy, dynamism, and creativity to make the cost to the other side too high" for them to continue their violence and oppression. He then went on to describe the violent history leading up to the recent peaceful East Timor election, with its numerous political parties and a 98.6% turnout of eligible voters. And in a country that is 98% devout Catholic (José joked about people praying for everything -- before soccer matches, even before cockfights), he also pointed out the amazing diversity of faiths represented by the newly elected officials -- including the first East Timor Chief Minister, Mari Alkatiri, a Muslim. "How many Protestant countries do you know who would elect a Catholic Prime Minister? or a Muslim President?" he asked.

As would be expected, José also spent some time addressing the terrorist attacks of September 11, stating that no grievance or cause could justify such an act. By committing this terrorism, "All their values, their claims, their grievances--are invalidated," José said, and noted that not once during the East Timor struggle had Indonesian civilians been targeted or killed as part of the organized struggle. While fighting may have erupted spontaneously on the streets, José made it clear that he was always adamant that his movement would never embrace or endorse violence.

Later, during a Q&A session, one participant asked José if this same standard applied to the current bombings of Afghanistan. Taking the position that removing the Taliban from power is a different situation and not comparable to the terrorist attack, José graciously and tactfully debated with several audience members and ultimately deferred to the fact that it was a difficult situation and one for which he did not claim to have any fast or easy answers.

Throughout the talk, however, José did present solutions in consistently focusing on the poor and exploited. In analyzing the terrorist attacks, for example, his first concern was for the poorest of the world, who would be sure to feel first and hardest the effects of the collapsed markets and economies. He also made a very strong case for working right now with Yasir Arafat to achieve some kind of solution to the Palistinian situation. José painted a clear picture of the terrifying possibilities should something happen to Arafat and the Middle East go "up in flames," drawing a direct line between the failure of Israel to honor the Oslo Accord, the erosion of Arafat's authority, and the resulting clout of more extremist, radical fundamentalist groups in the area who could rush in to fill the power vacuum in such a situation.

José also outlined a clear three-point path for what the United States can do to help the current world situation: 1. The U.S. must work with the rest of the world; 2. The U.S. must support the United Nations; 3. The U.S., the U.K., and other "developed" nations must stop the flow of weapons to poor countries -- a key element in the Indonesian military's ability to continue its violence toward the East Timorese throughout the twenty-four year occupation.

On this last point, José also touched on the need for reconciliation between the East Timorese and Indonesia in order to move forward. However, without justice, José noted that reconciliation will be difficult, and called for the work of an international tribunal to bring justice to those Indonesians who have committed crimes against the East Timorese. So far, nothing has been done to bring justice.

In addition, there are still forty to sixty thousand East Timorese refugees in West Timor. Many military still the roam the camps terrorizing refugees, and many women and girls are still exploited as sexual slaves.

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Caltech Y (additional information on José Ramos-Horta):


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