Dr. José Ramos-Horta is new East Timor PM July 8, 2006Posted by elizabethwong in Human Rights, International.
President Xanana Gusmao today announced that José Ramos-Horta is the new Prime Minister of East Timor.
José, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 with Bishop Belo, has been a long-time advocate for the independence of his country since it was forcibly and violently annexed by Indonesia in 1975, with tacit support from the US and UK. It was the era where any hint of left, socialist ideals had to be crushed like ants.
He was a lone voice in the circus known as the UN. There is an old photo of him, standing among delegates, with his big Afro hair.
No one at first took any notice. Government lobby is lonely hard work. Sometimes one is made to feel like a nobody. You’re given only 5 min to present your case and that it was due to the “goodness of their hearts”. They appear to be listening, but not really listening.
But slowly, more and more countries took up the issue. It’s a case of mind over matter, and one of the first things José told us, when we were still young ratty students.
Unknown to many, José has been a long-time friend of human rights advocates in Malaysia.
Some of us got to know him when Kamal Bamadhaj, a fellow Malaysian and member of our student organisation, NOSCA, was shot and eventually bled to death in Dili in 1991. The Indonesians refused to allow the Red Cross to take him away; instead he was dumped at the back of a truck, together with bodies of dead or dying Timorese.
15 years on, and the memory of the phone call informing us of Kamal is still fresh.
Date: 12 Nov 1991
Venue: Kitchen of Harrington Street, Stanmore, Sydney.
Newspaper: Sydney Morning Herald. Frontpage news.
Present: Jega, Eugene, Mok, Nicole and me.
Five years on, José was denied a visa by the Malaysian government, to speak at the Asia Pacific Conference on East Timor (APCET), held in Kuala Lumpur. The conference was thrashed by UMNO, 60 of us were arrested, all foreign participants deported. Our civil suit is still ongoing, the next hearing is on 25th July.
When José was finally back, he was the new Foreign Minister of the newly independent East Timor, busy running a nation. He and Xanana graced our forum, to thank Malaysians for our years of solidarity and support. It was held at Federal Hotel, and the room overflowed with almost a thousand people cheering, us in tears.
It is hard to speak about what’s happened in recent months. I have the utmost respect for Mari Alkatiri, the Prime Minister who just resigned. José has been a dear friend to us, where he extended his help when Anwar Ibrahim and Tian Chua were in prison. And Dili today, by all accounts, is as charred as when I was last there in 2000.
José will have an unsurmountable and unenviable task to rebuild his new country and to heal old and new wounds. Congratulations are in order, and his lesson for us that evening in Sydney, that all we need sometimes is time.