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Challenges in Nation Building

09/29/2009 2:30 PM 10"250
President José Ramos"Horta, President, East Timor, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Description: At times humorous and defiant, JoséRamos"Horta describes nurturing the 21st century's first sovereign state through its formative years. The journey of East Timor from brutal Indonesian rule to fragile self"governance has involved Ramos"Horta in conflict and debate from the halls of the U.N. to the smallest villages of this tiny Southeast Asian island.

He describes the scene in 2002, after two years of UN"supervised transition, when Indonesia handed off a nation it had governed by force for decades: "A human calamity -- close to 200 thousand people lost their lives." Another 200 thousand were forcibly displaced into West Timor. As it departed "in anger and frustration," Indonesia's military orchestrated the destruction of the nation's cities, roads, schools and clinics. "The economy was at a standstill," says Ramos"Horta. "We received barely a sketch of a state, a skeleton."

The challenge of rebuilding East Timor is all the more daunting given "the psychological"emotional trauma of 24 years of violence." There are bitter disputes involving how to conduct a national process of reconciliation. Western ambassadors recently called on Ramos"Horta, "representatives of two countries most notoriousfor providing weapons and the red carpet treatment to the dictatorship of Indonesia." They advocated establishing an international tribunal to pursue crimes against humanity during Indonesian rule. Says Ramos"Horta, "Had I been in a bad mood, I would have said, 'Excuse me, the two of you are lecturing me on human rights and justice?'"

Despite warnings from the U.N. that "lack of justice encourages impunity," he believes East Timor must travel its own path toward reconciliation. If East Timor set up such a tribunal, "Who would it start with -- Indonesia or the U.S., which provided weapons to Suharto, or Australia, or all of them at once?" He states, "If you pursue justice at any cost without being sensitive to the challenges and complexities on the ground, you undermine the incipient nation, democracy and justice."

Today, when Ramos"Horta travels in the countryside, people don't want to discuss security and unity. Recounts Ramos"Horta, "They joke with me: 'Mr. President, we really like your road to peace, but we prefer a road to our village.'" He's now focused on providing his people with such essentials as clean water and electricity, and shoring up the nation's fragile social and economic institutions. "Let's put all the past behind us. Look after the victims, the wounded, in their minds, bodies and souls, build a country that is deserving of so much sacrifice. Chasing the ghosts of the past leads us nowhere," says Ramos"Horta.

About the Speaker(s): José Manuel Ramos"Horta took office as the second President of East Timor (since independence from Indonesia) on May 20, 2007. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 with fellow East Timorese Bishop Ximenes Belo for "sustained efforts to hinder the oppression of a small people. "

As a founder and former member of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN), Ramos"Horta served as the exiled spokesman for the East Timorese resistance during the years of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor (1975 to 1999). After East Timor achieved independence in 2002, Ramos"Horta was appointed as the country's first Foreign Minister. He served in this position until his resignation on June 25, 2006, amidst political turmoil. In July 2006, he was officially sworn in as the second Prime Minister of East Timor. On February 11, 2008, Ramos"Horta was injured when he was shot during an assassination attempt.

Ramos"Horta studied Public International Law at the Hague Academy of International Law (1983) and at Antioch University where he completed an M.A. in Peace Studies (1984). He was trained in Human Rights Law at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg (1983). He attended Post"Graduate courses in American foreign policy at Columbia University(1983). He is a Senior Associate Member of the University of Oxford's St Antony's College (1987).

Host(s): School of Architecture and Planning, Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship

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