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By Irwin Abrams

Dayton Daily News, Op-Ed, December 6, 1996.

This year the Nobel Peace Prize has a local connection. Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, who with his countryman Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo will be presented with the award at the ceremony in Oslo on December 10, received his Master of Arts degree from Antioch University in 1984. Moreover, Congressman Tony Hall has been one of the prominent nominators of Bishop Belo for the prize.

For his M.A. thesis, Ramos-Horta says in the preface that he decided to write "on the tragedy of the people of East Timor, not only out of moral and patriotic duty, but because it constitutes one of the most glaring examples of human rights violations in modern times that the rest of the world knows little and cares less about."

Ramos-Horta's tiny homeland is only the eastern half of a remote island at the very tip of the long strung out Indonesian archipelago, much closer to Australia than to Jakarta, Indonesia's capital. The world took little note when East Timor, a former Portuguese colony populated mainly by Catholics, after a brief period of independence was invaded in 1975 and then annexed by its giant Moslem neighbor.

East Timorese continued resistance has met with years of brutal military oppression, in which almost a third were killed or died from starvation and disease. Occasionally stories of the murders, rapes and tortures would surface in the world's media, notably in 1991 when news photos and a film circulated of an appalling massacre of some 200 men, women and children shot in cold blood at a funeral procession. But then for most of the world East Timor receded again into obscurity.

This all changed on October 11 when the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that its 1996 prize would go to Ramos-Horta and Belo "to honor their sustained and self-sacrificing contribution for a small but oppressed people, "

Belo, the spiritual leader of the Catholics on the island, for attempting to protect their human rights "at the risk of his own life," and Ramos-Horta as their " international spokesman." They had been chosen over better known candidates, the Committee chairman explained, because of fear that East Timor was about to be forgotten. The Committee hoped the prize would "spur efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict in East Timor based on the people's right to self-determination."

It immediately helped Ramos-Horta in his next round of diplomatic visits, at the United Nations, where the secretary-general has a mandate to help resolve the conflict, and in Portugal, Brazil, Germany and other countries, where he has been seeing heads of state and other officials. He told me in a phone conversation that he hopes in the coming year that either he or Belo will be received in the White House.

As a teenager, Ramos-Horta was a great admirer of the United States, thinking that it would always stand for freedom. Disillusionment came when, at age 26, as minister of external relations of the newly independent East Timor government, he had gone abroad to seek help in preventing any Indonesian hostile move. A few days later President Gerald Ford and his secretary of state, Nobel laureate Henry Kissinger, were received by President Suharto in Jakarta. Ramos-Horta hoped they would advise Suharto to keep the peace. But apparently they were persuaded that East Timor was likely to go communist, and they gave Suharto what has been called "the big wink." The invasion of East Timor went ahead the next day.

Future U.S. administrations continued to shower Indonesia with military aid, Along with other western nations, acting from economic and well as political motives, the United States helped equip the Indonesian troops with the arms used to suppress East Timorese resistance. Ramos-Horta tells how his sister and two of his brothers were all killed by aircraft and weapons that had been part of the U.S. military assistance.

Despite Republican charges that President Clinton's policies toward Indonesia have been influenced by campaign contributions from Indonesians, Ramos-Horta gives Clinton credit for reversing a 20-year record of U.S. votes against resolutions for East Timor at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva and also for banning the delivery to Indonesia of small arms and armored vehicles.

He is critical of Clinton, however, for leaving in place the training program in the U.S. of Indonesian officers and for plans to sell F-16 war planes to Indonesia, said to be only usable for defense. At Oslo Ramos-Horta will be presenting a moderate peace plan which would recognize the right of the East Timorese to a form of self-determination, but not demanding independence.

We can hope with Ramos-Horta that the country he so admired as a teenager will be seen by the world as exercising moral leadership in behalf of his sorely oppressed people.