Nobel Peace Laureates

“If those in power, wherever we are, whichever country but also at whatever level in society that we are leaders, began working together— we would eliminate abject poverty and ensure that poverty becomes history in twenty years from now. It’s a moral duty of any of us as human beings”
- José Ramos-Horta
One of eleven children, José Ramos-Horta was born to a Timorese mother and Portuguese father on December 26, 1949, in Dili, East Timor. His father was a member of the Portuguese Navy who was exiled to East Timor after protesting Portugal’s military dictatorship. (At that time East Timor was a Portuguese colony.) His mother survived the devastating invasion of the Japanese military during World War II, during which she lost all but one member of her family.

José was educated in a Catholic mission school in the remote hills of East Timor. He grew up without television and was therefore not very influenced by media or stars of the day. The single movie theater in his hometown mainly showed western films with stars such as John Wayne. He did pay much attention to popular music, although he did listen to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and was impressed not so much by their music, but by their widespread fame.

Exile At An Early Age

When he was 18 years old, Jose met the same fate as his father. He was exiled to Mozambique (another Portuguese colony) for criticizing the government. These statements, made among friends, questioned Portugal’s control over East Timor because of the poverty and underdevelopment of the country. After a brief time back in his home country, he was exiled again from 1970-1971 for his activism, as he continued to speak out against Portuguese Military rule.

In 1974, when José was 25 years old, Portugal gave up its colony and East Timor declared independence. Though many people in East Timor were excited about the newly gained independence, they were also worried that neighboring Indonesia had other plans for their tiny country. Their fears turned out to be reality. Despite all of their best efforts, Indonesia invaded and began a brutal occupation of the tiny country. José spent the next 24 years in exile trying to bring the story of East Timor to the world.

As the youngest person to address the United Nations, he was successful in convincing UN representatives to pass a resolution supporting the independence of East Timor. Despite this victory, Indonesia continued its occupation. José continued to push the UN and other world leaders to convince Indonesia to allow East Timor to regain its freedom.

President Jose Ramos-Horta talks about the impact youth
can have through the Global Call To Action.

A Plan For Peace

In 1992, José formally presented a three-stage peace plan to the European Parliament. The plan called for withdrawal of Indonesian troops, release of political prisoners, respect for human rights and the stationing of UN peacekeepers in East Timor. The final phase of the plan called for a period of time during which East Timor would be independent. That would be followed by a UN-supervised vote, in which the East Timorese could choose between independence, becoming a part of Indonesia, or being associated with Portugal.

In December 1996, José Ramos-Horta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his ongoing efforts to stop the oppression of his people. In the year 2000, the people of East Timor won their struggle for independence and became the world’s newest democracy. When the East Timorese people held their vote to decide the fate of their country, independence won overwhelmingly. In response the Indonesian army burned and destroyed all that they could on their way out of the country, leaving the people with nothing.

José was able to go home for the first time in 24 years and see firsthand the devastation of his beautiful homeland. However, he also returned to see the hope his people had for the future. Despite the fact that four of his eleven brothers and sisters were killed by the Indonesian military, José believes that peace can only come to East Timor though peace and forgiveness. He says, “Just remember that violence leads you nowhere. We have to learn not to be violent if we want to have power. Compassion, generosity, humility, tolerance are real power.”

President Ramos-Horta

Xanana Gusmao, East Timor’s first president, appointed José Ramos-Horta to serve as the country’s first Foreign Minister. José was then elected President of East Timor in 2007.

On February 11, 2008, after returning home from his morning walk, Jose Ramos-Horta was critically injured in an assassination attempt outside his home in Dili. Only two months later, he returned to his presidential duties. Despite the assassination attempt Jose continues to connect with and engage the people of East Timor on a very personal level. He had been a president who was known to ride the bus and then buy everyone aboard a meal at a sidewalk café. Sadly, thanks to the attempt on his life, increased security will make it harder for him to be as close to the people of his country as he once was. Still, he has said that the main outcome of the assassination attempt has been his rededication to lift his people out of extreme poverty.

As he was preparing to leave the hospital to return home, Jose Ramos-Horta stated, “I am returning home in the next few days to do all that I can to realize my dreams for East Timor – to continue lifting the Timorese people out of poverty and to create a Zone of Peace where all forms of violence are abandoned."