José Ramos-Horta


Timor-Leste (East Timor) is colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th Century. When the Portuguese leave in 1975 it appears the colony might finally gain independence. But Indonesia invades at the end of the same year. The East Timorese begin a 24-year struggle to liberate their homeland. More background.

Mini biography

Born on 26 December 1949 in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste (East Timor). His mother is Timorese and his father Portuguese. He has 11 brothers and sisters. He is educated in a Roman Catholic mission.

1969 - He works as a journalist in East Timor.

1970 - He is exiled to Mozambique, another Portuguese colony, when his efforts to secure independence for East Timor raise the ire of the colonial administration.

1974 - The announcement by a new government in Portugal that it intends to withdraw from its colonies divides the East Timorese population and leads to the formation of three new political groups - the leftist Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin), the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT), and the Popular Democratic Association of Timor (Apodeti).

Fretilin calls for full independence. Ramos-Horta, who has by now returned to East Timor, joins the group. The UDT initially favours a continued association with Portugal, but then shifts its position and joins Fretilin in an independence campaign.

Apodeti favours integration with Indonesia and receives backing from the Indonesian Government, which also wants to see the province integrated.

1975 - The rise of Fretilin causes concern in Indonesia, which fears that East Timor may turn communist.

The UDT is also concerned by the rise of Fretilin. An attempt by the UDT to seize power leads to a civil war between Fretilin and an anticommunist coalition of UDT and Apodeti. Fretilin quickly gets the upper hand, occupying most of the province by September, despite the military support given to UDT and Apodeti by Indonesia.

In October Ramos-Horta drives a group of five foreign television reporters to the town of Balibo to film Indonesian border incursions. Ramos-Horta leaves the town just hours before the five reporters are captured and executed by the Indonesian military on the morning of 16 October.

On 28 November Fretilin proclaims the Democratic Republic of East Timor. Ramos-Horta is appointed Fretilin's minister for communications and external affairs.

Meanwhile, the UDT and Apodeti call on Jakarta to intervene.

Indonesia invades on 7 December, landing forces at Dili and at Baukau, 100 kilometres to the east, and installing a puppet government composed of members of UDT and Apodeti.

The invasion takes place with the blessing of United States President Gerald Ford and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who meet with Indonesian President Suharto in Jakarta on 6 December, the day before the Indonesian troops are mobilised.

Between 30,000 to 35,000 Indonesian troops remain permanently stationed on East Timor during what becomes a 24-year occupation.

It is later estimated that 18,600 East Timorese civilians are murdered or disappeared during the Indonesian occupation and between 84,200 and 183,000 more die as a direct result of Indonesia's policies. According to a report by the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor, Indonesian police or soldiers are to blame for 70% of the 18,600 murders and disappearances.

Ramos-Horta, who just days before the invasion left East Timor to represent the country overseas, escapes the violence. He travels to New York to plead East Timor's case at the United Nations. Ramos-Horta becomes the youngest person to address the UN Security Council. His representations help convince the Security Council to pass a resolution demanding that Indonesia withdraw from East Timor and give its people the right to self-determination. Indonesia ignores the resolution.

Ramos-Horta will not return to East Timor for almost 25 years.

Three of Ramos-Horta's brothers die during the occupation. A sister is left profoundly traumatised and angry.

1976 - On 31 May East Timor's puppet government votes for integration with Indonesia. On 17 July East Timor becomes the Indonesian province of Timor Timur.

Most of the world, including Portugal, never recognises the annexation. The UN condemns Indonesia's action and continues to recognise Portuguese sovereignty over East Timor.

1977 - Between 1977 and 1985, Ramos-Horta acts as the permanent representative of Fretilin at the UN, becoming one of the primary voices for East Timor on the world stage. He addresses the UN Security Council, the UN Special Political and Decolonisation Committee, the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Commission on Human Rights of the European Parliament. He speaks out against human rights violations by the Indonesian military and promotes a peace plan to end the violence in his country.

1983 - Ramos-Horta studies public international law at the Hague Academy of International Law and trains in human rights law at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. He completes an MA in peace studies at Antioch University in 1984.

1989 - Ramos-Horta settles in Sydney, Australia. He founds the Diplomacy Training Program (DTP) in the law faculty at the University of New South Wales. The DTP aims to train indigenous peoples, minorities and human rights activists from the Asia-Pacific region in the UN human rights system.

1991 - On 12 November, at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, Indonesian troops shoot and kill 271 unarmed Timorese attending the funeral of a young Timorese killed during an earlier demonstration. The so-called Dili Massacre receives worldwide coverage, focusing attention on human rights abuses in East Timor.

The international community responds to the incident by suspending or threatening to suspend aid to Indonesia, prompting President Suharto to appoint a national investigation commission to look into the incident.

The commission finds the army guilty of "excessive force". The senior officer in East Timor and his superior in Bali are replaced, three officers are dismissed from the army, and at least eight officers and soldiers are court-martialled. Four junior officers are sentenced to jail terms of between eight and 14 months. However, the punishments are relatively light compared to the harsh sentences meted out to the Timorese accused of instigating the incident.

A worrying finding of the commission is that as well as the on-duty troops present at the cemetery there was "another group of unorganised security personnel, acting outside any control or command (that) also fired shots and committed beatings, causing more casualties".

1992 - Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao is captured in Dili by the Indonesian military on 20 November and charged with subversion.

On 21 May he is sentenced to life imprisonment in Jakarta's Cipinang jail for having, according to the presiding judge, "disturbed the life of East Timorese". The sentence is later commuted to 20 years.

1993 - The international community begins to question Indonesia's rule in East Timor. The UN Human Rights Commission adopts a resolution expressing "deep concern" at human rights violations by Indonesia in East Timor. In May the administration of US President Bill Clinton places Indonesia on a human rights "watch" list. When Suharto meets Clinton in Tokyo in July concerns are raised about the East Timor human rights issue.

1996 - In October Ramos-Horta and Bishop Carlos Belo are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "their work towards a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor".

"Ramos-Horta has been the leading international spokesman for East Timor's cause since 1975," the Norwegian Nobel Committee says. "Recently he has made a significant contribution through the 'reconciliation talks' and by working out a peace plan for the region."

"In awarding this year's Nobel Peace Prize to Belo and Ramos-Horta, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wants to honour their sustained and self-sacrificing contributions for a small but oppressed people. The Nobel Committee hopes that this award will spur efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict in East Timor based on the people's right to self-determination."

The Indonesian Government is "astounded and surprised at the reason given for the award" and finds it difficult to understand why it was presented to Ramos-Horta, a man whose hands they claim "are stained with the blood of the victims of the Fretilin's reign of terror".

The Nobel Peace Prize is the most prestigious of the many awards that Ramos-Horta receives. In February 1996 he is awarded the first UNPO prize, given by the Unrepresented National and Peoples Organisation for his "unswerving commitment to the rights of and freedoms of threatened peoples". In 1998 the Portuguese Government presents him with the Order of Freedom, the highest honour the nation can bestow. In 2014 Ramos-Horta is made an Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia in recognition of his leading role in East Timor's independence movement and for his work in maintaining a strong relationship with Australia.

1998 - Suharto is forced to step down as president of Indonesia in May. He is replaced by his deputy, Jusuf Habibie. In June Habibie proposes a fresh autonomy deal for East Timor and in August agrees to negotiate with Portugal and the UN on the future of the territory.

Independence for East Timor now seems near, although concern rapidly develops over the growth of antiseparatist Timorese militias. The militias, who are backed by elements from the Indonesian military, begin to warn of violent consequences if independence is granted to East Timor.

1999 - On 27 January Habibie announces that the East Timorese will be allowed to vote on self-determination. Shortly after, two Indonesian special forces units, codenamed Tribuana and Venus, arrive in East Timor to provide undercover assistance to the militias.

A UN-supervised referendum to establish if the East Timorese want autonomy within the Indonesian Republic or full independence is held on 30 August. Close to 100% of the 444,666 registered voters participate. When it is announced on 4 September that 78.5% of the voters have chosen in favour of independence, chaos breaks out as the antiseparatist militias go on a murderous rampage.

During the weeks of violence that follow more than 1,000 die, infrastructure is destroyed and about 500,000 of the East Timor's entire population of 800,000 are forced to flee their homes, either to the country's interior or to neighbouring West Timor.

Indonesian police and soldiers participate directly in some of the atrocities and the forced transport of 250,000 refugees to West Timor. A secret Indonesian Government report later finds that officers in the Indonesian military directed the militia violence and that top generals, including the then armed forces commander and defence minister, General Wiranto, were aware of the situation but did little to prevent it.

An official investigation by the joint Indonesian and East Timor Commission on Truth and Friendship finds that "Indonesian soldiers, police and civilian officials were involved in an 'organised campaign of violence'" and the "Indonesian state bears 'institutional responsibility' for atrocities including murder, rape, torture, illegal detention, and forced mass deportations".

On 12 September Habibie agrees to the deployment of international forces to restore order in East Timor. The situation is finally brought under control after 20 September when an international peacekeeping force lands in Dili. The militias retreat to West Timor, where they terrorise the East Timorese transported to the refugee camps there.

On 19 October the Indonesian Government ratifies the referendum result and revokes East Timor's incorporation into Indonesia. The UN officially assumes control of the territory on 25 October.

In December Ramos-Horta returns to his homeland for the first time in almost 25 years. He subsequently resigns from Fretilin and is appointed as minister for foreign affairs and cooperation in a provisional government.

2001 - East Timor's first general elections are held on 30 August, the second anniversary of the territory's vote for independence. Fretilin wins the elections, but without the massive majority expected.

The party takes 55 seats in the 88-seat Assembly, five seats short of the two-thirds majority it needs to form government in its own right. It becomes instead the dominant force in a coalition. Ramos-Horta retains his post as foreign minister.

2002 - East Timor is officially declared an independent nation at midnight on 19 May during a ceremony watched by about 100,000 East Timorese. UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan hands government to President-elect Xanana Gusmao. The UN flag is lowered and the East Timor flag raised. Hours later, Gusmao swears in the new East Timor Government. East Timor joins the UN on 27 September.

2003 - Ramos-Horta adopts a pragmatic yet outspoken approach to his role as foreign minister. He supports the invasion of Iraq by the United States, arguing that force should be used to end violent dictatorships or prevent genocide. He speaks out against the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi by Burma's military regime. He confirms that the East Timorese government wants to repair its relations with Indonesia and does not support an international tribunal into the human rights abuses that occurred during the Indonesia's rule. He accuses the Australian Government of using what "amounted to an unacceptable blackmail" in negotiations over the maritime boundary between the two countries.

2006 - Late in April a political crisis springing from dissatisfaction with the government, tensions between ethnic groups from the east and west provinces of the country, and rivalries among the military and police forces threatens to plunge East Timor into civil war.

Ramos-Horta acts to head-off the threat, placing a request for an intervention by a foreign peacekeeping force.

Australian troops arrive in East Timor at the end of May. They are joined by security forces from New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal.

President Gusmao takes direct control of the East Timorese security forces. Ramos-Horta takes over the defence portfolio. After a month-long stand-off, the incumbent prime minister resigns on 26 June. Ramos-Horta is sworn in as caretaker prime minister on 10 July. He retains the defence portfolio. A new government headed by Ramos-Horta is formed on 14 July.

2007 - Ramos-Horta steps down as prime minister to contest East Timor's first presidential elections. After a split result in the first-round, he wins the run-off with 70% of the vote.

Ramos-Horta replaces Xanana Gusmao, who declined to stand for another term as president but gave Ramos-Horta his backing.

2008 - The ramifications of the 2006 political crisis hit Ramos-Horta directly early on the morning of 11 February when he is shot and seriously wounded outside his home during an apparent assassination attempt by a band of rebel soldiers. He is flown to Darwin in Australia for medical treatment the same day.

Xanana Gusmao is fired upon in a separate attack by the rebels but escapes without injury.

A state of emergency is declared and the situation quickly brought under control by the international peacekeepers stationed in East Timor.

Five weeks later, and after multiple operations, Ramos-Horta is discharged from the Royal Darwin Hospital.

Speaking to the 'Sydney Morning Herald' about the shooting, Ramos-Horta says, "I could see from the face and eyes ... that he was going to shoot me."

"I turned around. It was at that moment that he fired at least two shots, hitting me on the right side of the back. If I had not turned at that moment, he would have shot me right in the chest. ... I would have died immediately."

Ramos-Horta returns to East Timor on 17 April. He receives a heroes' welcome from a crowd of thousands.

2010 - Ramos-Horta pardons the 23 rebel soldiers involved in the near fatal attacks on him and Xanana Gusmao on 11 February 2008. The 23 had earlier been found guilty of attempted murder and given prison sentences ranging from nine months to 10 years.

2012 - East Timor's third presidential election is held on 17 March.

Ramos-Horta comes in third in the first round of voting and is disqualified from contesting the run-off. Ramos-Horta's term as president formally ends on 20 May.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission of Support in East Timor winds up its operations on 31 December. The Australian-led troops from the International Stabilisation Force established following the crisis of 2006 begin to withdraw early in 2013. East Timor is left to stand on its own for the first time since Portuguese settlement over 450 years ago.


It must have been excruciating for Ramos-Horta as he observed the conflict in Timor-Leste (East Timor) from the outside. An estimated 200,000 East Timorese died during the 24-year Indonesian occupation, including three of Ramos-Horta's own 11 brothers and sisters.

But while he has only contempt for the Suharto regime and its domestic and international supporters, Ramos-Horta has no bitterness towards the Indonesian people. "One thing I am proud of is that in 24 years of our struggle not one single Indonesian civilian was targeted by the resistance," he has said. "No Indonesian civilians, no Indonesian settlers were killed in this country in 24 years. No terrorist tactics were ever used against Indonesians in this country, and there was no hatred towards Indonesians."

Ramos-Horta has also given Indonesia credit for establishing a special human rights court to try 18 military personnel and militia leaders accused of participating in the violence in East Timor during 1999, even though the court has been criticised as a sham by international observers.

"(The court) is unprecedented in the whole of Asia," he has said. "There has never been in the history of Asia any tribunal to try military officers accused of human rights abuses. The Indonesians are setting a precedent. The trials have been flawed, unjust and unfair but the fact that the Indonesians are doing it, that suddenly those people have to go to court and sit there, is in itself significant progress."