News Archive
Feb 3, 2015 - Nobel Peace Laureate Dr Jose Ramos-Horta Visits Peace Boat
Excited Peace Boat volunteers and staff gather with Dr Jose Ramos-Horta and Ambassador Isilio Coelho
Peace Boat's Tokyo office has hosted numerous dignitaries and opinion makers over its 30-year history. However, the visit on January 29 of Dr José Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Laureate and former President of Timor-Leste, garnered more than the usual excitement; Dr Ramos-Horta embodies the values of mutual respect, dialogue and peace – the central tenets of Peace Boat's own work.

Made possible by the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste to Japan, Dr Ramos-Horta's visit to Peace Boat was all the more special due to his considerable workload in his current role as Chairman of the United Nations' High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations. This role, which Dr Ramos-Horta himself declared to be even more challenging than his previous appointment as Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau, gives him the mandate to coordinate the review of the UN's peacebuilding operations and Special Political Missions as well as to make recommendations to improve their efficacy.

Former President of Timor-Leste and 1996 Nobel Peace Laureate Dr Jose Ramos-Horta
No stranger to challenging roles, Dr Ramos-Horta shot to the limelight at age 25 as one of the founding members of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent Timor-Leste (FRETILIN) when he went before the UN to plead the case for an independent East Timor in the wake of Portugal's withdrawal from its former colonies. Three days after Dr Ramos-Horta left for New York in 1975, the Indonesian military began an occupation of his nation which would last 24 years. During this time, over a third of the Timorese population, which had been subjugated by Portugal and Indonesia as well as Japan during the Second World War, would die in widespread violent conflicts with Indonesian armed forces.

For the next 10 years, Dr Ramos-Horta served as the permanent representative of FRETILIN to the UN and travelled extensively to lobby the international community for support for the Timorese people and for their right to self-determination. For his efforts, Dr Ramos-Horta was jointly awarded the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for "sustained efforts to hinder the oppression of a small people" along with fellow countryman, Bishop Carlos Belo. Due to the relentless efforts of those such as Dr Ramos-Horta, Timor-Leste came under UN administration in 1999, effectively putting an end to the period of sustained violence it had suffered for 24 years.

With the handover of power from the UN to the first democratically elected East Timorese government in 2002, José Ramos-Horta became the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Timor-Leste, the world's youngest democracy. He was later sworn in as Prime Minister of the country in 2006 upon the resignation of his predecessor. In 2007, he successfully ran for President and won 69% of the votes. He served as President of Timor-Leste for a full five-year term, during which he implemented many development projects and reconciliation efforts, despite suffering an assassination attempt during this period.

Dr Ramos-Horta shares Timor's experiences in peacebuilding and reconciliation
In his address to Peace Boat staff and volunteers, Dr Ramos-Horta cited the East Timor-Indonesia Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation as one of the most successful attempts at fostering international understanding between formerly belligerent parties. "The reconciliation is not only (at the) official and government level", he said, "but also people to people." In order to convey the magnitude of this achievement, he explained, "It would be similar for instance, if Japan and South Korea were to do a Truth Commission, or Japan and China."

He also spoke of other local initiatives undertaken in Timor-Leste to facilitate dialogue, building trust and engender mutual understanding. These have included community home-building projects engaging youth previously involved in violent activities, the organisation of the Dili Marathon and Tour de Timor, an island-wide mountain bike race. These efforts were all undertaken as part of the "Road to Peace and National Unity" programme, a ground-up reconciliation and peacebuilding effort led by Dr Ramos-Horta himself.

Dr Ramos-Horta with Peace Boat Co-Founder and Director, Yoshioka Tatsuya
Likening Peace Boat's own efforts to those undertaken in Timor-Leste, Dr Ramos-Horta described the organization's work as a "beautiful peace enterprise that connects tens of thousands of people from different countries, regions, cultures, religions." He acknowledged Peace Boat's capacity to contribute to peacebuilding "block by block, step by step, to spread the message of human solidarity, fraternity, harmony."

Thanking Dr Ramos-Horta for his longtime support for Peace Boat's mission, Director Yoshioka Tatsuya recalled Peace Boat's efforts to support the East-Timorese drive for self-determination and independence in the 1980s and 1990s. He echoed Dr Ramos-Horta's call for human solidarity, fraternity and harmony – the key sentiments behind the exchange activities Peace Boat organized when the ship docked in Dili in 2000, just prior to East-Timorese independence, bringing with it items donated from Japan, humanitarian assistance and lasting friendship.

Dr Ramos-Horta's next mission will see him taking on the even more challenging task of UN reform. He has already been asked by the UN Secretary General to join another panel to review the entire UN system, including the reform of the UN Security Council. While acknowledging the role that supranational institutions or national governments can play in global peacemaking and peacebuilding, he emphasized that they were not the only effective champions of peace. In his inspiring closing remarks to Peace Boat, he said, "Peacebuilding is not only the responsibility of the United Nations or governments; (it is) the possibility of also individuals or NGOs, civil society, of people like you."

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