KAY RALA XANANA GUSMÃO
President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
Stockholm International Forum 2004 – Preventing Genocide
‘Threats and Responsibilities’
Stockholm, 27 January, 2004
THE ROLE OF A PARLIAMENTARIAN IN PREVENTING GENOCIDE:
TIMOR-LESTE’S EXPERIENCE AND THOUGHTS FOR THE FUTURE
Excellency, Mr. Goran Persson, Prime Minister,
Excellency, Mr. Per Westerberg, First Deputy Speaker of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I wish to thank the Swedish Government for the opportunity to have been present today at the Remembrance Day ceremony for the Holocaust Memorial Day. At that moving and solemn ceremony, I was also sadly reminded of more recent genocide – Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia and in other places of the world.
Secondly, I greatly appreciate this magnificent occasion afforded by the Parliament of this wonderful country to speak about the experiences of Timor-Leste and its people.
In our recent history, the people of Timor-Leste experienced two wars. The first was between 1942-1945, where more than 90,000 Timorese lost their lives. The second, from 1975 to 1999, where reliable sources estimate that more than third of the population, that is, more than 200,000 Timorese died as a consequence of war, or from the bombings or bullets or from famine and disease and from massacres.
The two wars were armed with the character of expansionism of foreign powers. These two wars were imposed on the People of Timor-Leste and in the last one, which lasted 24 years, the People of that small territory decided to confront the occupation and military domination to which they were subjected, through armed and political resistance.
In the face of constant surges of repression, the people undertook with a conscience of patriotic duty, all the sacrifices for the supreme ideal of independence which they were demanding. In 1974, having come out of Portuguese colonial fascism, the people of Timor-Leste knew only of the primer of the nationalism proclaimed, in the UN Charter, that self-determination and national independence were an inalienable right of peoples.
During the war, by the efforts of the occupiers to force the people to submit, we came to know the oppression of the dictator regime of Indonesia. The people of Timor-Leste were oppressed and persecuted, and came to know prisons, came to know of exile and came to know of the more horrific forms of torture. We were dying as a nation and as a people, we were being condemned to disappear because we demanded the right to be independent and rejected integration with our bigger neighbour.
The total prohibition of organization and assembly, the total control of movement of people and the constant threats and persecution of all those who opposed them, in words or deeds, instilled in the people of Timor-Leste the ideal of freedom, that should be one of the fundamental basis of independence for which they fought and suffered so much.
And freedom was being understood in the context of a democratic system, where opinions should be respected and where differences were not suppressed. The People of Timor-Leste began to understand human rights through the constant violation of individual and collective rights.
It was because of this, that whilst fighting for independence, the people of Timor-Leste desired a society free from fear and terror. The summary executions and disappearances, instead of intimidating the population into giving up the struggle, created overall a sense of value for the struggle, for the sacrifices to which they consented, because the people were already dreaming of peace, as an important component of independence. Only independence could guarantee the building of peace, of peace of mind, of social peace, which were so needed.
Precisely in the darkest periods of the war, the people of Timor-Leste acquired an even greater awareness of the need to continue and the motivation to fight for an independence that would guarantee peace, freedom and tolerance and respect for human rights.
This conviction gained greater momentum and dimension, when in 1999, the process of a referendum or popular consultation, albeit under the auspices of the international community and implemented by the United Nations was swathed by systematic violence and planned destruction committed by militias which were created by Indonesian authorities.
And it was this very conviction that restrained the guerrillas from responding eye for an eye to the massacres committed against the defenseless population, and it was this same conviction that was at the base of the decision made by the population to flee their villages and take refuge in the mountains, thereby avoiding the propaganda promoted by Indonesia and the pro-Indonesian side that the war was a conflict between Timorese, as was their intention.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It was because of all of this that the people of Timor-Leste immediately undertook the need to actively participate in the establishment of a tolerant and democratic society. What the people of Timor-Leste took from the 24 years of suffering, is the commitment to avoid at all costs, further conflicts between Timorese, of never allowing for political violence to be practiced in Timor-Leste to divide and destroy the people.
It was also due to this that in November 1999, the Timorese leadership travelled to Jakarta to explain to the Government and the people of Indonesia, that the past belonged to the past, as we all need to look towards the future, a future of cooperation and good neighbourhood.
It was also because of this that the process of reconciliation between Timorese has proceeded positively for nearly four years, culminating with a public hearing the week before Christmas, in which the leaders of the two major parties involved in the civil war, admitted responsibility for crimes committed and asked for forgiveness from the people.
But it was also because of this that during the transitional period to independence, under the assumption that internal stability can only arise from a climate of tolerance, that the people of Timor-Leste became the real actors of this process. The elections for the Constituent Assembly which took place on 30th August 2001 and the Presidential election in April 2002, were held within an absolute environment of democracy, tolerance and mutual respect, proving the political maturity of the people and their profound aspirations for peace.
Today, the ideals of building the Timorese State seek the following objectives:
- a plan for the eradication of poverty within a policy of social justice, which entails the equitable distribution of national wealth;
- the commitment to good governance to avoid excesses of power;
- the firm commitment to combat corruption, as the major vice of developing societies;
- the establishment of an independent judicial system, professional and with integrity, so that the rule of law becomes part of the culture of the Timorese society;
- direct elections for local government, in order to allow the communities not only to solve their own problems, but overall to actively participate in the development of the nation;
- the encouragement of a strong civil society which becomes the expression of control over the State apparatus;
- and to complete, the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsperson for Justice and Human Rights, as an independent body which looks at the interest of the citizens and of society in general.
Timor-Leste is facing enormous challenges, but we believe that with the continued support from the international community, we can turn these ideals into reality, where the Timorese society can enjoy peace and live in an environment of tolerance and respect for human rights. Only a pluralist system can allow these ideals to be achieved.
In a system such as this, parliamentarians not only have the duty to pass laws that respond to the aspirations of the people, but they also have the duty to help educate the population to develop a more democratic and tolerant conscience, where debate and dialogue become the appropriate mechanisms to reduce tensions and solve problems.