The APEC Conglomerate and Human Rights and Rule of Law, Principles Vs Realpolitik

Peoples' Summit speech

by José Ramos-Horta
1996 Nobel Peace Prize Co-Laureate

Vancouver, 19 November 1997

José Ramos-Horta is a Visiting Professor at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, founder and member of the Board of the Diplomacy Training Program in the Law Faculty. He is the Special Representative of the National Council of Maubere Resistance (CNRM), umbrella organization comprising all East Timorese groups opposed to Indonesia's occupation of East Timor, and personal Representative of Xanana Gusmão, imprisoned leader of the Resistance. In 1996, he received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the Head of the Catholic Church of East Timor, Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo. Mr. Ramos-Horta is member of the Commission of Nobel Peace Laureates on Arms Transfer. He is also founder of the Nobel Laureates Foundation, an independent coordinating secretariat of all Nobel laureates.

First, I would like to thank the Canadian Labor Congress, and organizers of the People's Summit on APEC for their kind invitation extended to me to join in this gathering of NGOs and peoples of the Asia-Pacific region. To all who have put so much effort, time and resources to make possible this gathering of citizens from so many countries I wish to extend my warm congratulations and warm gratitude.

My special gratitude to friends of East Timor in Canada for their kindness and generosity over the years of struggle to keep the flame of hope alive. Many Canadians have been very kind in sending me flowers. Their kind gesture touched me deeply. To all, including the Premier of British Columbia, the Hon. Glenn Clark, who was so gracious in meeting with many of us today, my sincere appreciation for your warm hospitality.

Whenever I am compelled to appear before a distinguished audience as this one today I always wish that instead of me someone else be here today. It could be Xanana Gusmão, a gifted poet, writer and journalist. He is also the possible reincarnation of the romantic El Che who died 30 years ago in the jungles of Bolivia.

Xanana, like Mandela is now serving a 20 year prison sentence in a foreign land. Fours months ago, Xanana was summoned from his prison cell in Cipinang, Jakarta, for a meeting that is the dream of many common mortals, a meeting with one of the most extraordinary individuals this century has produced, Nelson Mandela. During his state visit to Indonesia, President Mandela asked Suharto that Xanana be allowed to see him. First Suharto said no but then relented and the former prisoner Mandela saw the prisoner Xanana for a 2 hour dinner and meeting.

But Xanana cannot be here today. Another East Timorese who should be here is my fellow countryman and Nobel Peace Prize co-Laureate, Bishop Carlos Ximenes Filipe Belo. He is the symbol of the resilience, determination, courage and generosity of the Timorese Church, a church which has always stood with the people, guiding it over the ages, through good and bad times, through war and through peace.

Another person, a far more eloquent spokesperson for the peoples of the Asia-Pacific region, for the men and women of Asia, in their struggle for peace, freedom and dignity, who should be here today, an extraordinary woman, a woman of courage, intelligence, vision and dignity, is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the people of Burma. However, this courageous and kind woman is a hostage in her own country.

A year ago I got the shock of my like when the Nobel Peace Committee in Oslo announced the names of the two laureates for 1996. However, I have always taken the view that the prize is not a tribute to the work and commitment of individuals. No single individual has the exclusivity of dedication and determination to pursue this often lonely struggle throughout the years.

The Prize is in reality an honor to the struggling East Timorese people, young and old, women and men, who have given their lives for the cause of peace and self-determination; Bishop Carlos Belo's predecessor, the late Dom Martinho da Costa Lopes, the unknown priests and nuns, lay workers of our generous and humble church; the students and school teachers; civil servants and taxi drivers; the brave freedom resistance fighters, and the underground activists. These are the true heroes who have been honored by the Nobel Peace prize.

But our work would have been even more lonely the selfless support of our friends around the world. In these long 22 years, our friends of all walks of life in all five regions of the world helped us, fed us, gave us their beds, dedicated long years of their lives to this campaign against injustice. East Timor has been for them a universal cause, a test of human being's own morality.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends: We are gathering here at a time of extraordinary challenges and hope, hope that the challenges of today will inspire and compel us, peoples and governments, to work towards economic and political reforms that will guarantee peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

We are at the dawn of the Third Millennium and thus we should reflect on what has been the last hundred years of the history of humanity, on the extraordinary positive achievements in every level of human activity but also on the darker side of our humanity.

From the time when daring Portuguese navigators sailed out of the Tagus river in early XV century to the Apollo missions in the 60's, the advances in transport and communications technology have been astounding. But the scientific and technological progress also brought about incalculable destruction and suffering. The slave trade which uprooted an estimated ten million Africans from their beloved villages in West Africa was made possible in part by the scientific knowledge acquired in sea voyage. The genocide of Indigenous peoples in the Americas and Australia must also be weighed in our reflection.

However, the magnitude of the destruction brought about by human beings against its fellow human beings did not begin and end with the slave trade and the colonization of the Americas, Africa and Australia. The greatest leap in scientific progress has been registered in this century of ours that is coming to an end. However this century has also been witnessed to some of the worst barbarism that human kind is capable of.

The genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, the Jewish holocaust and the crimes against the gypsies in the 40's, the apartheid system in South Africa, the Chinese occupation and destruction of Tibet, the Vietnam war and the bombing of neutral Cambodia, the tragic events of 1965-66 in Indonesia that cost the lives of over a million Indonesians, the Khmer Rouge brutalities in the 70's, the Afghan war, the Iran-Iraq war in the 80's, the brutal war against the Eritrean people, the continuing persecution and denial of the rights of the Kurdish, the on-going occupation of East Timor, the tragedy in the Great Lakes region, stand out among the most serious crimes of this century.

I am conscious that I have left unmentioned many other tragic situations and for this omission I apologize.

The progress in the struggle for human rights

However, in spite of the dark history and present, we can take consolation in that significant progress has been made in the last 50 years in the global struggle for human rights and the rule of law. The international community through the UN and at regional level has developed an impressive mass of binding international legislation and protection mechanisms that were unthinkable in the past.

As the world becomes a village through the extraordinary revolution in the field of international information and communications, crimes such as the slave trade, colonization and genocide of the indigenous peoples in the past centuries are no longer possible.

Gross and systematic abuses of human rights violations occurring in many countries do not escape public attention. The CNN and other global TV stations, the air waves of BBC and other important short wave broadcasting systems reduce the isolation, the distance and connect millions of peoples around the world. Tyrants that were immune to international scrutiny only a decade ago are no longer safe.

As much as the struggle for human rights and the rule of law remains an daunting task, we can feel optimistic because the world is becoming smaller and unsafe for tyrants.

However, in the Asia-Pacific region, there are a few individuals in power who are attempting to derail the gains made by the international community. In the July meeting in Malaysia between the ASEAN countries and its Western cooperation partners, Prime Minister Mahatir Muhamad of Malaysia and Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Alatas of Indonesia declared war on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Both leaders claimed that this is a document representing a minority view point and should be revised to accommodate "Asian values". However, the proponents of the "Asian values" theory have never actually articulated a set of "Asian values" that is supposedly different from the principles and values embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This is the time for us to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this historic document. Instead we are all being challenged by Mahatir, Suharto, Lee Kuan Knew, Li Peng, the SLORC, Khameini and Saddam Hussein, that the Universal Declaration should be revised to accommodate the views of these gentlemen, namely, the views that Asians have their own human rights and cultural values different from those from Europe, Latin America and Africa.

These are not new arguments. Throughout the sixties and seventies, we heard similar arguments by the communist bloc, i.e., that human rights and fundamental freedoms were a Western concept that stood against the collective rights.

Ironically with the collapse of the communist bloc this argument has been appropriated by certain Asian regimes, a mixed bag of military dictatorships, Islamic autocrats that have their own peculiar interpretation of the Koran.

The human rights debate is not a conflict between the rich North and the impoverished South. It is rather a struggle of principles and ideals between the democracies and the despotic and undemocratic regimes.

Human rights are not only a moral imperative. Human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law are also the only real guarantee of peace and stability that are necessary for economic progress. In an authoritarian or totalitarian state without an elected parliament, independent judiciary, a free and dynamic media, corruption becomes pervasive, saps the resources of the country, personal fortunes are accumulated, the gap between the rich and poor becomes wider and wider.

Human rights and national interest

I understand the difficulties in managing inter-state relations in a changing and volatile world, in a world increasingly smaller, competitive and interdependent. However, I believe that national interests cannot be defined only in terms of trade advantages and other quantifiable gains.

A country is worth its name if it can be respected for its independence and integrity, adherence to ethics and principle in its relation to other countries, prepared to politely but firmly to disagree with its friends. Should discreet diplomacy be the rule in relations among states, it should not mean abandonment of basic values and principles.

The promotion and defense of human rights might sometimes require a public and frank statement reflecting the concerns of a country. As it is the case in life, sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Sometimes we have to pay a certain price for what we believe in.

The Jewish holocaust and Realpolitik

The Jewish holocaust could have been prevented by the powers that be at the time, namely the US, France and the UK. Reports of persecution of Jews in Germany and elsewhere in Europe were reaching European capitals and Washington. There were confidential reports warning about the rising tide of Nazism and persecution of Jews.

In 1939, a boat carrying 900 Jews refugees fleeing Nazi Germany was anchored off Florida waiting for clearance to land. After two weeks they were told that were not welcome and the boat was turned back.

The prevailing policy at the time in the US and UK was that Hitler should not be confronted. Appeasement was the preferred option, dictated by pragmatism and Realpolitik. The Jews were after all an expendable people in the grand scheme of national interests. More than six million Jews and hundreds of thousands gypsies were murdered because those would could have stopped the evil chose appeasement.

Justice Robert Jackson, Chief Prosecutor of the Nuremberg War Crime Tribunals, said:

The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.
However, similar crimes are continuing because those in government allow them to happen. The Jewish Holocaust happened because the powers that be at the time chose pragmatism and appeasement over moral leadership and humanity. The defenseless Jews who were marched to their deaths were a mere footnote to the apologists of Realpolitik and pragmatism in their pursuit of appeasement towards Hitler.

It was pragmatism that drove the West to support Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war in the 80's. For the practitioners of pragmatism, Saddam Hussein was a moderating influence in the Gulf region that could contain the spread of Islamic fundamentalism from Iran.

Even when the world watched in horror the gassing of thousands of Iranian Kurdish women and children by the Iraqi air force, the West continued to chose pragmatism over principles.

In February 1990, US and European diplomats were busy in the UNCHR in Geneva trying to stop a draft resolution critical of the human rights situation in Iraq. Their argument was that "significant progress" was being made in the respect for human rights in Iraq. A few months later, Saddam Hussein became the worst evil in the world when his troops invaded Kuwait.

The immorality of arms sales

Since the end of the Cold War, at least four million people have lost their lives in 30 conflicts around the world. Over 40 million people died in conventional wars since the end of World War II. There are 40 million refugees or displaced persons around the world.

While I do not wish to oversimplify the often complex nature of some of these conflicts, no one can deny that the arms trade is the single most serious cause of such much destruction.

A recently established Commission of Nobel Peace Laureates has urged governments to adopt an International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers. The Code would require that all arms recipients meet certain criteria, namely, compliance with international human rights standards, humanitarian law, respect for democratic rights and the rule of law. We are conscious that what we are proposing does not go far enough. However, we believe that the adoption of such a Code could contribute to peace in the world.

I fully share President Clinton's concern about the proliferation of modified assault rifles in the US and fully support his decision to block permits already issued to dealers for 600,000 guns and freezing applications to import a million more. ("President Imposes A Hold on Imports of Assault Rifles", New York Times, November 15, page 1).

In a radio address, President Clinton said: "I am not going to let people overseas turn our streets into battle zones."

Those of us in the developing world who have seen our countries and people destroyed by weapons sold by the US and other industrialized countries to our despotic regimes could not agree more with President Clinton's sentiments of revulsion.

Developed countries accounted for 93% of all weapons export in 1994. The US accounted for over half. In 1993, the US sold 73% of all arms to the developing world. Of the recipients, 90% were not democracies and over two-thirds were on the US State Department list of human rights violators.

It is rather ironic that the five permanent members of the UNSC that are supposed to look after our collective security, are also the biggest arms merchants of the world fueling and profiting from the wars.

The Asia region is the fastest growing arms market and Indonesia is second only to China in arms build-up.

I applaud the recent decision by the US Congress in prohibiting the use of American weapons in East Timor. I also commend the Clinton Administration as well as the British Labor government for the initiatives taken in pressing the Suharto regime to improve its record and engaging the Indonesian democracy movement in dialogue. However, they can and should much more when we bear in mind their much greater responsibility.

Dear friends, ladies and gentlemen:
I would like to share with you some excerpts of a story that appeared in IHT, October 27. The title reads: "The Mood Darkens as Haze Spreads Across Southeast Asia":

Tigers and elephants are fleeing the burning jungles. Birds are falling from the murky skies. Schoolchildren are fainting at their desks. Ships are colliding at sea.
As a filthy haze from vast Indonesian forest fires continues to darken the sky across seven Southeast Asian nations, illness, ecological destruction and economic hardship are growing.
After four months, the man-made fires, set on the heavily forested islands f Borneo and Sumatra to clear land for crops, are spreading rather than shrinking. And with Indonesia suffering its worst drought in 50 years - a result of El Niño weather disturbances - no one knows how many weeks or months it will be until the monsoon rains finally arrive to douse the fires.
Smoke from the fires, mingling with urban pollution, has spread form Indonesia into Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei and Papua New Guinea. -
Well-connected palm oil plantation owners and pulp-and-paper companies in Indonesia have continued clearing land by burning off vast tracts of jungle, seemingly immune to laws or punishment. -
The immediate effects of the smog have been dramatic. Airports have closed and flights canceled around the region. Uncounted days of work have been lost as factories and mines have shut down and hundreds of thousands of people have fallen ill with respiratory ailments. -

Already it has affected agriculture, and food shortages and rising prices are predicted. Reduced sunlight is slowing the growth of fruits and vegetables and reducing yields of corn and rice. The smoke is tainting cocoa crops. Birds, bees and insects have disappeared in many areas, disrupting pollination.

Indonesia is the world's leading producer of robusta coffee beans, largely used for instant coffee. It is the world's second leading producer of cocoa and palm oil and is a major producer of rubber. All have been affected.

Hundreds of people are reported to have died from starvation, dysentery and influenza. Some doctors say there could be a severe long term toll on health that may not show itself for years, particularly among the young, the old and people with respiratory problems.

Prime Minister Mahatir Muhamad blames George Soros for the stock market and currency debacle in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Megaprojects, delusion of grandeur, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, cronyism, nepotism, mismanagement, are not the real problems that have brought down the edifices of arrogance erected by our despotic rulers. The culprits are to be found elsewhere.

When will the leaders and elites of Asia learn about modesty, humility, discretion, social justice and tolerance, virtues that are to be found in the ancient teachings of the Khoran, Budism and Hinduism? They who claim to be the guardians of "Asian values" seem to be the very ones who ignore certain sacred teachings of the Eastern religions and philosophies.

The APEC leaders may continue to pretend that human rights and fundamental freedoms, labor, women, minority and indigenous rights, are abstract notions without a place on its agenda. However, it is the policies espoused by the IMF, World Bank and APEC leaders that are responsible for the environmental disaster in Indonesia and for the demise of the so-called "tiger economies", resulting in misery for millions of peoples in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand who have lost their savings and lively hood.

It would be amusing if it were not so tragic, to say the least , to see how the so-called experts who until recently took credit for the alleged "economic miracle" in East Asia are now conveniently silent.

The enormous wealth and the potential of the APEC region are obvious. The GDP, population and trade figures speak for themselves and I need not elaborate. However, APEC's political diversity comprising rich and democratic countries as well as some of the poorest and most repressive regimes of the region reduce it to essentially an annual extravaganza of leaders and bureaucrats who are alienated from the common peoples problems and real needs.

When a group of leaders meet and ignore the choking clouds of forest fires, the misery of the poor who lost their savings and jobs, indifferent to the armies of peasants and workers expelled from their land, the labor leaders, students and activists imprisoned because of their opinions, then it is courting revolution.

In a recent meeting in Washington with senior American Administration officials I recommended that the US should lead the rescue of Southeast Asian economies at this time of severe crisis in the region. Regardless of the responsibilities for the economic catastrophe in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, the reality is that millions of poor people are being affected and many more will be out of job in the next few months.

Beyond the moral and humanitarian consideration, I believe that there is a serious potential for political and security turmoil in the region if the economic and financial crisis is not met with strategic vision.

A strategic vision entails a comprehensive approach in addressing not only the immediate economic problems but also the underlying causes of the crisis. There has to be a serious reevaluation of the development strategy taking into consideration the human and environmental factor.

In final analysis, APEC will not be able to sustain itself if economic growth and trade liberalization remain its only concern. The peoples of Asia will not allow their environment and natural resources that are the sources of their lively hood to continue to be plundered at such an extraordinary cost to them.

A rescue package must include specific measures on political reform. Indonesia should allow the formation of independent trade unions, release all political leaders, lift Press censorship, abolish the death penalty and ratify the Torture Convention. These are only some of the steps that should be taken immediately. An economic rescue package to the tune of US$40 billion dollars as has been reported without serious political reforms will make a mockery of the Indonesian people.

The situation in Burma

The situation in Burma demands action beyond the annual ritual of the UN General Assembly and CHR resolutions.

The military junta in Burma which defrauded the Burmese people and the international community should be denied a seat in the UN General Assembly, as the South African apartheid regime was denied a seat in the past.

In the late 70's, the ASEAN countries, supported by the US, also succeeded in blocking recognition of the government installed in Phnom Penh after the Vietnamese intervention in 1978.

If the international community wishes to move beyond rhetoric and send a clear signal to the SLORC, the denial of its credentials by the GA Credentials Committee is one course of action to be considered.

The current sanctions initiated by the UE and EU though commendable are totally inadequate. Prohibiting only new investments in Burma while maintaining existing ones seems to me to be an empty gesture. Existing business and investments in Burma are the problem and they must pull out.

China, Taiwan, Tibet

When the UN SC debated the issue of East Timor in 1975 and 1976 China was our closest ally. I worked closely with very able Chinese diplomats. In spite of the indifference of the other four permanent members, China, along with other non-permanent members, succeeded in pushing the SC to adopt two resolutions on East Timor.

It is with this feeling of gratitude and admiration for China that I appeal to the Chinese leaders to listen to their own people's opinions and desires for a more open society, based on the rule of law, democracy, freedom of speech. These are after all rights that are granted to each Chinese citizen by their own Constitution.

Wei Jingsheng is one of Chinas best child. He is being wasted away when his talents could best be used in the service of his fellow Chinese people and country. His release is reason for some celebration only because he has been given a chance for medical treatment. However, I find it ironic that often we have to express gratitude to our despots when they release a prisoner whom they should not have arrested anyway.

The people of Taiwan have shown great maturity, responsibility and commitment to peace and democracy. As long as there is no progress on the issue of peaceful reunification or on any other option for the future of Taiwan, I believe that the cause of peace can best be served if Taiwan is granted observer status in the UN. The observer status was granted in the past to South and North Korea, South and North Vietnam.

After all, China has not objected to Taiwan joining the APEC in recognition of its great importance. Observer status as an interim measure would make justice to the 21 million people of Taiwan.

China should listen to the voice of peace and moderation of the Tibetan people. For many years the Tibetan spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has offered a moderate peace proposal to the Chinese authorities to settle the Tibetan conflict.

Human rights for the Chinese people, the issues of Tibet and Taiwan are the three major challenges for the Chinese leadership and the world community.

The struggle for self-determination in East Timor

Allow me now to turn to the question of East Timor. For a better understanding of the conflict I will set it in its historical and geopolitical context.

You might recall a picture that made headlines in the spring of 1975. I am referring to the picture of an American helicopter landing on the rooftop of the US Embassy in Saigon to rescue remaining diplomats, CIA operatives and a few privileged South Vietnamese stooges as Saigon fell to the Vietcong. Cambodia and Laos followed. This picture illustrated better than a thousand words the ignominious American retreat from Indochina. For the leaders in Moscow it was the beginning of Russian expansion and influence, the implementation of the Brezhnev doctrine.

It was in this geopolitical context that President Gerald Ford and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, visited Jakarta in early December 1975 as part of an Asian tour to reassure Asian leaders that the US would continue to honor its security commitments in Asia.

The invasion of East Timor which took place within hours of Ford's departure from Jakarta was a mere footnote in the geopolitical events of 1975. Thousands of East Timorese who died in the days, weeks, months and years that followed were mere footnotes to the Vietnamese and Cold Wars.

The right of the people of East Timor to self-determination is widely recognized. This UNSC resolution called on Indonesia to withdraw its troops from East Timor "without delay" and "affirmed the right of the people of East Timor to self-determination".

From 1975 onwards, the US was an accomplice in one of the greatest aggression of modern times. US supplied weapons and diplomatic backing to Indonesia, while ignoring the extraordinary brutalities of the Indonesian army in East Timor.

The end of the Cold War took away from Indonesia and the US the strongest rationale for supporting the invasion and annexation of East Timor, namely the threat of Communism.

However, Indonesia and its friends try a new scare tactic, that Indonesia would disintegrate if it were to allow East Timor to go free. This might have some validity if East Timor were an historical part of Indonesia. This is not the case. East Timor was colonized for almost 500 years by the Portuguese and has forged a strong cultural and religious identity, older than the history of the US and that of most Latin American and African states.

I understand the legitimate concern of countries in preserving their national unity and territorial integrity. Many developing countries, Indonesia being a prime example, experienced a traumatic nation-building process with numerous attempts from within and without to undermine the unity of the state.

But governments must be sensitive and wise with regards to the basic demands of their own people. In most cases these demands are not for secession. They ask to be allowed to survive as a people with a language and a culture. They ask that their land and environment be protected from rapacious multinationals. Only when these basic demands are not met do they resort to other forms of struggle, with an escalation in their demands.

I do not hold the view that an independent state has to be homogenous, ethnically, culturally or religiously. Examples abound of multi-ethnic states that live in peace, based on shared concerns and destiny, on a degree of genuine political and administrative autonomy for each component, and of deep respect for each others heritage and aspirations.

The CNRM Peace Initiative

For more than 20 years now, I have argued for a peaceful resolution of the East Timor conflict through dialogue between us and the Indonesian side. These views haven't changed.

Our imprisoned leader, Xanana Gusmão, has proposed and reiterated time and again our very basic stance. We remain ready to enter into a process of dialogue with the Indonesian authorities, under the auspices of the United Nations, without pre-conditions, to explore all possible ideas towards a comprehensive settlement of the conflict.

In 1992, I articulated a peace proposal, which I believe to be a reasonable way - even if it is not the only one - to end the conflict. This peace initiative was first outlined when I addressed the Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the EU in April 1992 and it remains valid today.

This phase which should take up to two years to be fully implemented, would involve all three parties working with the UN to implement a wide range of "confidence building measures", but would not deal with the core of the problem which is the issue of self-determination. This phase of the talks must focus on achieving:

Immediate end to all armed activities in East Timor; reduction of Indonesian troop presence to a maximum of 1,000; release of all political prisoners; reduction by 50 per cent of Indonesian civil servants in East Timor; stationing in the territory of UN Specialized Agencies such as UNICEF, UNDP, WHO, FAO.

These are some of the ideas which I believe could be implemented immediately without loss of face for Indonesia. On the contrary, its international standing would improve significantly and its presence in the territory would be less resented, thus relieving a very tense situation.

Phase Two - Autonomy, 5- 10 years

Phase Two, lasting between five and ten years, would be a period of genuine political autonomy based on ample powers vested in a local, democratically elected Territorial People's Assembly.

Phase Three - Self-determination

If all parties agree that Phase Three should enter into effect immediately, then the UN begins to prepare a referendum on self-determination to determine the final status of the territory.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends:
I had no intentions to use this forum to level attacks at the Republic of Indonesia and I hope that I have not offended anyone. I do not have the pretense at being an actor, prosecutor and judge. My point is that it would serve no useful purpose to assign blame today to any particular country.

No one is free from responsibility in the East Timor tragedy. Portugal, Australia, Japan, the US, the UK and France, the UN, have all failed the people of East Timor. However, as much as we can assign blame to these countries, we can also understand their motives, indifference and fears.

East Timorese political leaders, must share responsibility over the tragedy that has affected the people of East Timor. The people of East Timor were and are still the victims of our collective irresponsibility, of the errors of judgment of some, and the indifference of too many.

Portugal is often accused for having abandoned its responsibilities in 1975. However, the years 1974-75 were dramatic ones for Portugal, it was the end of a decaying empire, the virtual collapse of the army and other institutions, and it had no means even if it had the political will to effectively control the situation in East Timor.

The US, having just being forced into a humiliating retreat from Vietnam, was not in a position to play any leadership role on this issue even if it wanted to.

Indonesia feared a potential Marxist takeover in East Timor and the disintegration of the Republic if East Timor were to be allowed to become independent. The U.S. was handicapped by its humiliating retreat form Indochina.

We have all failed the people of East Timor. And as I speak here today, I am guided by an appeal made by the UN Secretary General to all parties to observe restraint and to cooperate fully with him in his efforts to bring about a just, comprehensive and internationally acceptable solution to the problem of East Timor.

Let us then work in good faith with the Secretary General and try to find a formula that satisfies all parties.

More complex and seemingly intractable issues involving nations that once swore each other mutual destruction are on the way of resolution. We can do no less.

From here I extend my sincere condolences and apologies to the families of Indonesians who lost their lives in the war. It is estimated that at least 5,000 Indonesian soldiers lost their lives in East Timor. During the "general election" in May it is believed that 30 or more Indonesian security personnel died as result of resistance action.

I also extend my sincere condolences and apologies to the families of the East Timorese who were victimized. I strongly condemn any physical abuse, killing or humiliation of Indonesian civilian personnel, migrants, their families or Indonesian military personnel in non-combat duties.

The escalation of violence in East Timor in the last few months, initiated by the Indonesian forces, has been thoroughly documented. This escalation of violence provoked a coordinated guerrilla attack throughout the country. We are now witnessing a spiral of violence in which the victims are always the weaker ones, the defenseless East Timorese population.

This situation must come to an immediate end. Indonesian troop presence in East Timor must be reduced to a minimal level equivalent to the Portuguese troop level in East Timor in 1974, which never exceeded 1000. Remaining troops should be confined to their barracks.

East Timorese resistance fighters should observe a cessation of all armed activities. A protection zone should be created in an agreed region of East Timor where the armed resistance forces and their families can assemble under international humanitarian protection. Prisoners should be released. Torture must end.

A representative office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should be established in East Timor. Such an office could serve as a useful bridge of dialogue and mediate local conflicts. It should also provide training in international human rights and humanitarian law for the law enforcement agents, the armed forces and police, as well as members of the civil society.

I can only pray and hope that those in power in Indonesia can summon enough courage, humility and inspiration from its own epic struggle for independence from the Dutch, and change course.

Mandela is the living proof that nothing is irreversible, no regime is eternal, empires do not last for ever. Only 10 years ago, not too many would have imagined that Mandela would one day emerge as the President of the new South Africa.

The world has changed dramatically in the last few years and the theorists of irreversibility and status quo have been discredited by the collapse of the USSR.

Vaclav Havel spent years in prison as did tens of thousands of others in Central and Eastern Europe, in the Baltic States, in the Russian gulags. As did Nelson Mandela. As Daw Aung San Suu Kji today.

Who would have thought it possible that the great Armenian people, persecuted for hundreds of years would regain a country called Armenia?

The entire world conspired against the Eritrean people. Today, Eritrea is a shining example for the rest of the world.

Last but not least, for the prophets of doom, for those in government who counsel us with realism , allow me to remind you of a news item of the ever reliable BBC a few years ago. It was sometime in early 1991. I was driving from the small Swiss town of Nyon to the Palais des Nations.

The BBC was telling the story of a Soviet cosmonaut who had gone into space a few months earlier on one of those record-breaking missions.

When he was blasted off from somewhere in the Soviet Union, he carried a passport and a nationality granted to him by the mightiest and most feared military empire in the world. Once he completed his tour of duty for the pride of the socialist motherland he prepared the spacecraft for its return journey to earth. But he no longer had a country to return to.

The mighty empire had ceased to exist. He was forced to circle the earth a few more days until people of good will decided where he should land.

Texten är tagen från datakonferensen reg.easttimor i datanätet APC den 23 november 1997. Formatteringen är gjord av Tommy Pollák

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