Horta, Jos Ramos

Prominent Refugees, 26 December 1949

José Ramos Horta

José Ramos Horta

José Ramos Horta fought for the self-determination of East Timor in his youth and throughout many years of exile before becoming Foreign Minister of the newly-independent state. He won the Nobel Prize in 1996 for his work towards a just and peaceful solution to the problem of the former Portuguese colony.

East Timor makes up half of the divided island of Timor, the other half belonging to Indonesia. Ramos Horta was born in Dili, the son of a Timorese mother and a Portuguese father who had been exiled to East Timor by the Salazar dictatorship. Ramos Horta worked as a radio and television journalist from 1969 to 1974, during which time the Portuguese authorities sent him to Mozambique for two years (1970-71) as a punishment for his involvement in politics.

As Timorese nationalism emerged, Ramos Horta was seen as a voice of moderation. He was a co-founder of FRETILIN, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor. In 1974, as the Portuguese withdrew, he was appointed Minister for External Affairs and Information in the first transitional government of the Democratic Republic of East Timor. In December 1975, while Ramos Horta was travelling abroad, Indonesia invaded and annexed the territory. Ramos Horta was to spend the next 23 years of his life in exile denouncing the annexation and defending the right of the people of East Timor to self-determination.

Arriving in New York at the age of 25, he found an apartment in the Bronx and would regularly walk down to the UN building in an attempt to keep the issue of East Timor on the agenda. He was also the personal representative of the jailed freedom fighter, Xanana Gusmão. Ramos Horta formulated a three-phase peace plan that became the template for UN negotiations with Indonesia.

He has been the leading international spokesman for the East Timorese cause. In 1996 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with his fellow countryman, Bishop Carlos Belo.

Following a UN supervised referendum in 1999, East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence. However, heavy fighting broke out as militia backed by Jakarta tried to force the East Timorese to become part of Indonesia. International peacekeepers stepped in and the United Nations formed a transitional government (UNTAET) to stabilise the country. In May 2002, East Timor became an independent country (Timor-Leste) headed by Gusmão, with Ramos Horta as Foreign Minister.