Visiting President of Timor-Leste (East Timor) Dr José Ramos-Horta was met with a seven-gun salute this morning at the president’s jetty, the first day of his state visit to the Maldives.
The two countries signed an agreement to promote cultural exchange and encourage travel through a visa agreement.
Introducing the Nobel Peace prize-winning head of state, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed said Timor’s experience with transitional justice following its independence provided valuable insight for the Maldives’ own process of national reconciliation.
“His excellency [Ramos-Horta] is no ordinary head of state – he is a renowned, fearless and uncompromising champion of human rights,” Nasheed said. “We can learn from their experiences building democracy and of transitional justice.
Ramos-Horta thanked Nasheed for the invitation, joking that “some people at home were suspicious as to why I was going to the Maldives on Valentines Day. I had to show them the letter from the president to prove it was not forsecret romantic purposes.” He also said he was “nervous about coming, in case the President invited us to a meeting underwater.”
He pledged Timor’s support for the Maldives’ bid to join the UN Council of Human Rights, praising Nasheed’s “creativity, commitment, and conciliatory and compassionate approach to past political opponents”.
Timor Leste, like the Maldives, was one of the few countries “to have ratified ever human rights instrument, on day one our our succession to independence,” Ramos-Horta said.
“It took 24 years of occupation [by Indonesia] before we freed ourselves, and tens of thousands of people died. And yet there is no anger or resentment between us and former occupiers – we have the best possible relationship, and thousands of Indonesians are still living in Timor without abuse or discrimination.
“The greatest act of justice is that we are free. We are free because Indonesia also freed itself in 1999 with the fall of the Soeharto regime. Indonesia won by freeing itself of East Timor – and they did. If you look monthly import-exports, [Indonesia] wasted a lot of money on Timor. Now our import bill to them is huge, in the millions of dollars. Our independence restored Indonesia’s honour and dignity.”
Ramos-Horta said a conciliatory approach following Timor’s independence had led to heavy criticism from “heroic bureaucrats” in the United Nations and Brussels, who favoured an “international tribunal to try everyone in Indonesia who was involved in the crimes of the past.
“[Such an approach] would have shown on our side a lack of wisdom and insensitivity to an Indonesia [which was itself] in turmoil and in transition to democracy.”
Ramos-Horta said he himself had “lost brothers and sisters, some of whom we cannot even recover the bodies. That happened to thousands of people.”
“Each country has its realities; its challenges and complexities,” he explained. “I prefer to be criticised for being soft on people who committed violence in the past than be criticised for being too harsh or insensitive in putting people in jail. Our approach fits our reality, an approach the president of the Maldives and I share – the need for magnanimity.”
“Immediately after our independence in 1999, I said: ‘in victory be magnanimous. Don’t rub the wounds of those who feel they lost. Make they feel they won, also.'”