New Man Magazine, March 2009

Jose Ramos-Horta knows all too well the difficult steps it would take to attain long lasting peace among the nations of the world. Still, despite having faced family casualties and attempts on his own life, he remains vigilant in the pursuit of long lasting peace for all mankind…

He lost three siblings when Indonesia occupied his country. Two brothers executed by the occupying forces. A younger sister killed by rocket fire. Just last year, he himself survived an assassination attempt that left him unconscious for 11 days. Asked if he has forgiven Marcelo Caetano, the man who attempted to kill him, he replies: “I don’t think about him.” In fact, after his recovery, he had Caetano brought into his office and asked how he was being treated in prison and if he needed anything. Caetano told him that his wife needed a mobile phone. She got one soon after. Grey-haired Jose Ramos-Horta, President of East Timor, carries credibility when he advocates peace and proposes that “long lasting peace is an attainable dream”.

“Dreaming is what we all do. Sometimes in broad daylight. Not dreaming, I don’t think, is human,” he says with a smile in his voice as he leans on his elbow to straighten his smallish frame. He’s sitting on the edge of the couch, light spilling onto his face from the nearby window. “You dream in broad daylight about a goal that you want to attain and then you work on that dream. If you dream and then sit back, relax and wait for God to deliver on the dream, well, it might not happen,” he affirms from behind his platinum-wire glasses. With that—the poetry of his proposition and the philosophy of a president—he throws an invitation to step with him on a journey towards a culture of peace.

End the Violence
But Ramos-Horta doesn’t believe that we’ll return to some pre-Edenic paradise where the lamb and the lion lie down together. He’s more practical than that. He asks: “Can there be peace all over the world—that we as human beings stop killing each other; that nuclear weapons, all biological, chemical and conventional weapons are destroyed; and human beings believe in loving each other—is that an attainable dream?” Then he answers his own question, saying: “Well, maybe not. That’s how we humans are, going back thousands of years. From the moment we start walking and thinking and needing more land to live on, wanting to eat more fruit, more hunting grounds, we start killing each other.”

As a first goal, we should strive to end armed conflicts. To end wars. ‘So that’, Ramos-Horta underscores, “no one is killed through violent means at one [sic] given time. That is possible anywhere in the world as long as there is commitment and patience on the part of everybody to attain that status of non-belligerence: of no war, of no firing of rockets or missiles at each other.”
He pauses for a mouthful of cold water from the sweating glass. Then he intones: “The first step,
the killing must end.” He believes that Palestine and Israel must come to the conference table and end the tragic situation in the Middle East. Peace there is attainable, he says. As is peace in Afghanistan.

Having stopped the killing, the next step is to destroy the weapons we’ve accumulated. Ramos-Horta details the continuing process toward peace and says: “Move a step further on nuclear disarmament, the destruction of biological and chemical arsenals. Move a step further, addressing the problems of the environment and food supplies in the world.” He argues: “Because as the world’s population grows and if resources become more and more scarce, aggravated by the negative impact of climate change, well, people might kill each other over water. Might kill each other over forests.”

“We cannot look at peace only just as the absence of war. But it’s the number one step. Then we look at the larger, more complex issue of peace and all the potential causes of conflicts,” he emphasises.

Justification for War
When the question “Is there ever a justification to go to war?” is posed, Horta-Ramos, pauses. “Well, it is difficult to answer that.” He straightens his dark Nehru-collar jacket and continues: “I’ve
argued that before. In the face of tyranny, in the face of a people that is completely oppressed,
in the face of genocide, should we say ‘No use of force’?”, he asks, again rhetorically: “Was Vietnam’s intervention in Cambodia in the seventies justified or not? Was it morally justified or not, ending genocide by the Khmer Rouge? The non-intervention of Rwanda, which led to the
genocide of one million people in six months, was that a moral one, the non-intervention? Let me put it another way, if South Africa, the most powerful army in the region at that time, had intervened
unilaterally in Rwanda to stop the genocide, would that unilateral intervention have been illegal or immoral?”

“These are challenging questions. It is politically correct to say ‘No use of force’. No to wars?’ But
in the face of these real situations, what should we have done?” he asks.

“The United Nations failed in Cambodia and Rwanda. Completely, miserably failed” he pronounces. “If Vietnam’s intervention that ended Khmer Rouge’s genocide was wrong because we say that there should be no use of force, are we then saying we all condone genocide?” According to the President, there was no political will to stop the genocide in Rwanda even though the international community knew that a full-scale intervention was the only way to stop the killing there. He asserts: “Bill Clinton failed miserably in Rwanda. But because of Rwanda, he did not fail in Kosovo and Bosnia.” NATO intervened in those two countries. When it was pointed out that he had not given an unequivocal Yes or No to the question on the use of force, the President let out a laugh, punctuating the sombre mood of the interview forced upon by the sobriety of the subject matter.

Perhaps it’s the politically correct position to adopt and to say force should not be used. But Ramos-Horta summarises it thus: “Sometimes there is justification for the use of force, but only in extreme circumstances.”

“My point is that I find it too simplistic that certain schools simplistically talk about the non-use of force—and that is correct as a matter of principle—but then they fail to provide answers to situations like Cambodia under Khmer Rouge and Rwanda in 1994” he argues. He’s critical of the non-interventionists. “No one challenged them. They think they can make a great political speech about the non-use of force and hold the high moral ground while people on the lower ground in Rwanda and Cambodia are being slaughtered. While academic experts debated international law and intervention, people died.”

But who decides when a situation justifies military intervention? Who decides when a condition is ‘extreme’?

His 30 years of experience as a statesman has convinced Ramos-Horta that force must not be used to resolve inter- or intra-state problems. “Force is last resort when all avenues are exhausted. Might does not make right. Might create injustice, resentment and anger, fuelling more conflicts. He underscores that ‘the possession of huge weaponry by a country like the United States doesn’t make it the sole possessor of truth, does not give it the right to dictate to others its agenda or its views. And when it attempts to do so, it fails.” He points to Vietnam for validation.

Peace, You and Humility
But peace is not the responsibility of statesmen alone. Ramos-Horta says: “If each and everyone of us start behaving at home, no domestic violence, no abusing of our wives, brothers and sisters; and if school teachers teach children about compassion, about tolerance, then each one of us will grow up in a culture of peace, of tolerance, of acceptance. It has to start at home and in schools and then the streets will be saved.” He adds: “When we’re in power, let’s get down from the throne and meet with those on the fringes of power. We cannot afford to marginalize anyone in the country. Peace is a long process which requires long patience and humility for those at the top of power.”

But, sad to say, we have not arrived even on the first step yet. The violence goes on. Not counting
the war in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in parts of Africa, only earlier this week, at the time of writing, there was an attack in Lahore where a bus of Sri Lankan cricket players and their escorts were shelled. Seven people were killed. In Northern Ireland, two military personnel were killed. NM