De La Salle University hosted the last leg of the lecture series "Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace" here in the Philippines, with invited guest speaker 1996 Nobel Laureate for Peace His Excellency Professor José Ramos-Horta last January 15 at the Teresa Yuchengco Auditorium. During his lecture titled "Is long lasting peace an attainable dream?", Ramos-Horta said political disputes could actually be resolved much more easily than personal wounds.
Prof. Ramos-Horta is the President of Timor-Leste and a Patron of the International Peace Foundation. He was born in Dili, the capital of East Timor, to a Timorese mother and a Portuguese father who had been exiled to what was then Portuguese Timor by the Salazar dictatorship. He was educated in a Catholic mission in the small village of Soibada. Of his eleven brothers and sisters, four were allegedly killed during the struggle between Fretilin and Indonesian military.
A moderate in the emerging Timorese nationalist leadership, Jose Ramos-Horta was appointed Foreign Minister in the "Democratic Republic of East Timor" government proclaimed by the pro-independence parties in November 1975. When appointed minister, Jose Ramos-Horta was only 25 years old. He left East Timor three days before the Indonesian troops invaded to plead the Timorese case before the United Nations. Jose Ramos-Horta arrived in New York to address the UN Security Council and urge them to take action in the face of the Indonesian military onslaught which would result in over 200,000 East Timorese deaths between 1976 and 1981. During the 24 years of the occupation of East Timor Jose Ramos-Horta was the international voice of the Timorese people. In exile from his country from 1975 to 1999, he was the Permanent Representative to the United Nations for the Timorese independence movement. The youngest UN diplomat in history and an international human rights figure, he is one of the three central heroes in the country's struggle for independence.
In 1996 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Bishop Carlos Belo, the religious leader of East Timor, "to honour their sustained and self-sacrificing contributions for a small but oppressed people". A portion of the funds received from the Nobel Prize were used to establish the Jose Ramos-Horta Microcredit Fund for the Poor, which is in full operation today, with a payback rate of 97%.
In 1999, under the umbrella of the United Nations, East Timor held a referendum allowing the Timorese to vote on independence. When the referendum results showed more than 85% favoring independence, Indonesia-backed militia were unleashed across the country. They killed thousands in the streets, displaced hundreds of thousands and burned 85% of the buildings in the country. After the entry of a UN peacekeeping force, Jose Ramos-Horta returned to his homeland to help rebuild the country from the devastation. Working closely with the UN and Sergio Vierra de Mello, the head of the UN Adminstration in East Timor until 2002, he helped to bring about peaceful elections of the country's President and Parliament, who in turn drafted the country's constitution. After serving for seven years as the new country's Minister of Foreign Affairs, when turmoil and civil war threatened the new country, he stepped into the shoes of Prime Minister and immediately set about restoring calm to the country.
Before his appointment as Prime Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta was considered a possible candidate to succeed Kofi Annan as United Nations Secretary-General. He dropped out of the race in order to serve as East Timor's Prime Minister, but he has indicated that he might run for the UN position at some time in the future. In May 2007 Jose Ramos-Horta was elected President of Timor-Leste.
Jose Ramos Horta studied Public International Law at the Hague Academy of International Law and at Antioch University where he completed a Master of Arts degree in Peace Studies. He was trained in Human Rights Law at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg and attended Post-Graduate courses in American Foreign Policy at Columbia University in New York. He is a Senior Associate Member of the University of Oxford's St Antony's College and until today continues in his role as the international voice of East Timor.