top bar
speak truth to power
defenders images telling stories to effect change backstage pbs broadcast credits
defenders images
backstage conversations
side bar
side bar
bottom mapquotegrey
jose ramos-horta picinterview with jose ramos-horta
Ramos Horta is a Nobel Peace Prize-recipient for his role in initiating a peace plan between East Timor and Indonesia. For nearly a quarter century he was virtually alone, a voice in exile, working on behalf of the people of East Timor.

Q What is this event about for you?
JRH I was incredibly happy to be with so many American friends— from President Clinton down to the movie stars. But even more than that I was overwhelmed by the experience of many of my compatriots from other countries, of the world's fellow human rights defenders from Egypt, from Cote D'Ivoire, from Kenya, from Palestine, who each went through a lot of suffering. Going through that play was very, very hard. One did not know whether to enjoy or to walk out. It was very powerful.

Q What will you take from this? Is it something that will engerize you?
JRH Certainly. It makes you angry about all the abuses that people inflict on others, and that anger can be channeled into energy to fight for justice wherever injustice prevails. It really makes one angry that in this day and age, people are still tortured. Torture is one of the most cowardly things because a prisoner is already prisoner. He's there, she's there, defenseless. Torturing the person is really so inhuman, so cowardly, so barbaric. I do not know how one human being can torture another.

Q How do you see the human rights struggle and your struggle in East Timor? Are we moving forward? Are we still fighting the same battles?
JRH It was President Clinton tonight who said, "Who would have thought five years ago that East Timor could be independent today." My country is one of several hundred thousand people, who, in the face of overwhelming force used against it by a country of two hundred million, attained the most impossible dream: to be free, to be independent. All their weapons were not enough to keep control of my country, of our people. The lesson from East Timor is that nothing is impossible. If you dream, if you believe, if you have faith, you fight on, you persevere. And this lesson can apply to anyone—to countries but also to individual situations.

Q What kept you going in the almost twenty-five years that you were in exile?
JRH A few times over the years I felt like giving up. Everything seemed to be so dark, so lost. But an inner voice, maybe an inner strength, kept pushing me, telling me: do not give up. Do not betray those who trust you. Do not betray those who are in prison, those who are suffering. That's what kept me going. But also, I got inspiration from the generosity from so many people abroad—Americans, Europeans, Australians, Africans, all of whom had nothing to do with East Timor, and yet they gave so much of their energy to my country. That inspired us. People say that we inspired them, but they inspired us. They gave me faith. They gave me the strength to continue.

Q One of the things that seemed to be repeated over these last forty-eight hours is the issue of complacency. Why should anyone be concerned about human rights?
JRH Well, silence, ignorance,and indifference are the worst enemies of freedom. Why did the Jews have to be slaughtered in the late thirties and forties? Because of silence. Because of the indifference of the rest of the world. Why did East Timor have to endure twenty-four years of occupation? Because of indifference, ignorance, and lack of information. I urge people anywhere in the world: you can make a difference, particularly in this age of technology, of globalization, of Internet, of global television. No tyrant can consider himself to be an island. No country can be an island in this age of globalization. Individuals can influence governments.

Q Is there a personal moment, an image, or sentiment that you will take from just these few days?
JRH Well, there were many moments when I met some very humble people. One of the very great things of this event is that there were many unknown heroes. Not just Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Not well-known entities, but people with even more courage than I—people who suffered more, endured even more. It made me feel humble, embarrassed, when I stood next to someone from Kenya, who went to prison, who was abducted, who was almost dead. That, I think, was the greatest experience for me.


back to top

Arts & Human Rights I Telling Stories to Effect Change
Backstage I PBS Broadcast I Credits I Home