In 1975 Indonesia took control of East Timor, known today as Timor Leste, a small island at the bottom of the Indonesian archipelago that had been a Portuguese colony for 400 years. In the period that followed, a twenty four year reign of terror, approximately one-third of the country’s citizens lost their lives due to starvation, epidemics and assassination.
José Ramos-Horta came to New York literally hours before the invasion. Having never seen snow or a skyscraper, he made his way to the UN where he addressed the UN Security Council on events in his country.
He was made a UN Special Representative for his people, the youngest UN diplomat in history. For twenty-four years, he was the international voice for a forgotten and dying people. Over the next twenty four years Ramos-Horta organized human rights networks, kept his country in the media, and tirelessly kept the issue on the UN floor.
His efforts resulted in the 1999 referendum allowing the Timorese to vote for their future and attain self rule. When the country erupted in planned violence, he rallied international support resulting in a UN Peacekeeping Force moving in to stop the violence and begin re-building the country.
In 2002 he presided over East Timor’s Independence Celebration, when the UN formally handed power to the country’s democratically elected President, Prime Minister and Parliament. In 2006 he became Prime Minister of his country. Today he serves as President of the world’s youngest democracy, a country he helped to create.