Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, José Ramos-Horta

Nobel Peace Prize 1996

Carlos Belo


The courageous peace bishop

The other East Timorese who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 was Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo. He grew up in a farming family, began taking an interest in religious questions at an early age, and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1981.

Shortly after being elected head of the Catholic church in East Timor in 1983, Carlos Belo openly denounced the brutal Indonesian occupation of the province. The occupiers responded by placing Belo under strict surveillance, but the Bishop refused to be intimidated, even by numerous threats to his life. He continued to speak up for nonviolent resistance to the oppression.

In 1989 he demanded that the UN arrange a plebiscite on East Timor, and after a bloody massacre two years later he helped to smuggle two witnesses to Geneva, where they described the violations to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Belo's struggle gained the sympathy of the Pope in Rome, who demonstrated it by visiting East Timor in the late 1980s.


José Ramos-Horta


The tireless diplomat

In 1975, when Portugal had devolved its colonial rule, East Timor was occupied by Indonesia. José Ramos-Horta was one of the leaders of the resistance. He did not take up arms himself, but left the country as foreign minister in the government set up by the liberation movement FRETELIN (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor). For the next twenty years he traveled all over the world pleading the cause of the East Timorese, above all in the United Nations. Ramos-Horta shared the Peace Prize with his countryman, Bishop Carlos Belo.

In the mid-1980s, Ramos-Horta began advocating dialogue with Indonesia, and in 1992 he presented a peace plan. It contained concrete proposals for humanitarian cooperation with the occupying power and a growing international presence headed by the UN. This was to lay the foundations for Indonesian withdrawal and self-determination for the East Timorese people.

Both these peace objectives were reached in 2001. According to Ramos-Horta, the Nobel Peace Prize contributed significantly to this end.