TIMOR-LESTE AND SOUTHEAST ASIA,
THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS
BY JOSE RAMOS-HORTA *
5TH SOUTHEAST ASIAN STUDIES SYMPOSIUM
ST. ANTONY’S COLLEGE
THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
OXFORD, 14TH APRIL 2016
Ladies and gentlemen,
My sincere appreciation to the University of Oxford Southeast Asia Studies Project for inviting me to this year’s symposium and I thank very specially Phyllis Ferguson for her hard work and flawless arrangements.
I will begin this presentation by sharing with you my views on Asia as a whole followed by remarks on our immediate sub-region, Southeast Asia and Timor-Leste.
Asia Is Rising
Led by 30 years of steady growth of the Chinese economy, Asia made impressive social and economic progress. However the challenges confronting the countries of the wider region are numerous and complex.
Asia is the Common Home of half of humanity; in any given hour of the day millions of people are in constant movement; millions are abandoning rural Asia and flocking into increasingly crowded cities; for their own daily survival hundreds of millions continue to exert enormous pressure on exhausted lands, forests, seas, lakes and rivers.
Asia is also home to the largest standing armies in the world, with nuclear weapons targeting rival neighbors, and intractable land and maritime border disputes, ethnic and religious tensions and strategic rivalries.
In January 2015 as Chair of the High Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations some colleagues and I visited Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, the three largest Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) and Police Contributing Countries (PCCs) to UN Peace Operations.
Following fruitful discussions in Dhaka and Islamabad my colleagues and I travelled to India. It would have been easier to fly out from Islamabad to Doha and from there to Delhi. However, I decided to experiment the most convoluted route, fly to Lahore and then drive about 40′ to the India-Pakistan border at Waga where a week earlier extremist Taliban elements had committed an audacious attack killing over 50 people during the daily change of guard.
There in Waga as my Panel Colleagues and I, carrying our suitcases went through the immigration controls on Pakistan and Indian sides of the borders, I thought to myself, this has to be the most dangerous region of the Earth.
Six decades after independence and partition, the two South Asian neighbours, both nuclear armed, are still facing off over Kashmir, host of the oldest UN Mission in the world.
Moving East from South Asia, leaving behind the never ending wars of Afghanistan and Northern Frontiers of Pakistan, there is another Asia’s dangerous flashpoint, the Korean Peninsula, where an entrenched “Hereditary Communist Monarchy”, nuclear armed and unpredictable, poses daily threats to its democratic and prosperous neighbor.
For most part, Africans, Latin Americans and Europeans have freed themselves from the Cold War legacies. Not so Asia. The communist monarchy inaugurated by Kim Il Sung has successfully resisted XX and XXI Centuries transformations.
In some parts of Asia stone age practices remain pervasive – denying girls the right to go to school; acid is thrown on them for daring to sit in a class room; girls are married off or simply sold off to pay for the families’ debt; in parts of Asia a woman can be sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery.
Leaders of China, Japan and Korea have not freed themselves from the legacies of colonial occupation and World War II. In part this is because there haven’t been Japanese leaders of equal stature of Germany’s Statesmen like Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Richard Von Weizacker, as well as scholars and opinion makers who influenced post War Germans to accept the collective burden of their national past.
Past Prime Ministers Tomiichi Murayma and Jumichiro Koizumi made unequivocal statements expressing “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology” for Japan’s war of aggression across Asia. However, some Diet Members continue to glorify the chief architects of the war with yearly visits to the Yasukumi cemetery where 1,000 war criminals are shrined as heroes.
Another dangerous flashpoint is the South China Sea and although a military clash seems unlikely, the build-up by some claimant States increases the risks of escalation.
To complicate matters, in the face of a rising Asian economic and military superpower that dwarfs all others, some in the region feel the need to call on US to enhance their security protection; and whether on the South China Sea or Taiwan Straits the world’s only global power feels it is its “manifest destiny” to uphold “freedom of navigation” and “protect” its friends and allies in Asia, thus raising further the stakes.
Against the many negatives facts and complex challenges cited above, there have been also impressive transformations.
In the last 30 years, millions of people have been freed from poverty in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, The Philippines, Thailand; and the developed Asian economies – the Republic of Korea, Japan and Singapore – continue to perform very well, and excel in technology and innovation.
China, the Republic of Korea, India and Indonesia have been growing at annual rates of between five and 10 percent for sustained long periods. The combined economies of China, Korea, Japan and India account for over 15 trillion dollars of annual GDP.
Asia’s economic powerhouses are a formidable force and stand side by side in output with the 16 trillion dollars of combined output in EU countries and the 15 trillion dollars US economy (IMF estimates for 2010.)
Asia’s rise has had profound impact on the environment and Asians should feel obligated to pull resources and lead on tackling the challenges we face in the 21st Century; but leadership presupposes ability to build partnerships with other stakeholders – the emerging economies of the global South; and new partnerships of equals with Europe and the US.
State of Human Rights in Southeast Asia,
Timor-Leste ASEAN’s Membership
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
Timor-Leste is the youngest independent country in Asia, barely 15 years since restoration of independence in 2002. While challenges and failures are evident, nevertheless we have made progress that makes us reasonably content.
Our Social and economic indicators speak for themselves: UNDP Human Development Report accords Timor-Leste a HDI for 2012 that jumped to the value of 0.576, placing our country in the medium human development category; at independence in 2002 it was 0.375.
According to the UNDP-commissioned report, East Asia and the Pacific: The region has an average HDI value of 0.683 and registered annual HDI value growth between 2000 and 2012 of 1.31%, with Timor-Leste leading with 2.71%, followed by Myanmar at 2.23%.
At independence in 2002, life expectancy at birth in Timor-Leste was 57 years and now averages 67 years. In 2002 there were 19 Timorese doctors. Now we have more than 1,000 medical doctors thanks to Cuban solidarity.
Incidences of malaria and dengue and the prevalence of poverty have decreased significantly.
Infant mortality and child mortality under five, as well as post-birth mother mortality, have been halved.
With less than one case of leprosy per 10,000 people, Timor-Leste is now considered by the WHO to be free from this centurys-old disease.
School enrolment jumped from a modest 63 per cent in 2006 to well over 90 per cent for basic Education, according to the 2010 National Census.
In addition to the 1,000 medical doctors trained in Cuba and in Timor-Leste, hundreds of Timor-Leste youth and civil servants were sent abroad under full government scholarships for advanced diplomas or MAs and MSs and PhDs studies.
As we are pleased with the achievements thus far we are acutely aware of the daunting challenges still to overcome.
Like many countries in the early years of Independence, Timor-Leste has had to confront social and political challenges. In some instances, like in 2006 crisis, violence flared up rolling back the gains of previous years.
It is on Civil and Political Rights core elements that we have made the most progress and where we feel we have not failed to live up to the ideals of independence.
Timor-Leste has ratified every human rights treaty and is in compliance in all categories of human rights; our Constitution prohibits death penalty and maximum prison sentence is 25 years.
We have a very free media and active civil society; tensions do occur time to time between governing leaders and the media; however not a single media entity has been closed down or a journalist jailed in the 15 years of our independence.
While women are still lagging in some areas, Timor-Leste has a high representation of women in the Legislative and Executive branches.
The building of an independent and competent judiciary has been slow and it remains in its infancy. I have the deepest respect for our prosecutors, judges and public defenders and lawyers, and for this very reason it is a cause for concern that in some instances the prosecution and trial of some high profile cases reveal serious irregularities.
A judiciary whose professional competence and integrity is irreproachable is the crucial pillar of democracy and rule of law.
While political leaders must show utmost respect for the independence of the Judiciary, the Judiciary must earn this respect by way of its irreproachable competence and integrity as it handles alleged corruption and other cases brought before it.
Ours is an imperfect democracy with the many flaws common to democracies in Asia, Africa, Latin America and in parts of the West.
The only time when money did not play a role in our election outcome was in 2001-2002. Was this because we were all honest in 2001-2002 or because no one really had much money then to influence voters?
However our innocence did not last long. We soon learned the Asian style of democracy, a Money Democracy very much in vogue throughout Asia and in fact in most of the world in varying degree. By 2007 money began to influence voters; and in the 2012 elections millions of dollars changed hands.
How did we learn all this so quickly? Did we learn it from Indonesia? The Philippines? Thailand? Brazil? The US? There’s no lacking examples to be emulated.
However, for all the imperfections of our developing democracy, and notwithstanding isolated incidents of violence, our regular elections have been largely peaceful and passable in terms of fairness and transparency.
Timor-Leste enjoys friendly and pro-active relationship with its two giant neighbors, the Republic of Indonesia and Australia, and both countries have played central role in assisting us in our hard in state building, peace building and national development.
With Indonesia we have almost completely resolved our common land border demarcation and are to begin maritime border negotiations.
However, our relationship with Australia is clouded by its refusal to entertain negotiations to define our joint maritime boundary.
In 1972 Australia and Indonesia agreed on their joint maritime boundary based on an antiquated “Continental Shelf” principle. The “Medium Line” principle is the accepted norm.
At the time of the conclusion of the 1972 Australia-Indonesia Maritime Boundary, Australian and Indonesian scholars said: “Australia took Indonesia to the cleaners”.
Ever since our independence, Australia has tried to push down our throats the same arrangement it unfairly managed to sell to Indonesia.
Timor-Leste chief negotiator at that time, then Mr. Mari Alkatiri resisted Australia’s demand for a maritime boundary based on the antiquated “Continental shelf” principle. Hence, we opted for a resource-sharing agreement and deferment of a permanent maritime boundary to a later stage.
However, some facts have emerged that compelled our Government to seek redress through reopening of negotiations on Maritime Boundary – Australia’s unfair acts of espionage through blatant bugging of TL Government offices during the negotiations.
I hope and believe that common sense and justice will once again prevail. The Labour opposition has pledged that if elected into office in the coming federal elections it will reopen negotiations with TL on a permanent maritime boundary. I do hope Australian voters will do justice.
In the meantime, as the Australian Govt continues to refuse to negotiate a permanent maritime boundary with TL, our Government launched a request for compulsory mediation by the UN under UNCLOS.
Other than this disagreement – and this is not a small matter – our two countries continue to cooperate in almost every field with Australia being still our largest development aid partner; our bi-lateral defense and police cooperation has been exemplary. Hundreds of Timorese students are studying in Australian Colleges and Universities under full Australian Govt scholarships or our own Govt full sponsorship.
The Australian people we have known for decades are a people who are instinctively sympathetic to the underdog and have shown genuine solidarity towards the people of Timor-Leste; they reject the elitist conservative political leaders hardline approach on the maritime boundary issue.
And this has all to do, and only, with the vast reserves of oil and gas in the Timor Sea which under a medium line maritime boundary agreement would be 100% Timor-Leste’s.
Timor-Leste and ASEAN Membership
From day of independence Timor-Leste stated its desire to join this sub-regional organisation.
The ASEAN Charter of 2008 clearly stipulates a number fundamental conditions for membership, a sine quo non condition being that the applicant country must be in Southeast Asia’s footprint.
Article 6 outlines a number of other conditins including recognition by all ASEAN States and ability to carry out obligations, etc.
Timor-Leste is geographically on SEA footprint and has demonstrated its ability to develop normal, pro-active and constructive relations with all ASEAN States and beyond.
Timor-Leste is an active member of the United Nations and all major multi-lateral bodies, namely the Bretton Woods Institutions.
Timorese Police Officers, Army Engineers and UNVs have served or are serving with the UN in many Missions from Afghanistan to Africa and Mddle East.
2014-2016 Timor-Leste presides over the CPLP which brings together countries from four Continents.
In the last 10 years Timor-Leste has contributed over $30 million in emergency relief assistance to countries affected by major natural disasters. Some of the countries are: Myanmar, The Philippines, Indonesia, China, Cuba, Haiti, etc.
In the 80’s ASEAN leaders did debate the pros and cons of early admission of fellow Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar and Vietnam; each presented a different sets of challenges, ranging from outright military dictatorship to one-party communist regimes; there were and there remain considerable social and economic disparities among them.
But notwithstanding these challenges, the rational for early admission of the four Southeast Asian countries is entirely applicable to Timor-Leste today; regardless of the disparities among the four newcomers and other fellow ASEAN countries, the argument was, welcome and gradually steer them towards full integration.
We have been respectful of those in ASEAN who were or are still skeptical about Timor-Leste’s capacity to meet the demands of ASEAN membership; we understand that as some ASEAN member countries still face internal security and economic challenges, the addition of a potentially unstable new member is cause for hesitation.
With all these in mind, we have worked harder to convince fellow ASEAN Member States that Timor-Leste will be a responsible member.
We thank all of them for their support, particularly the ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN TL Task-Force led by Singapore for their diligent advice and steady assistance.
The State of Democracy and Human Rights in Southeast Asia
In reviewing the State of Democracy and Human Rights in Southeast Asia, looking from the perspective of the past 40 years, I submit that there have been significant gains as well as setbacks.
While overall ASEAN countries have performed well economically, with poverty levels decreased and human development indicators up, there is a democracy deficit; deficit in good governance, transparency and accountability; there are serious challenges in the judiciary which in some countries faces overwhelming political interference.
ASEAN countries have a long way to walk in fostering genuine democracy and rule of law, in empowering women and youth. Leaders have to address challenges of sustainable development, equitable distribution of wealth, environmental degradation, over fishing and destruction of corals, food security, etc.
Governments have to be more open in listening to their own peoples voices and accommodating critical views.
Long lasting peace and stability in Southeast Asia requires a comprehensive, integrated strategy encompassing all of the above as peace cannot be achieved through a security-based approach.
States must firmly address security threats emanating from extremist ideologies; but an intelligent security approach is one that encompasses dialogue, accommodates critical views, embraces ethnic and religious diversity and political plurality. Heavy-hand security approach is not suffice to ensure permanent security.
In the XXIst Century politics, in the era of Social Media, of Cyber and instant journalism, power is more diffused and inevitably shared with the common person, the restless youth, students and intellectuals, workers and farmers.
Decision-making is no longer an exclusive privilege of political dynasties or hereditary monarchies, and the rich.
ASEAN policy-makers must innovate to catch up with the fast changing dynamics in the cities, communities and streets, and to lead rather being being dragged along by events.
The street demonstrations from cities in Brazil to Turkey, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, the protests in cities in U.K. and France, alert us to the fact that there are more to individuals and societies than economic growth and glossy trade figures.
I submit that Indonesia, The Philippines and Timor-Leste are the three Southeast Asian counties with the freest Media and most political pluralism and inclusion; and there have been setbacks and dangerous trends in some other countries of our region.
There’s undeniable progress in Myanmar. As in Indonesia in the weeks and months following the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998-99, Myanmar is beginning what promises to be a difficult transition to an open political space.
In 1998-1999 Indonesia was jolted by widespread ethnic and religious based violence, namely, in Kalimantan where thousands of people were killed during the Dayak-Buginese confrontations or in Ambon where Christian-Muslim pogroms took place. And as we know, the Indonesian Chinese community were for decades subject to official policies of exclusion, discrimination and widespread violence.
Some 15 years later, Indonesia is a very different country; it resolved the two different conflicts that occupied much of Indonesia’s attention and invited international criticism, Timor-Leste and Aceh conflicts. And since then it has regained its status as the regional economic, security and diplomatic powerhouse.
Myanmar is going through similar challenges. Cease-fire agreements, demobilization, disarmament, integration of ethnic fighters into meaningful civilian life; national dialogue, healing and reconciliation; addressing the sensitive issues of the Rohingya communities and the relationship with the Muslim minority require strong leadership, courage and serenity by all involved.
Harsh judgements of Daw Aung Suu Kyi over her apparent evasiveness in addressing these challenges are premature and unfair. Suu Kyi is attempting to do what wise leaders would, and that is exercise maximum prudence, manage sensibly the conflicting interests and forces in the country, carefully weigh every step in the long and arduous journey towards a truly free, democratic and inclusive multi-ethnic Myanmar.
We must give her and her colleagues in the new Government time and space to manage a very new situation as they begin this process of transitioning from a past of violent conflicts, exclusion and sectarianism, absence of freedom and rule of law, weak existing judiciary, into a functioning democracy.
We know from experience how hard it is the building of a modern, functioning State. We too, Timorese leaders, were criticised, rightly so, by some in our own country and abroad, for refusing to support the creation of a special international tribunal to judge past crimes in Timor-Leste.
Then and now we believe that the cause of Justice, human rights and democracy in Timor-Leste and Indonesia and in fact anywhere in the world with similar challenges are best served through a process of Truth and Reconciliation, recognition and respect of victims, establishing an Institute of Memory so that future generations will not forget past injustices and crimes as well the sacrifices and bravery of many.
Remembering and learning from the past, the bad and the good, must be an exercise to honor our martyrs and heroes, and as a pedagogy on non-violence, forgiveness and reconciliation.
It would be a tragedy if the process of remembering the past instead of healing the soul and being a pedagogy of non-violence and forgiveness, provokes anger and hatred.
I congratulate the University of Oxford and the Southeast Asia Project forvbringing about this series of Southeast Asian Symposium.
A region with nearly 700 million people spread over an area of 4,500,000 km2 (1,700,000 sq miles), with a combined GDP of almost $2 trillion, cannot be a foot note of studies in European Universities.
The XXIst Century will be Asia’s Century, Asia’s Age of Enlighthement, if a new Mahatma Ghandi emerges, who inspires and leads all, the 4 billion people of this vast region that extends from the doors of Constantinople to Dili, a region of great civilizations, religions and cultures, of great challenges and greater possibilities; we need a new Mahatma Ghandi to unite to inspire and unite all peoples.
I pray to God, The Almigty and the Merciful, to continue to bless us all.