Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Francis Sejersted, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1996, Oslo, December 10, 1996

Translation of the Norwegian text

Your Majesties, Presidents, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, may I extend to everyone a warm welcome to this year’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. It is one hundred years to the day since Alfred Nobel died. A year earlier, he had drawn up his will, in which he determined that his considerable wealth should provide for annual awards of five prizes, three for science, one for literature, and one for peace, to those whose work, as he wrote, “shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind”. It was also laid down in the will that the Peace Prize should be awarded in Norway by a committee appointed by the Norwegian Storting. Our thoughts today go also to Stockholm, where the other awards are being made, and where the centenary is being marked of the death of Alfred Nobel.

Nobel was, of course, an unusually successful businessman. But that was not where his heart lay. His happiest times were spent in the laboratory. Inventions, it has been said, became for him a way of life. He was also very widely read. He was in other words greatly interested, indeed a believer, in science and literature. What was remarkable was his moral approach to those activities, which he saw as opportunities for promoting a better world. This perspective emerges most clearly in his decision concerning a peace prize. It can be argued that the invention of dynamite, and concern at the more powerful weapons which it made possible, contributed to his increasing commitment to peace. But there were other impulses, too, impulses which appealed to his deeply rooted moral instincts, first and foremost his contact with the future Peace Prize Laureate Bertha von Suttner and with the contemporary peace movement.

Nobel left an important inheritance, consisting of a vision of a better world, and an award institution which was to contribute to the realisation of that vision. We who have been entrusted with managing that inheritance do so in humility and with deep respect for the man Alfred Nobel, whose memory we honour today.

It is with great pleasure, and in the conviction that with this year’s choice we have managed Nobel’s inheritance in the best possible way, that we welcome our Peace Prize Laureates today. Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1996 for their long-lasting efforts to achieve a just and peaceful solution to the twenty-year-old conflict in East Timor. To reach this peaceful winterland Norway, you have come about as far from your home country as it is possible to travel on this earth. Yet the distance between us is much shorter in miles than in opportunities for peace, justice and reconciliation. We are grateful and proud that, in the middle of your important and self-sacrificing work, you have found time for the journey here, thereby giving us this opportunity to honour you.

The conflict in East Timor has been called “the forgotten conflict”. It has not, however, been completely forgotten, having figured on the international agenda, with varying degrees of prominence, throughout those twenty years. But it has so to speak never caught on. There have been so many other interests and regards to attend to, and East Timor is so small. Rarely has the cynicism of world politics been more clearly demonstrated. The numerous considerations of “Realpolitik” have enabled an exceptionally brutal form of neocolonialism to take place. Of a population of between six and seven hundred thousand, nearly two hundred thousand have died as the direct or indirect result of the Indonesian occupation. And the violations are still taking place today. Many are the countries which have given higher priority to their “Realpolitical” cooperation with Indonesia than to regard for East Timor. This is the apparently hopeless situation in which our two Laureates have so untiringly striven for a just and peaceful arrangement for their people.

The autumn of 1975 was fateful for East Timor. First the old colonial masters, the Portuguese, withdrew. Then an internal struggle broke out between the Timorese Democratic Union on the one hand and the Fretilin liberation movement on the other. And the autumn ended with the Indonesian invasion. In the twenty-one years that have passed since, this conquest of a country and a people has never been internationally recognised. Ramos-Horta was a Fretilin leader, one of the moderates whose ideal was social democracy. During the so-called civil war, he was out of the country, and on his return in September he tried to reconcile the parties. Since the invasion he has lived abroad, unceasingly and with great personal sacrifice collecting and communicating information on the repression, torture and killing in his home country, and acting as East Timor’s principal international spokesman. At the same time he has successfully kept up his efforts to unite the various East Timorese groups in a single national front, while constantly seeking opportunities for a peaceful solution to the conflict with Indonesia, based on respect for the integrity of the East Timorese people. “We used to joke that he was more an informal member of the Democratic Union than a Fretilin leader,” says Union leader Joao Carrascalao. The remark illustrates the part played by Ramos-Horta as a mediator and conciliator. No serious negotiations aimed at resolving the conflict are conceivable today without the participation of Ramos-Horta or one of his aides, as Bishop Belo has also emphasised.

As a relatively unknown priest, Bishop Belo was appointed Apostolic Administrator for the Roman Catholic church in East Timor in 1983, since when he has served on his home ground. Again and again, in the midst of everyday terror and suffering, he has intervened, trying to reconcile and mediate and lessen confrontation, and in doing so he has saved many lives. Intervening in a violent conflict entails a risk of being crushed between the antagonists. “Pray for me, please,” he said in one such situation, “because now I have to defend myself on both sides”. But Bishop Belo has become much more than a mediator: this man of peace has also become a rallying point for his sorely tried people, a representative of their hope for a better future. The love his people feel for this mediator springs from certain fundamental principles he has adhered to. Show the people respect. Give them freedom to develop their humanity to the full. Then ask them whether they want to be Indonesians, Portuguese, or independent. Bishop Belo shares with his people the insight of the oppressed, an insight deeper than that of generals or oppressors. Why all this brutality? It does not even serve its purpose. You do not gain respect if you do not show respect.

This year has seen the commemoration, forty years on, of the Soviet Union’s brutal crushing of the popular rising in Hungary in 1956. The West did not intervene. Since Hungary lay within the Soviet sphere of interest, it was necessary “Realpolitik” to accept the invasion. We would do well to recall that at that time, a marking of the event forty years later in a free Hungary lay beyond the bounds of what most people thought possible. It has been said that Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor is a historic fact. But history has never established anything as a fact for ever. History always moves on. If we have learned anything in the past decade, it must be that the most repressive regimes are the most fragile. There are forces in history more powerful than the strongest military force. Violence and terror do not lead to peace. Not until one builds up the courage to break out of the vicious circle of violence do opportunities arise for an enduring peace.

The right to live, the right to full development as human beings, the right to respect, are at the heart of the concept of human rights. Since the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1960 to Albert Lutuli, work for human rights has been one of the principal criteria for the award. We have constantly received confirmation that this was the right path to take, although the choice of this criterion has also been criticised because it allegedly has nothing to do with peace. But it is precisely in forging a close link between the human rights criterion and peace that we believe we are realising that criterion’s most universal and most fundamental aspects. Peace, stability and harmony must be based on mutual respect. That, so simple and so universal, is the message. Once it has been heard, the next step is to institutionalise the respect, in various ways according to cultural traditions. Violence, on the other hand, systematic violence on the part of those in power, can never be justified within the framework of a universal concept of human rights. That is a fact to which the victims of violence could testify. Never forget to listen to the voice of the victims, the voice of the nearly two hundred thousand whose lives were lost in massacres or from the hunger and want which resulted from the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.

This year’s two Peace Prize Laureates, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta, have laboured tirelessly, and with great personal sacrifice, for their oppressed people. Under extremely difficult conditions, they have preserved their humanity and faith in the future. It is in admiration of their work and in the hope for a better future for East Timor that the Norwegian Nobel Committee today honours them with the Nobel Peace Prize for 1996.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1996, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1997

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1996

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