Josť Ramos Horta's speech at National Commissioners' Swearing-in Ceremony

(excerpts)

January 21, 2002

Today, roughly 6 months after the East Timorese National Council approved to establish a Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation, and the Transitional Administrator, Mr. Vieira de Mello, signed Regulation No. 2001/10 on the establishment of such a Commission,

We are gathered here to officially swear-in the newly selected National Commissioners that will head this important body. 

In less than 6 months from today, East Timor will become an independent nation, committed to the principles of peace, democracy and the rule of law.

As part of our preparation for this new reality, we have chosen to take a long and hard look at the past.  We want to learn from the lessons of the past so that we will be able to prevent similar tragedies in the future.  At the same time, we wish to open the door of forgiveness and acceptance to those who were caught in the vicious cycle of violence. 

After an extensive process of consultation with the East Timorese people, legislation has been adopted, Commissioners have been nominated and selected, and the Commission is now ready to begin its work. 

The Commission will play an important role in the transition of our society toward democracy.  It will seek to establish the truth regarding the events, practices, and patterns of abuse that took place between April 25, 1974, and October 25, 1999.

It will facilitate community reconciliation for perpetrators of lesser crimes who wish to be assisted with reintegration into their communities.

And it will produce a report with policy recommendations to the government of East Timor, to ensure that the past will never be repeated again. 

Victims of past violations will have recognition of their suffering, an important part of their healing process.

This will also be an important part of our healing as a nation. 

It is also important to acknowledging that many of those responsible for lesser crimes were victims as well.  As a people we must find a way to end the cycle of violence and rise above those who committed atrocities against us. 

I hope that the establishment of the Commission also sends a clear message to our brothers and sisters who are still living as refugees.  Our past, present and future can never be separated; we are committed to reconciliation. 

There has been much talk about the relationship and tensions between justice and reconciliation.  This is not unique to East Timor but is an immense challenge for every post-conflict society seeking to build a bridge between a violent past and a peaceful future.

It should be clearly understood that the Commission in no way detracts from the justice system but will work together with it in a complementary manner.  

The Commission will provide a mechanism whereby the minor offences during the conflict periods can be dealt with in a community-based, reconciliatory model.

Perpetrators, victims, and communities will have the opportunity to negotiate agreements concerning what they consider to be acceptable solutions to these problems.

In this way we hope to provide a realistic and healing form of justice in the communities that face the challenge of healing the deep wounds of the past. 

Commissioners, the road you and all of us together are embarking on is not an easy one.  History teaches us that promoting peace in a post-conflict society is an enormous challenge.

I am confident however, that with your leadership, and the strength, determination and courage of the East Timorese people we will succeed. 

Commissioners:  great hopes and expectations are vested in you.  I wish you success at each step of the way and would like you to know that I will support your work in whichever way I can.

Finally, allow me to say thank you to the people that have worked so hard to bring us to where we are today.

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