HIGHLIGHTS

  • In 1996, ANICETO founded Yayasan HAK, or Human Rights and Justice Foundation, to provide free legal services to human rights victims. As director and, for a time, the group’s only lawyer, he defended prominent political prisoners and ordinary Timorese alike.
  • His foundation methodically documented massacres, extrajudicial killings, tortures, rapes, and arbitrary arrests—339 cases in its first year alone—and became the single authoritative source about such abuses in East Timor. ANICETO announced these findings publicly.
  • When, in 1999, a new government in Jakarta offered East Timor the option of independence through a popular referendum, the Indonesian military recruited East Timorese militia bands to intimidate pro-independence voters. As they launched a reign of terror, ANICETO organized election monitors.
  • When the Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation was formally established in 2002, ANICETO was chosen unanimously to lead it.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his courageous stand for justice and the rule of law during East Timor’s turbulent passage to nationhood”.

 CITATION

East Timor, or Timor Lorosae, is Asia’s newest nation. For hundreds of years it was a Portuguese colony, a sleeping backwater of Portugals long-sleeping empire. But the East Timorese awoke to a new invader in 1975: Indonesia. Their armed resistance led to brutal reprisals and for nearly a quarter of a century the people of East Timor suffered under the hard hand of the Indonesian armed forces. Some 200,000 of them perished.

Aniceto Guterres Lopes was eight years old when Indonesia seized his homeland. Coming of age amid the unwelcome occupation, he became a resister and, in 1985, took up the study of law at Udayana University in Bali, Indonesia. There he learned that Indonesian law actually upheld certain basic rights that were being routinely denied in East Timor. And he met Indonesian lawyers and activists who stood up for these rights despite their own country’s repressive dictatorship. They became his mentors and allies.

When Aniceto subsequently launched his law practice in East Timor, his clients told him their stories. My husband was taken by soldiers two years ago. My son has been jailed and tortured. Armed men have raped our daughter. Aniceto did what little he could, given the unchecked power of the occupiers. Meanwhile, he recorded every story and worked quietly with others to prepare a different future for East Timor.

In 1996, Aniceto founded Yayasan HAK, or Human Rights and Justice Foundation, to provide free legal services to human rights victims. As director and, for a time, the group’s only lawyer, he defended prominent political prisoners and ordinary Timorese alike. His foundation methodically documented massacres, extrajudicial killings, tortures, rapes, and arbitrary arrests, 339 cases in its first year alone, and became the single authoritative source about such abuses in East Timor. Aniceto announced these findings publicly and, through vernacular newspapers and radio, educated the people about their rights under Indonesian and international law. Few dared to speak so openly. He learned to live with harassment and threats.

When, in 1999, a new government in Jakarta offered East Timor the option of independence through a popular referendum, the Indonesian military recruited East Timorese militia bands to intimidate pro-independence voters. As they launched a reign of terror, Aniceto organized election monitors. In the September polls, 78 percent of the voters chose independence. The militias killed and injured thousands of people in revenge and destroyed homes and buildings everywhere, including Aniceto’s own house and foundation headquarters.

As East Timor prepared for independence under the transitional authority of the United Nations, Aniceto pondered his country’s inadequate judicial system. How could it possibly cope with all the unspeakable things that had happened? With others, he proposed a truth commission for East Timor. When the Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation was formally established in 2002, Aniceto was chosen unanimously to lead it.

Aniceto’s commission seeks both to uncover the ugly truths of the past and to confront them. Today, as commission teams investigate past political crimes, former victims and perpetrators are facing each other in grassroots reconciliation meetings throughout the country. Communities themselves are meting out penance to remorseful militia men and to perpetrators of assault, vandalism, and other “small crimes.” In East Timor, however, murderers, rapists, and torturers must still face the courts.

Soft-spoken Aniceto, now thirty-six, is often exhausted. It is not just the never-ending work. It is the pressure to change East Timor’s culture of violence and retribution, a lingering impact of trauma and war. This weighs heavily on the new nation. “We need to recognize this heaviness in our past,” Aniceto says, “and deal with it together.”

In electing Aniceto Guterres Lopes to receive the 2003 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his courageous stand for justice and the rule of law during East Timor’s turbulent passage to nationhood.

 RESPONSE

Your Excellency President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen.

Allow me to express my happiness in taking part in this event, something that I could never have imagined in the past. I stand before this honorable forum to accept the Ramon Magsaysay Award, as the first East Timorese to receive this Award in the history of this esteemed Foundation.

First of all, from the bottom of my heart, I wish to thank those who, through a careful and deliberate process, have selected me for this year?s Award in the category of Emergent Leadership. Your decision has not only brought me to this event, but has given me further responsibility to remain committed to the struggle of justice, freedom, democracy and the rule of law in East Timor and the rest of the world.

I wish to extend my gratitude to the people of Timor-Leste, especially those who suffered from injustice and human rights violations during the long years of political conflict, and those with whom I struggled in our collective quest for freedom. They have given me inspiration and motivation; they have strengthened my commitment and made me worthy to receive this Award. It is to them that I dedicate this Award.

My special thanks to my family and friends from the Hak Foundation, without whom I would not be here today, and the Commissioners and staff of the Commisssion for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation. I wish also to thank all the international activists whose belief in our cause never wavered, even during the darkest hours, and the Indonesian human rights community whose courage continues to be an inspiration.

This Award gives recognition to all the peole of East Timor, who have only recently breathed the air of freedom. We are facing many challenges in building a new nation. We are learning how to guide ourselves from our dark past into a more democratic and just future. My work during our struggle, the transition and now in our independence, has served to crystallise and confirm my strongest belief. It is my conviction that there can be no way forward to peace and prosperity without a firm foundation of justice, human rights and the rule of law which relates equally to all people.

It is this foundation which provides security for people to live their daily lives without fear; it is a necessary factor if we are to achieve reconciliation and leave violence behind as a historical lesson to remember, but never to repeat. It is the base which will give certainty to our economic and social development. This foundation is, I believe, the key to our future.

In East Timor, one of the initiatives we are now building is the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation. The Commission is a bridge from the past to our future. Through the work of the Commission, we have collected statements from thousands of ordinary East Timorese, many whom live in the remote mountains, who have personal stories of suffering abuse and violations. We have witnessed the greatness of their spirit during village reconciliation meetings when victims meet and reconcile with people who have harmed them and their communities in the past. We have learned from their resilience, their spirit of forgiveness, and their unrelenting thirst for justice.

The road ahead of us is still long and difficult. The struggle to uphold the rule of law and human rights principles continues to be relevant, not only in East Timor, but increasingly in a world where might makes right, and where human rights are often only for the strong. It is the leadership of such a world that today?s youth will inherit. In stepping into the shoes of today?s leaders, we need most of all to be courageous and remain constant to our principles. For me, these principles remain firmly anchored in human rights, justice and the rule of law.

In Timor-Leste we have learned painful lessons from our past: that unrestrained brute force creates not peace but further conflict; and that where human rights are not protected, there will be lasting violence — not lasting peace. This is an experience that is shared by far too many countries around the globe, and yet somehow, it is often forgotten. Let us constantly be reminded of these lessons from the past, and embrace them as the basis for our future.

I am truly honoured by the Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership.

Thank you.

 BIOGRAPHY

Aniceto Guterres Lopes was only in his teens in Indonesian-occupied East Timor when he came upon this scene on his way home from school one day: Three men, all of them East Timorese, were tied to one another and to a post in front of the local headquarters of the Indonesian army. They were completely naked. The post was in the middle of a buffalo watering hole, filled with mud and filth, and the men were, in Aniceto’s own words, “in a terrible condition.”

That scene is forever etched in Aniceto’s mind. It vividly depicted the nature of Indonesia’s military occupation of his country, including the absence of justice and the rule of law. Then and there, he vowed to devote his life to resisting such oppression and fighting for change.

But the vow would be easier to make than to realize. East Timor had a colonial past that stretched back four hundred years, when Portugal had first occupied the area. In all those years, Portugal had done very little to develop East Timor’s infrastructure, economy, and educational facilities. It had used the colony mainly as a dumping ground for its “problems,” namely political outcasts and ordinary criminals. Then, in 1974, Portugal left East Timor to its own devices after its fascist government was overthrown and the new democratic government began to pay more attention to the country’s colonies closer to home in Africa: Angola and Mozambique.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)