Champions of Human Rights
José Ramos-Horta (b. 1949)

President of Timor-Leste and Nobel Peace Laureate José Ramos-Horta has spent most of his adult life fighting for freedom from oppression for his homeland. When he was 18, Ramos-Horta was exiled from Timor-Leste—then a Portuguese colony under a military dictatorship—to Mozambique for his outspoken criticism of the government’s failure to deal with underdevelopment and widespread poverty. He later returned briefly to Timor-Leste, but was exiled once again from 1970 to 1971 for speaking out against Portuguese military rule.

In 1974, Timor-Leste declared its independence from Portugal, followed shortly thereafter by an invasion from Indonesia, beginning another brutal occupation. Having left Timor-Leste three days before the invasion, Ramos-Horta, then age 25, spent the next twenty-four years in exile, bringing the plight of Timor-Leste to the attention of the world.

He became the youngest person to address the United Nations, and convinced UN representatives to pass a resolution supporting the independence of Timor-Leste. Despite this victory, Indonesia continued its occupation, and so he persisted in urging the UN and other world leaders to convince Indonesia to grant Timor-Leste its freedom. In 1996, along with his fellow countryman, Bishop Ximenes Belo, Ramos-Horta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Largely through Ramos-Horta’s efforts, in 2002 Timor-Leste did ultimately win its independence, and in 2006 he was appointed the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, and then elected its President in 2007.