WASHINGTON, DC – Nearly two decades after U.S.
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) first visited what was then known as East Timor on a
fact-finding trip amidst the island’s struggle for freedom, the Democratic
Republic of Timor-Leste conferred upon Senator Reed the nation’s highest honor
a foreigner can receive. The Order of Timor medal was bestowed upon
Senator Reed for his advocacy during the independence movement and his
continuing role as a friend of the people of Timor-Leste.
During his time in both the U.S. House of Representatives,
and then in the U.S. Senate, Reed was an outspoken advocate for action to help
the Timorese people, uphold human rights, and hold the Indonesian government
Formerly a colony of Portugal, the Southeast Asian island of
Timor-Leste gained its independence in 1975, but was invaded just days later by
Indonesia. During two decades of Indonesian occupation, oppression, and
human rights violations, one-third of Timor-Leste’s population was killed
before the nation was declared independent in 1999 after an overwhelmingly
popular vote. With assistance from the United Nations, and contributions
from the United States and international community, Timor-Leste was placed
under a transitional government and officially established as a constitutional
government in 2002.
During a ceremony in Washington, DC, Reed was presented with
the Order of Timor by Kay Rala Xanana Gusmã, who is known as the father of the
Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, for his role as a freedom fighter, and
currently serves as Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment.
In bestowing the award upon Senator Reed, Minister Gusmã
stated: “The resistance years were difficult years. But never did we lose
hope or lose faith. This is because we knew we had friends around the world
supporting us and helping to bring our struggle to the world’s attention.
We would hear over the radio and read in the newspapers the debates in the
United States over what to do about the Indonesian occupation. It was
elected leaders such as yourself who stood up again and again when so few were
willing and advocated for the United States to do more – to push more – to lead
more – to ensure an end to the occupation of our country and the restoration of
our independence. Since that time, you have showed courage and
leadership. You drew American and international attention to our sovereign
fight throughout the 1990s and on behalf of the people of Timor-Leste, we thank
Gusmã continued: “I would like to thank you for your
enduring and unwavering support. It is in the spirit of true friendship
and solidarity, that I have been given this great honor to bestow upon you the
Order of Timor. The Order of the Timor-Leste is one of the highest award
given by Timor-Leste, reflecting the gratitude and recognition of our nation
and our State towards those whose initiatives and deeds have benefited our
Senator Reed noted that he first heard about Timor-Leste's
struggle in the 1990s, when he was a Congressman, and a group of concerned
Portuguese-American citizens, along with college students and professors from
Brown University, raised the issue of human rights violations and the
independence movement in Timor-Leste.
“On behalf of the people of Rhode Island, and in recognition
of their special connection with Timor-Leste, I accept this great honor.
I am deeply humbled by this award and thank the delegation, Minister Gusmã, the
government of Timor-Leste, and the people for this honor,” said Senator
Reed. “I can recall now, several years ago, when we first met -- from
that moment I was impressed with the courage and leadership, not only of you
but of all the people of Timor-Leste. During my visits to your country, I
was inspired by your commitment to building a democratic nation. It was
something that touched me then and touches me today. I am hopeful that
Timor will continue building a peaceful and prosperous future. This is an
honor that is beyond my comprehension. Thank you.”
The Order of Timor is the highest honor conveyed to
foreigners and it has been awarded to few U.S. officials, including U.S.
Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and General John G. Castellaw, who commanded
the American peacekeeping force in the multi-national security and stability
operation in Timor in 1999.
The Order of Timor requires a vote by the Council of
Ministers, as well as the Parliament, and then it is signed by the
President. The vote in favor of bestowing the Order of Timor on Senator
Reed by the Council of Ministers and the Parliament was unanimous.
Among the Rhode Islanders in attendance at the ceremony was
Central Falls Mayor James Diossa.
Reed also noted that former U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell
(D-RI), who served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was also a great
champion for Timor-Leste’s independence.