Nuclear Weapons Can Be Eliminated: A Discussion with Jose Ramos-Horta, President of East Timor

by Yumi Kanazaki, Junichiro Hayashi, and Kensuke Murashima, Staff Writers

On March 19 atomic bomb survivors and students joined with Jose Ramos-Horta, president of Timor-Leste, in a panel discussion entitled "A Dialogue with President Ramos-Horta: Promoting Nuclear Abolition and Peace Building." Held in the east wing of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the event was sponsored by the Chugoku Shimbun with support from the Foreign Ministry, Hiroshima Prefecture and the City of Hiroshima and with the cooperation of Hiroshima University. President Horta, 60, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the other participants discussed similarities between the experiences of East Timor, which overcame internal strife to chart a new course as a peaceful nation, and Hiroshima and its recovery from the horror of the atomic bombing 65 years ago. About 300 people attended the event. The following are edited excerpts from the discussion. (Prior to the discussion, President Horta gave a keynote speech.)


Jose Ramos-Horta, president of Timor-Leste

Atomic Bomb Survivors
Keijiro Matsushima, 81
Emiko Okada, 73

Yu Ikeda, 21, a junior studying law at Hiroshima Shudo University
Mutsunori Aoyama, 23, a senior studying integrated science at Hiroshima University
Saori Sakamoto, 21, a junior studying education at Hiroshima University
Hikari Ota, 22, a junior studying biology at Hiroshima University

Hidehiko Yuzaki, governor of Hiroshima Prefecture
Tadatoshi Akiba, mayor of Hiroshima

Yuji Uesugi, associate professor, Graduate School for International Development and Cooperation, Hiroshima University
Akira Tashiro, executive director of the Chugoku Shimbun’s Hiroshima Peace Media Center

Abolition of nuclear weapons

Matsushima: I was 16 years old when I was exposed to the atomic bomb. Badly burned victims filed past, and a quiet summer morning was transformed into hell in an instant. Many hardships were overcome in the course of rebuilding Hiroshima. I hope this kind of tragedy will never be repeated. Now is the time for people to work together to bring about a world without nuclear weapons. With friendship and consideration, not hatred, I would like to create that kind of world in cooperation with the people of the world, including America, who were once our enemies.

Horta: Reconciliation can be brought about by apologizing to the victims. Speaking from my experience, what the victims of conflict and strife seek above all is the truth. By acknowledging the truth and apologizing, those involved can walk together in the future. I feel very encouraged by Mr. Matsushima's attitude of forgiveness.

Okada: I was exposed to the atomic bomb when I was 8 years old. My elder sister left home in high spirits and never returned. The victims died with hands outstretched, asking for help and begging for water. It is unpardonable that children were made victims. I've heard that even now there are more than 20,000 nuclear warheads. Human beings made nuclear weapons, so human beings can eliminate them. Mr. President, please continue to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons and for world peace.

Horta: Nuclear weapons pose a threat. I fervently hope for the disarmament of the nuclear nations. The former Soviet Union could no longer maintain its social and political system, and the regime collapsed while possessing a powerful military and an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Peace, justice, fairness, democracy, human dignity: these are the things that will aid the cause. Based on its experiences, Hiroshima must call on the nuclear nations to abolish nuclear weapons. It is important for leaders with vision to initiate a dialogue and reach agreement on abolition.

Ikeda: In his speech in Prague last April, U.S. President Obama said patience and persistence will be needed in order to abolish nuclear weapons. From that standpoint, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have no equal. North Korea, which withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has nuclear weapons as does Israel, which is not a party to the treaty. And Iran is suspected of developing nuclear weapons. Meanwhile the international community has begun to work toward abolition. Now we are at a historical turning point, and I would like to ask President Horta what role you think Japan and Hiroshima should play.

Horta: Japan can exercise leadership in the region. I would like Japan to further strengthen its ties with China and South Korea. Although these three countries have become prosperous, they still distrust each other. It's as if World War II took place only 10 years ago. I mustn't meddle in Japanese politics, but I think Japan needs to build good relations in the region and take a steady, balanced approach to the U.S.

Akiba: I think we need to place a greater emphasis on Asia. I think leadership at the city level is also important. The mayors of 3,680 cities have joined Mayors for Peace. I would like to do everything possible to ensure that we achieve a nuclear-free world by 2020. Obama has said that nuclear weapons will probably not be abolished in his lifetime, but I believe it can be done if we make a united effort.

Yuzaki: In fact, the threat of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and of their use is growing. How can it be halted? First of all, we must put greater international pressure on nuclear nations not to use nuclear weapons. People need to be able to visualize the consequences of using nuclear weapons, so I would like world leaders to visit Hiroshima. We must also eliminate mutual distrust between nations, which can lead to the use of nuclear weapons, and build trust. These efforts are essential.

Horta: The number of nuclear nations has increased since the NPT came into force. That is very unfortunate. Since Obama became president, the U.S. and Russia have begun negotiations to cut their nuclear arsenals. When I met President Obama he said to me, "Let's work together." By that, he meant working together with the people of the world. Grass roots support is essential in order to build international opinion.


Aoyama: I'm involved in an effort to offer support to children who have lost their parents, both in Japan and abroad. Just having the desire to do something won't lead to change. What sort of vision did you have when you aspired to become a leader?

Horta: It wasn't my idea to become a leader. At the time of the political crisis in 2006, I was asked to become prime minister. I served as minister of defense as well and declared that we would not purchase any more weapons. It is important for leaders to repair the rifts in society and heal people's emotional wounds. They must also have their own vision and be able to explain it.

Sakamoto: I have been involved in various support activities such as visiting Indonesia after the tsunami and showing films of children living on mounds of garbage in the Philippines. There are many people around the world whose lives are filled with uncertainty. What can Japan and Hiroshima do to help the people of East Timor truly experience peace?

Horta: Japan is already offering plenty of support by cooperating in the building of roads, in the development of human resources, and in other areas. Over the medium and long term, I would like to see Japan, the U.S. and Europe open their markets to us.

Ota: Last summer I went to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. When I talked to children who had been orphaned as the result of conflict or the tsunami about Hiroshima and its recovery, a cheer went up. What kind of education do you believe is necessary in order to prevent further conflict?

Horta: Last year we initiated a plan to make our capital city Dili a "city of peace." Through dialogues between political leaders and young people I would like to raise everyone's awareness of what they need to do and ease tensions within the country.

Yuzaki: Hiroshima is working to develop human resources. We invited the United Nations Institute for Training and Research to open an office here, and we are training people who will be involved in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Rebuilding requires not only money and technology but also the belief that rebuilding is possible. There is also the example of what Hiroshima has done. I think it's important to convey that to the world.

Akiba: We are living in an era in which values are changing greatly. Political frameworks that pit countries against each other, military alliances and other similar models are outdated. We need a model under which countries and cities cooperate with each other.

Horta: The leaders of Japan, China and South Korea must fight poverty and build a peaceful Asia. I recognize distrust remains, but the international community is changing. Nations' leaders must dispel the distrust of the past.


President Jose Ramos-Horta
Born in Dili in 1949. Received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 in recognition of his efforts to reach a peaceful resolution to the issue of East Timor's independence. Served as Senior Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation after East Timor achieved independence in May 2002. Was inaugurated as East Timor's second president in May 2007 after serving concurrently as prime minister and defense minister.


Timor-Leste declared its independence in 1975 after years of colonial rule by Portugal and occupation by the Japanese Imperial Army. However, conflict with an anti-independence faction led to civil war, and Indonesia launched a military invasion. With a change in administration in Indonesia, the independence movement regained momentum, and independence was achieved in May 2002 as the result of a popular referendum held in 1999. The situation in the country remained unstable, however, and Japan dispatched Ground Self-Defense Forces to East Timor for a two-year period ending in May 2004 as part of a United Nations peace-keeping operation. In recent months the turmoil in the country has subsided. East Timor consists of the eastern half of the island of Timor and another separate territory. Its capital is Dili, and it has a population of 1.1 million. The nation's primary industries are the production of coffee for export and the development of oil and gas resources.

(Originally published March 22, 2010)

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