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President Ramos-Horta awarded Honorary Degree by Victoria University

His Excellency Dr José Ramos-Horta, President of The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, was awarded an Honorary Degree by Victoria University today (Friday 24 July 2009).

He was admitted to the degree of Doctor of the University honoris causa, in recognition of his outstanding commitment to the defence of human rights and for his contribution to establishing the independence of Timor-Leste.

At the ceremony VU’s Vice Chancellor Professor Elizabeth Harman said that the University was proud to honour His Excellency.

She said: “Dr José Ramos-Horta has not only survived imperialism, colonialism and post-colonialism; he has helped lead his people through these challenges to experience independence and freedom from oppression. He has done this with dignity, with humility, and with forgiveness.”

“The establishment of an independent Timor-Leste in 2002 owes much to his untiring efforts. For 24 years, Dr José Ramos-Horta dedicated his life to denouncing the Indonesian occupation and annexation of his homeland of Timor-Leste.”

“Dr José Ramos-Horta put the struggle of the East Timorese people before the international community, so that their plea for independence could not be ignored. He lobbied the UN Security Council, the Fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly, the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation, the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the European Parliament; his commitment to freedom was absolute.”

“His determined pursuit of justice for Timor-Leste earned him worldwide recognition as an exponent of peace in the struggle for justice and human rights.”

Dr José Ramos-Horta has been awarded many honours from many countries for his commitment to the human rights and in 1996, he received the Nobel Peace Prize, an honour he shared with fellow countryman, Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo. The Prize recognised “sustained efforts to hinder the oppression of a small people”. The Nobel Committee declared Dr José Ramos-Horta “the leading international spokesman for East Timor’s cause since 1975”.

Professor Harman said: “Victoria University is privileged to have an ongoing relationship with Dr José Ramos-Horta. In 2001 he was appointed Distinguished Visiting Professor at VU, an honorary position conferred on those who have achieved national or international eminence in their field.”

“The University has a strong interest in both Timor-Leste and the Asia-Pacific region, where VU supports international and local projects in community development and the development of both vocational and higher education. This is especially the case in Timor-Leste with VU having completed a significant number of projects in vocational and higher education that continue to make a real difference in the ability of the nation to build its skills and capacities.”

One of the ways VU is continuing its relationship with Timor-Leste is through its dedicated East Timor Scholarship Fund. To draw attention to its fundraising to support the Fund, the University is sponsoring the opening night of the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) where ‘Balibo’ (the film about five Australian journalists who were executed in 1975) will have its world premiere. His Excellency Dr José Ramos-Horta will special guest at the event.

VU hopes the Scholarship Fund will help to continue to support the development of Timor-Leste’s most precious resource – its intellectual infrastructure.

Ms Ros Casey, VU’s Director of Development said: “The Scholarship focuses on maximising educational opportunities for Timor-Leste students, particularly those that will make an immediate and significant contribution to the development of their newly independent nation.”

Scholarship recipient Ismenio Martins da Silva is one example, he studied a Masters in Asia-Pacific Studies – Community Development at VU.

Upon completion of his course, da Silva returned home to continue development work and to teach community development at the National University of Timor Loro Sa’e. His expertise and passion for change were quickly discovered and he was soon offered the role of Principal Advisor in the Department of Vocational Training and Employment within the East Timor Ministry of Labour and Reinsertion.

Ms Casey said: “To date, fundraising has been relatively modest with support coming from individual staff members, the Pratt Foundation and VU itself but we do need more support. We’re trying to set the scholarships up on a sustainable basis. To maintain the Scholarship in perpetuity, we would like to raise $1.5 million over the next two years. This would allow us to offer two Scholarships a year for the foreseeable future.”

Media contact:

Andy Gash, A/Media Manager

Marketing and Communications Department, Victoria University

Ph: (03) 9919 4950; mobile: 0411 255 900

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