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Magsaysay Awardee Wants To Give Prize To East Timor People

Updated: July 30, 2003 05:00 PM GMT
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The East Timorese winner of a 2003 Ramon Magsaysay Award says he wants to give the prize to compatriots who helped in defending human rights in his country.

"I am glad to receive the prize, because it reflects a recognition of the service I have been doing. And for me this recognition is very extraordinary," Aniceto Guterres Lopes told UCA News July 30.

The rights activist was selected by the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation as their 2003 awardee for Emergent Leadership.

He currently chairs East Timor´s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation, which investigates political crimes committed during the Indonesian occupation of the former Portuguese colony.

"Mr. Guterres Lopes is being recognized for ´his courageous stand for justice and the rule of law during East Timor´s turbulent passage to nationhood,´" the Manila-based foundation said in a July 30 press release.

Guterres, as he is usually called, says he thanks all his comrades in East Timor and Indonesia "who have been working together with me in the struggle for the defense of human rights in Timor Leste," adding that he also thanks all East Timorese who in some way have contributed to the struggle.

Timor Leste is the official name of East Timor. "Leste" means "east" in Portuguese.

"I would like to give the prize to East Timor people through an organization which will be decided later," he said.

This year´s Magsaysay Award winners will each receive a certificate, US$50,000 and a medallion bearing the likeness of the late Philippine president Ramon Magsaysay, after whom the award is named.

"For me, the work I have been doing is a gift. I never think or imagine to work with (the) aim to get a prize or an award. So the (Magsaysay Foundation´s) announcement really surprised me, and made me feel very happy and moved. It is the greatest joy I ever had in my life," said Guterres.

He said that he learned of his selection as an awardee only on July 30, when an official of the award foundation telephoned him from Manila.

"I did not tell it to other people but my wife, because the caller said that I should keep it confidential until it was officially announced," he said.

Guterres was 8 years old when Indonesia took control of his homeland in 1975. Up to 200,000 people died in armed resistance and reprisals afterward.

In August 1996, Guterres set up Yayasan Hak Asasi dan Keadilan (HAK, human rights and justice foundation), which provided free legal services to human rights victims. For a time, as the foundation´s only lawyer, he defended prominent political prisoners and ordinary Timorese alike.

In its first year, the group documented 339 human rights cases, including extrajudicial killings, tortures, rapes and arbitrary arrests.

Guterres, a graduate of government-run Udayana University based in Bali, Indonesia, faced harassment and threats, but ran the foundation until November 2002, several months after East Timor officially became independent that May.

In February 2002, he and six other East Timorese were appointed by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor as members of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation. Later he was elected to chair the commission.

While investigating past political crimes, the commission also organizes grassroots reconciliation meetings throughout East Timor. "We need to recognize this heaviness in our past and deal with it together," the Magsaysay foundation reports Guterres as saying.

The lawyer currently lectures at the Faculty of Law of Dili University.

He was born on April 16, 1967, in Maliana, capital of Bobonaro district, some 45 kilometers south of Dili. His wife, Maria Natercia, is a judge with the Dili district court. They have four children.

Guterres is set to receive the award together with six other winners from India, China, Japan and the Philippines on Aug. 31 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in downtown Manila.


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