East Timor and Fraternity: The ‘Abu Dhabi Document’ becomes a national document

By Antonio Spadaro SJ, 18 August 2022
A file image of Pope Francis meeting with Timor-Leste president José Ramos-Horta. Image: José Ramos-Horta/Facebook.


On May 20, 2022, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the inauguration of national independence in East Timor, President José Ramos-Horta took custody of his country’s highest office for the second time. In the course of doing so he issued an official declaration in which he solemnly received the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace – signed on February 4, 2019, by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam Ahmad al-Tayyeb of Al-Azhar – as a national document. He vowed to make “every effort, in cooperation with state, religious and secular institutions, to adapt and include it in the national school curricula.”

The official act is legally based on resolution no. 11/2022, unanimously approved by the East Timor National Parliament on May 12, in which the legislative assembly of the country expressed its full adherence to the Abu Dhabi Document and committed the state to it, in its various articulations.

During the official ceremony to swear in the new head of state, both the resolution of the National Parliament and the declaration of the president were solemnly handed over to Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, the Holy See’s chargé d’affaires and Judge Mohamed Abdelsalam, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Elders from Abu Dhabi, representing the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. The ceremony took place in front of the highest state officials and numerous foreign delegations, which included among others, the president of the Republic of Portugal and the Governor General of Australia. At the end of the ceremony, a solemn session of parliament took place, during which the chargé d’affaires of the Holy See addressed members of parliament and authorities.

The parliament’s resolution is based on the fact that the UN Assembly has established February 4 as the International Day of Human Fraternity. It declares commitment “to the values of peace, dialogue and respect for human rights,” and intends “to urge the government to promote the values of human fraternity, at the domestic level, through concrete measures to improve the welfare of Timorese citizens, and at the multilateral level, by adopting protective conduct that promotes peaceful coexistence among peoples.”

The president said that there are many shared values between East Timor’s Constitution and the Human Fraternity Document; “therefore, it makes absolute sense for us to use this document in our country.”

President Ramos-Horta is a prominent figure. In 1996 he and his compatriot Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their commitment to the peaceful establishment of the independence of their country. He is president of the non-governmental organization, Ubuntu United Nations. He also served as a member of the judging committee of the Zayed Prize for Human Fraternity, which recently honored King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein and Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan along with the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty in Haiti as the 2022 winners.

In fact, two years ago Ramos-Horta had the text of the document printed and distributed at his own expense among parliamentarians and in the country’s universities. When presenting his candidacy for the presidency, he said that if elected he would ask parliament to vote on a motion for the adoption of the text as a “general inspirational document for national policy and education.”

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The unanimous support of the 60 members of parliament seems to be in harmony with the history and cultural identity of East Timor, which is deeply imbued with the concept of fraternity. It is no coincidence that in the common language of Timor they speak so often of “brothers” and “sisters.” In the national language, Tetum, the most common and ordinary way of addressing a person is mau or mana, meaning brother and sister. Even the greatest national political leaders are identified by all as maum-boot, that is, big brother.

The restoration of independence and the achievement of the nation’s sovereignty are so closely rooted in the concept of reconciliation and fraternity that the country that was once rejected as an occupier is now perceived as a neighbor and partner; the people who were once considered enemies, are now welcomed by all as friends, brothers and sisters.

The process of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace-building in a spirit of fraternity was fostered from the beginning by the active involvement of the UN and promoted by the Catholic Church. Countless priests, religious and lay people, together with ordinary people, together with political and military leaders, sought to heal the wounds left by war and violence, accompanying the Timorese people on the road to peace and reconciliation.

It is therefore no coincidence that the Democratic Republic of East Timor is the first state in the world to officially adopt the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace as a national document. This corresponds to a special vocation and mission of the Timorese people in the world, and in Asia in particular. Their vocation and mission is to be, according to the testimony of its own historical experience and culture, a living and effective sign of fraternity, reconciliation and peace. In the situation of tension that the world lives at present, this sign is particularly significant.

Justice Mohamed Abdelsalam said: “East Timor’s adoption of the Human Fraternity Document is proof of the document’s international standing as one of the most important declarations of modern times. We look forward to seeing other states, nations and countries adopt the document as a constitution for humanity that transcends all differences between us.”

And he is right. The document signed in Abu Dhabi over three years ago stated that there are areas in the world that are “preparing to become theaters of new conflicts, with outbreaks of tension, with arms and ammunition being stockpiled, in a global context overshadowed by uncertainty, disillusionment, fear of the future, and controlled by short-sighted economic interests.”

Those ominous predictions have turned out to be correct. Today more than ever it is necessary to re-emphasize the declarations that help us to conceive a new world order (such as the Atlantic Charter of 1941, seed of the UN, the Declaration of New Delhi of 1986 for “a world free of nuclear weapons”). We need to close off the destructive recourse to war and move on with the awareness that we are all brothers and sisters.

Antonio Spadaro SJ is the Editor-in-Chief of La Civiltà Cattolica.

Reproduced with permission from La Civiltà Cattolica.


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