A vision of independence
East Timor expressed a desire for self-determination when it declared independence from Portugal in November 1975. Indonesian military forces invaded one week later. This led to a 24-year guerrilla struggle against the occupation, while young people, journalists, solidarity groups, and religious institutions championed the Timorese cause internally and internationally.
Many Timorese paid the ultimate price in their quest for self-determination. The Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation estimates that between 1975-1999 a minimum of 102,800 people were killed or died from starvation and illness.
The right to self-determination, firmly embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, is the right of a people to determine their own destiny. To this end, the United Nations conducted the Popular Consultation on 30 August 1999 to allow the people of East Timor to decide whether or not they wanted special autonomy within Indonesia. An overwhelming 78.5 per cent of voters rejected the proposed special autonomy, paving the way for full independence.
Immediately after the vote, pro-autonomy forces unleashed a wave of arson and terror throughout the country. As much as 70 per cent of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless and more than 1,200 were killed. An estimated 230,000 people were forced into the Indonesian territory of West Timor.
In response to this crisis, the UN Security Council authorized an intervention force to restore order and then established a transitional administration to run the nascent country while formal institutions of state were established. Three years later, on 20 May 2002, East Timor’s independence was officially restored and the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste was born.
In 2012, the people of Timor-Leste celebrated with pride the 10th anniversary of the Restoration of Independence in an atmosphere of peace and optimism.