JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA, President of Timor-Leste, said that while his country only faced a minimal direct impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic in terms of hospitalizations and fatalities, it suffered from policies undertaken to prevent the spread of the virus. He expressed his gratitude to COVAX for the initial shipment of vaccines and commended New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Japan, China, the European Union, Portugal and the United States for their generous support — in kind and in cash.
He further said that Australia proved to be a true sisterly neighbour, promptly delivering every assistance “our fragile health system” required. He went on to say that in a world plagued by conflicts and human-made catastrophes, from Myanmar to Afghanistan, Yemen and Ukraine, Timor-Leste is an oasis of tranquility. “We do not have organized crime,” he stated. All faiths — Catholics, Protestants and Muslims — live side by side in harmony. “Timor-Leste does not have a single case of ethnic or religious-based tension and conflict,” he said.
Touching upon what he called matters of profound concern, he cited a number of issues, including the serious food crisis affecting millions of people in Africa and Asia, as well as floods in Pakistan that were causing widespread destruction and inflicting suffering on more than 30 million people, with more than 7 million displaced. It is “crisis on top of crisis”, he said, emphasizing that aid to poorer countries of the South should not be cancelled out by being reallocated to address the refugee crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. “We must ensure that the Ukrainians are supported, but not at the expense of unity with the many struggling people in other nations,” he said. He noted that it is difficult to receive the same level of compassion and wisdom towards the poorer South, since “some seem to feel that we are not really equal.”
Speaking about the war in Ukraine, he noted that Western countries started off “on high moral ground in confronting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”, however they may end up losing the support of the developing world, which accounts for 80 per cent of the global population. “They should pause for a moment to reflect on the glaring contrast in their response to the wars elsewhere,” he said, referring to double standards. “Our public opinion does not see the Ukraine war the same way it is seen in the North,” he stated. Rising costs of living for the poor resulted in riots in Sri Lanka, Peru, Kenya and, most recently, Haiti. Low-income countries could only spend a fraction of the amounts spent by high-income countries on COVID‑19 stimulus packages, which caused their debt to increase. “The number of developing countries in debt distress or at high risk has doubled since 2015, to 60 per cent,” he said.
Turning to Myanmar, he said that the people there “feel abandoned, betrayed, by the so-called international community”. He went on to say that “extremely generous support for Ukraine’s resistance” is contrasted with a “muted reaction to the war waged against the people of Myanmar”, who are still fighting and dying every day. Noting that escalation of the Myanmar conflict would impact the security and stability of neighbouring countries, he called for dialogue by all parties involved in the conflicts in Ukraine and Myanmar, as well as in other crises around the world. “In the Ukraine conflict, Russia and Ukraine should clear their ports and sea routes and allow normal resumption of permitted international shipping activities,” he said.