Sunday, October 24, 1999

UC student interned with E. Timor activist

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It was mid-June, and University of Cincinnati law student Molly Wade was two weeks into her summer internship.

        The leader of the East Timor independence movement, whom she was serving as personal assistant, sat hunched in the back seat of the car, quiet and grumpy.

        During the two-hour drive to Canberra, the capital of Australia, Jose Ramos-Horta, winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, did not say a word.

        But as the two arrived at a lecture hall, Mr. Ramos-Horta — who that morning barked orders in his bathrobe and slippers — walked his stout 5-foot-5 frame to the microphone and made magic. Pounding his fist on the lectern, the exiled leader with a constant 5-o'clock shadow captivated his audience of Australian college students.

        “You could see when he gave his speeches how he'd been progressing for 20 years, that determination and commitment and persistence,” she said. “I remember thinking, "God, why doesn't anybody listen to his cause?'”

        As Mr. Ramos-Horta warned that a “blood bath” would befall his beloved country without the world's help — a prediction recently realized — Mrs. Wade recognized the powerful charisma of the man who fought for more than two decades for his country's independence from Indonesia.

        What brought Mrs. Wade to this global hot spot was a fellowship with the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights at UC's College of Law.

        The institute sent half a dozen students abroad this summer as part of an annual program to give students international experience in their fields.

        Mrs. Wade, 28, now in her second year of a three-year law program at UC's College of Law, landed the internship through her specialty in international human rights law and her knowledge of Portuguese. East Timor, an island 350 miles north of Australia, is a former colony of Portugal. It was invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975, setting the stage for a 24-year battle for independence.

        That struggle resulted in a referendum vote for independence Aug. 30, unleashing a rampage of burning, looting and violence by pro-Indonesian militias that chased about a third of the territory's 850,000 people from their homes.

        Mr. Ramos-Horta had discussed his cause in Cincinnati two years ago when he attended the annual United Nations Luncheon at the Omni-Netherland Plaza Hotel. He also took part in a panel discussion on global business ethics at the University of Cincinnati.

        Mrs. Wade did not know much about East Timor last fall when she asked her instructor if she could spend her human-rights internship where people spoke Portuguese.

        She had become fluent in the language during a two-year stint in the Peace Corps, spent in the small West African country of Guinea Bissau, also a former Portuguese colony.

        Mrs. Wade, a native of Minnesota, had earned a bachelor's degree in political science and humanistic studies at St. Mary's College in South Bend, Ind. After the Peace Corps, she went on to gain a master's degree in international development at George Washington University.

        Her graduate work gave her grass-roots experience through an internship in Gambia.

        But she would gain a very strong lesson in diplomacy when she arrived at the home of Mr. Ramos-Horta in a working-class suburb of Sydney in June, where she would spend the next two months with him and his mother. Setting the stage just before she arrived, a date had been scheduled for a vote on independence from Indonesia.

        Mrs. Wade spent hours firing off e-mails at the direction of Mr. Ramos-Horta to leaders in Europe and the United States, pleading for support and warning of the violence that might erupt over the outcome of the vote.

        “We'd sit at his kitchen table, with me at my laptop and him at his laptop,” Mrs. Wade said on a recent morning in her Hyde Park home.

        “It got more intense in June and July,” she said. “It's a lot of strain and it means so much to him — so much is at stake. He feels responsible for what happens.”

        Mr. Ramos-Horta would rarely sleep, resting only three to four hours a night, she said. “He was always concerned what would happen before and after the vote.”

        Mrs. Wade returned home when her internship ended the first week of August, before the vote and subsequent violence that officials now blame for the death of up to 100 people.

        Since then, Mrs. Wade has exchanged several e-mails with Mr. Ramos-Horta, and she spoke by phone with him about two weeks ago.

        He was upbeat and sounded pleased about the deployment of United Nations peacekeepers to the region.

        This past week, the Indonesian parliament endorsed the referendum results, effectively relinquishing control of East Timor.

        “I think he feels he did his best, but he feels frustrated with the slowness of the international community. He did forewarn them,” Mrs. Wade said.


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