Timorese freedom fighter and politician, prime minister of East Timor from 2006, president 2007–12. A founder of Fretilin (Frente Revolucionária do Timor Leste Independente; Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor), the nationalist movement that had briefly governed the country in 1975, he served as the exiled spokesman, and United Nations representative, for the East Timorese resistance during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor in 1975–99. In 1996 he was jointly awarded, with Timorese Bishop Carlos Belo, the Nobel Prize for Peace.
In 1998, he resigned from Fretilin to become an independent politician. He returned to East Timor in 1999 and became foreign minister in 2000, first under the UN Transitional Administration for East Timor (UNTAET) and then after independence in 2002. He became prime minister in June 2006, and in May 2007 he succeeded Xanana Gusmão as president after a landslide victory over the Fretilin candidate, Francisco Guterres. In February 2008 he was shot and seriously injured in an assassination attempt by rebel soldiers, but was able to resume as president in April 2008. He stood for the presidency again in 2012, but was defeated, finishing third.
From 1970 to 1971 he was exiled to Mozambique for ‘subversive activities’ against the Portuguese colonial regime. In 1974, he was a founding member of the left-wing nationalist Fretilin, which fought for East Timor's independence from Portugal. Horta fled three days before the Indonesian invasion and annexation of East Timor in 1975, and from exile he drew the UN's attention to the annexation, causing the UN Security Council to condemn the invasion outright. From bases in Australia and the USA, he travelled the world for more than two decades, until Indonesia's withdrawal after the August 1999 vote for independence, to raise international awareness about Indonesia's activities and lobby for a free East Timor.
The son of a Portuguese father, who had been exiled to Portuguese Timor by Portugal's Salazar dictatorship, and a Timorese mother, Ramos-Horta was born in Dili and educated in a Catholic mission in the village of Soibada. Between 1969 and 1974 he was a radio and television correspondent. Four of his 11 brothers and sisters were killed in the struggle between Fretilin and the Indonesian military from 1975. Later, in the 1980s, he studied at the Hague Academy of International Law, received a master's degree in peace studies from Antioch University, California, and a Fellowship in International Relations at St Antony's College, Oxford, England. During his time in exile 1975–99 he lived and worked in the USA, Portugal, the UK, the Netherlands, and Australia, and was the representative of the imprisoned resistance leader Xanana Gusmão, until the latter's release in 1999.
His diplomatic experiences are recounted in his book Funu: The Unfinished Saga of East Timor (1987).