The Honorable Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, the former President and Prime Minister of East Timor, has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Arts.

Xanana Gusmão, widely regarded as the leader of East Timor's struggle for freedom, was presented with the Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, during a special ceremony as part of the Melbourne School of Government’s Democracy in Transition conference.

University Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis said the award was given to recognise Mr Gusmão’s role in achieving reconciliation between two nations that might otherwise have experienced ongoing violence and instability.

“Mr Gusmão has received the award of the Doctor of Letters honoris causa for his courage, long-standing determination and dedication to improving the lives of the East Timorese.”Faculty of Arts Dean Professor Mark Considine said Timor-Leste was transformed under the leadership of Mr Gusmão.

“Mr Gusmão has worked tirelessly and resolutely to achieve peace between Timor and Indonesia,” he said. “His is a story of an extraordinary personal journey dedicated to re-establishing relations between Timor-Leste and Indonesia. Mr Gusmão was in the resistance for 17 years, led the struggle against Indonesian occupation from jail for seven years, was president of Timor-Leste for five years and Prime Minister for more than seven.”

Mr Gusmão said it was an honour to receive the doctorate.

“I am delighted to be receiving an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the prestigious University of Melbourne today and to be contributing to the conference on Democracy in Transition,” he said.

“The University of Melbourne has had a long relationship with Timor-Leste and a warm and productive partnership with our own UNTL – the University of Timor-Leste. Indeed, the city and people of Melbourne hold a special place in our hearts as friends and supporters of Timor-Leste’s struggle for self determination, ongoing journey of development and even now our quest to finalize our maritime boundaries.”

Mr Gusmão joins other recipients of the award such as poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Professor Brian Howe, writer and broadcaster Caroline Jones, Israeli novelist Amos Oz and historian Hugh Anderson.

Mr Gusmão spoke about Asian innovations in legitimate governance at the Melbourne School of Government’s Democracy in Transition conference December 7-8 at the Langham Hotel.

An edited version of Mr Gusmao's acceptance speech is available on Pursuit and a full copy of the speech is available upon request from the newsroom.