Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and José Ramos-Horta are Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

In February 1989 he wrote to the President of Portugal, the Pope, and the UN Secretary-General, calling for a UN referendum on the future of East Timor and for international help for the East Timorese, who were "dying as a people and a nation", but when the UN letter became public in April, he became even more of a target of the Indonesians. This precariousness increased when Bishop Belo gave sanctuary in his own home, as he did on various occasions, to youths escaping the Santa Cruz massacre (1991), and endeavoured to expose the numbers of victims killed.

Bishop Belo's courageous labours on behalf of the East Timorese and in pursuit of peace and reconciliation were internationally recognised when, along with José Ramos-Horta, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1996. Bishop Belo capitalised upon this honour through meetings with Bill Clinton of the United States and Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Belo has also been awarded the John Humphrey Freedom Award.

Ramos-Horta arrived in New York to address the UN Security Council and urge them to take action in the face of the Indonesian occupation during which an estimated 102,000 East Timorese would die. Ramos-Horta was the Permanent Representative of FRETILIN to the UN for the next ten years. His friends at that time mentioned that he arrived in the United States with a total of twenty-five dollars in his pocket. His pecuniary situation was often straitened in that period; he survived partly by grace of Americans who admired his politics and his determination. Further, he was obliged to travel worldwide to explain his party's position.

In 1993, the Rafto Prize was awarded to the people of East Timor. Foreign-minister-in-exile José Ramos-Horta represented his nation at the prize ceremony.

In December 1996, Ramos-Horta shared the Nobel Peace Prize with his fellow countryman, Bishop Ximenes Belo. The Nobel Committee chose to honour the two laureates for their "sustained efforts to hinder the oppression of a small people", hoping that "this award will spur efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict of East Timor based on the people's right to self-determination". The Committee considered Ramos-Horta "the leading international spokesman for East Timor's cause since 1975".