Subject: US judge slaps US$66 million in damages on Indon general

US judge slaps 66 million dollars in damages on Indonesian general

WASHINGTON, Oct 4 (AFP) - A US judge has piled 66 million dollars in damages on a top Indonesian general, concluding after a civil lawsuit lodged in a US court that he was guilty of crimes against humanity in East Timor.

The decision against General Johny Lumintang was reached last month by Federal Court Judge Alan Kay but made public only Thursday. It marked a major victory for campaigners who have sought to use US courts to punish those accused of human rights abuses abroad.

Kay, who presided over a three-day civil trial in absentia of Lumintang in Washington in March, found that the general had committed a wide range of abuses in East Timor, after it voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999.

Following the vote, the territory was engulfed in militia violence, which victims say was fanned by generals of the Indonesian armed forces.

The case against Lumintang was brought by a group of East Timorese scarred by the violence, who were injured or lost family members.

"Lumintang has responsibility for the actions against plaintiffs and a larger pattern of gross human rights violations," Kay said in his written judgement.

"He along with other high-ranking members of the Indonesian military -- planned, ordered, and instigated acts carried out by subordinates to terrorize and displace the East Timorese population ... and to destroy East Timor's infrastructure following the vote for independence."

Lumintang was vice chief of staff of the Indonesian army at the time of the independence referendum in which tens of thousands were forced from their homes and the capital, Dili, was burned to the ground.

Six plaintiffs or their estates were granted 10 million dollars each in punitive damages. Compensatory damages ranged from 750,000 to 1.75 million dollars each.

The unnamed plaintiffs claimed that top Indonesian officers planned and supervised the militia violence, which claimed an unknown number of lives.

The trial, at which Lumintang was not represented, featured moving testimony from three victims of militia violence.

One lost a brother, one woman told of how her son was killed and another young man told the court how Indonesian soldiers shot him, causing his leg to be amputated.

The case was brought under US legislation which allows American jurisdiction over acts of torture committed outside the country. A lawsuit can only proceed, however, if defendants are served with legal papers while in the United States.

Lumintang was personally served notice of the civil suit on March 30, 2000, while visiting Washington.

After he failed to answer the charges, including crimes against humanity, summary execution and torture, a judge declared Lumintang in default and he was tried in absentia.

The court victory looks set to be purely symbolic however, unless financial assets of Lumintang can be discovered and frozen in the United States. The US court has no jurisdiction in Indonesia.

Human rights campaigners immediately hailed the judgment as a major victory.

"This judgment sends a strong message that the Indonesian military, police, and political leaders responsible for 1999's devastation of East Timor must be held accountable," said John Miller of the East Timor Action Group.

"Indonesia clearly lacks the will and East Timor the resources and access to defendants, to prosecute ranking officials responsible for these crimes against humanity."

see also Lumintang lawsuit page

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