East Timor

The Boston Globe
October 28, 1994, Friday

Indonesia aide told to pay $14m in suit over death
By Randolph Ryan, Globe Staff

Also: IPS: Mother to Collect Damages for East Timor Massacre

A US District Court judge in Boston yesterday ordered an Indonesian general whose troops massacred 271 mourners at a funeral in East Timor in 1991 to pay $14 million in damages to the mother of a 19-year-old student who was among the victims.

Judge Patti Saris ordered that Gen. Sintong Panjaitan, now an adviser in the Indonesian Ministry of Industry and Technology in Jakarta, pay $4 million in compensatory damages to Helen Todd, the mother of Kamal Bamadhaj who died, and $10 million in punitive damages.

Panjaitan was sued while residing in Boston where he was sent in 1992 to pursue a business school education.

"This is a great blow to the Indonesian military in their occupation of East Timor," said Michael Ratner, a lawyer at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, who argued the case on Monday. At the evidentiary hearing before Saris, witnesses described Panjaitan's troops as having methodically gunned down unarmed marchers at a funeral. Their pre-announced purpose was to stifle the independence movement in East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that Indonesia had invaded in 1975.

The UN Security Council has called repeatedly for Indonesia to withdraw its forces and permit a referendum on East Timor's future. Edging toward renewed international acceptance, Indonesia is scheduled to host next month's Asian economic summit, which President Clinton will attend.

Human rights groups say the federal court ruling adds diplomatic leverage that could be used to seek Indonesian compliance with UN resolutions.

Administration spokesmen say, however, that Clinton does not plan to make a public issue of human rights while in Jakarta. Gen. Suharto, Indonesia's president, has received US support since 1965 when he led a coup overthrowing President Sukarno.

Inter Press Service

October 24, 1994, Monday


by Lisa Sandberg

NEW YORK, Oct. 24

Her son died in East Timor three years ago, and this week Helen Todd expects to receive damages in a U.S. district court in Boston.

The case involves the victim's mother, an Indonesian general, and a 200-year-old U.S. statute which enables victims to sue their tormentors of human rights abuses, no matter where they occurred, so long as the defendant is in the United States.

Todd's son, Kamal Bamadhaj, was one of dozens killed when Indonesian troops opened fire on pro-independence demonstrators in the East Timor capital, Dili, in November 1991. Though he was not present during the massacre, Indonesian Gen. Sintong Panjaitan was the top military officer at the time.

Todd filed a civil lawsuit in the United States in 1992 against Panjaitan for his role in the killings. The general was studying at Harvard University at the time, but fled the country -- thus defaulting the case. Damages are now to be awarded to Todd.

Todd said she is seeking, "not only justice for my son but for the hundreds of mothers of the other victims" who would not join the suit because of fear of reprisals by the Indonesian military.

Todd is suing the Indonesian general under the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, which assigns Federal district courts jurisdiction over suits resulting from wrongful acts "committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States."

The statute originally applied to acts of piracy on the high seas and the illicit slave trade and was seldom used until the late 1970s, when lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York saw it as a means to pursue violators of human rights.

The act has since been applied to win damages against numerous foreign human rights abusers. In July, a Miami federal judge ordered former Haitian dictator Gen. Prosper Avril to pay $41 million to six plaintiffs who accused him of ordering their torture.

Former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, former Guatemalan Defence Minister Hector Gramajo, and former Argentine General Carlos Suarez Mason are other well-known defendants who have been sued under the act.

The Alien Tort Claims Act was strengthened in 1992. Congress passed the Torture Victims Protection Act which restates the 1789 law and applies it to torture victims.

Legal sources here says Todd's case against the Indonesian general may also be based on the 1992 Protection Act, since her son died of multiple bullet wounds some time after the shooting -- a fact that could fit the definition of torture.

Todd says though her son was bleeding profusely after the shooting, Indonesian authorities thwarted efforts by Red Cross officials to rush him to the hospital.

"They were detained once at a military roadblock and then in front of a police station," she says, arguing that the 20-minute delay may have made the difference between life and death.

Gen. Pangaitan could not be reached for comment since he remains in Indonesia. But an official at the Indonesian Embassy here, who preferred not to be identified, called the suit "crazy."

"The position of the Indonesian embassy is that we do not respond to such a case," said the official. "Gen. Panjaitan did not order the massacre . . .since shots were fired from those in the crowd first."

The official said some soldiers did act improperly, and were either dismissed or jailed after a government inquiry into the killings.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have said that over 100 people were killed in the massacre, and maintain that the protesters were unarmed. Amnesty has also said the government's investigation into the incident was flawed.

The 1991 massacre was only one in a series of well-documented human rights abuses committed by the Indonesian authorities in the former Portuguese colony which it invaded in 1975 and then annexed the following year. More than 200,000 East Timorese are believed to have been killed since the annexation.

Constantio Pinto, an East Timorese activist who is to testify against the general at this week's hearing, claims that the army threatened and harassed survivors of the massacre to dissuade them from speaking out.

Though Pinto was in hiding at the time of the massacre, he says his wife was kept under house arrest and interrogated daily for two years until her release in May this year.

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