Todd v. Panjaitan – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket Fall 1995

Another significant Filártiga victory occurred in November 1994 when a federal judge in Massachusetts awarded $14 million to the mother of a young man murdered by Indonesian troops during a widely-publicized massacre in East Timor, the former Portuguese colony illegally annexed by Indonesia.

CCR had filed a wrongful death suit in September 1992 in Massachusetts federal court against Indonesian General Sintong Panjaitan on behalf of Helen Todd, whose 20-year-old son Kamal Bamadhaj, a citizen of New Zealand, was killed in 1991. Bamadhaj had been observing the funeral procession of a young East Timorese man killed earlier by the Indonesian military when hundreds of armed uniformed soldiers opened fire on the crowd. Bamadhaj, a student at an Australian University, was traveling throughout the area on his way home to Malaysia. The soldiers shot into a densely packed unarmed crowd for more than five minutes; as victims fell to the ground, soldiers continued firing at those still standing. Between 146 and 200 people were killed. Allan Nairn and Amy Goodman, U.S. journalists witnessed the incident and were attacked by soldiers, barely escaping with their lives.

Panjaitan, the Indonesian commander of the region which includes east Timor; was transferred from his position after the massacre and moved to Massachusetts; he fled back to Indonesia after the lawsuit was filed.

CCR’s suit was based on the 1992 Torture Victim Protection Act and the Filártiga precedent. Panjaitan failed to respond to the  lawsuit, and a notice of default was entered in February 1993.

Testimony was given at a November 1994 hearing by Todd, Nairn, and a Timorese student, which the judge described as “impressive and painful.” Todd said her son was shot in the arm during the initial firing and later in the chest by an army patrol. Troops prevented  an International Red Cross jeep from taking him to a hospital. Todd told the judge, ” I’m the only plaintiff because I’m the only one of the 271 families that can bring this case without endangering my other children.” She has publicly, stated that she will start a fund for all the victims. Following the damage award, Panjaitan appeared in Australia on a week-long business trip in March 1995, causing an uproar among human rights groups that had followed the Todd case. A main television channel of new Zealand, where Todd resides, interviewed CCR attorneys, reflecting the interest of many New Zealanders in the case.

Beth Stephens, Michael Ratner, Jose Luis Morin, Jennifer M. Green, with Harvey Kaplan, Maureen O’Sullivan and Jeremiah Friedman