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.