Vol. 7, No. 2
Will East Timor See Justice?
In late March 2001, an Indonesian general was finally brought to the bar of justice for military-directed violence committed before, during and after East Timor's 1999 vote on independence. General Johny Lumintang served as deputy chief of staff of the Indonesian army during that ballot period; the hearing examining his role in the scorched earth repression took place in a federal court in Washington, DC.
The civil lawsuit alleged that Lumintang was responsible for gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity in East Timor. For two and half days, Judge Alan Kay received an extensive education, via victims' personal accounts and expert testimony, on East Timor's history and the enormous suffering perpetrated by the Indonesian military.
While Lumintang's actions were on trial, so were those of the Indonesian military command of which he was an important part. Similarly, the harrowing stories told by the three East Timorese plaintiffs who traveled to the U.S. to testify, while unique, were representative of the suffering of hundreds of thousands of others in 1999.
These plaintiffs - who, still in fear of Indonesian military reprisals, chose to remain anonymous - were referred to as Jane and John Does in court. Jane Doe I's son was murdered by the Indonesian military after being separated from his family a week after the August 30 independence vote. Jane Doe I was forced on a harrowing trip to West Timor and returned to find her home destroyed for the second time in over two decades (the first was during Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975).
John Doe II, along with 100,000 other Dili residents, fled into the hills after the ballot to escape military and militia violence. Days later, he ventured into the destroyed city of Dili to look for food. Indonesian soldiers stopped him as he returned with scavenged biscuits, beat him and shot him in the leg. Forced to crawl a long distance for help, he eventually lost his foot as no medical attention was available for several weeks and it had to be amputated.
John Doe III recounted threats he and his activist family endured for years. Police told them they would be harmed if they participated in resistance demonstrations, and that pro-independence Timorese would be killed if their position prevailed in the ballot. He and his father (testifying via video tape) then described the military attack on his family home and of how his brother (John Doe V) was brutally tortured and killed.
A militia member who participated in that killing wrote to the father describing how John Doe V was shot in his legs and stabbed as soldiers demanded that he reveal the location of family members. His throat was then cut and his body further mutilated and burned. John Doe III read from the letter, which praised John Doe V's bravery as he sacrificed for the sake of his family by refusing to reveal their location; the militiaman's letter gave the location of the victim's body. John Doe III tearfully described how several hundred people from his village watched as the family and U.N. police exhumed the grave. Only a handful of bones, ashes and John Doe V's wallet were recovered.
Expert witness Professor Richard Tanter gave an overview of East Timor's history, focusing on Indonesia's invasion and subsequent occupation. Tanter described in detail the Indonesian army's command structure, as well as Lumintang's responsibilities in the chain of command.
Tanter also explained the significance of two documents entered into evidence that were signed by General Lumintang. The first, a telegram to senior military figures responsible for East Timor dated May 5, the day the agreement to conduct the vote was signed, contains an order to implement "repressive/coercive measures" and a plan to "move to the rear/evacuate if the second option [independence] is chosen." The second, a Kopassus special forces training manual, advises the use of terror, kidnapping and sabotage against opponents.
Tanter described how other documents confirmed the army's role in planning, promoting and carrying out the massive destruction, killings, deportations and other rights abuses that took place during and after the referendum process.
Although Indonesian military spokespersons claimed that Lumintang was not properly notified of the suit, he was personally served on March 30, 2000, while he was preparing to leave Washington after speaking before the U.S.-Indonesia Society and at the National Defense University. Judge Gladys Kessler found him in default in December after he failed to answer the suit. This year's hearing was to determine the amount of compensatory damages for the plaintiffs' suffering and the amount of punitive damages.
In summation, attorney Steven M. Schneebaum urged a large judgment to send a strong signal not just to General Lumintang and Indonesian military officials, but to anyone tempted to commit similar crimes in other places.
Following the August 30, 1999 UN-organized referendum, the Indonesian military systematically destroyed East Timor, murdering at least 1500 East Timorese and destroying 70-80 percent of the infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes. UN and Indonesian human rights investigators in separate reports introduced into evidence clearly placed responsibility for this systematic campaign of terror on Indonesian military commanders.
General Lumintang, who currently serves as secretary general of the Ministry of Defense, was trained by the United States under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. In response to public outrage over massacres in East Timor and ETAN organizing, Congress has limited Indonesia's participation in this program since 1992. Proponents of IMET argue that such training inculcates respect for human rights.
This lawsuit builds on U.S. court precedents including a successful suit against Indonesian General Sintong Panjaitan for his involvement in the Nov. 12, 1991 Santa Cruz massacre of more than 270 East Timorese. In 1994, a federal court in Boston awarded $14 million to Helen Todd, the mother of the only non-East Timorese killed at Santa Cruz.
The Lumintang lawsuit, like the Panjaitan case, is based in part on the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789 which allows non-citizens to sue for acts committed outside the United States "in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States." The 1992 Torture Victim Protection Act restates the 1789 law and applies it to torture victims. Lawsuits can only go forward if the defendant is served legal papers in the U.S.
Counsel for the case include the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Justice and Accountability and the law firm of Patton, Boggs. ETAN supported the lawsuit to help ensure that those responsible for the Indonesian military devastation of East Timor are called to account and to put future rights abusers on notice.
For more information about the Lumintang and Panjaitan cases, visit www.etan.org/news/2000a/11suit.htm.
See also Will East Timor See Justice?
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