Subject: CCR: Defense Aide Responsible for 1991 Massacre
Date: Fri, 19 Jun 1998 12:22:47 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
RIPTIDE COMUNICATIONS, INC. (212)260-5000
CONTACT: This office or Michael Ratner at (914) 657-2627
For Immediate Release
DEFENSE AIDE TO NEW INDONESIAN LEADER RESPONSIBLE FOR 1991 EAST TIMOR MASSACRE
Former General, Commander of Forces that Killed 271, Evades $14 Million Judgment From U.S. Court In Lawsuit By Victim's Family
New York, June 19, 1998 - Today attorneys from the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) called on the State Department to help seek the recovery of a $14 million federal court judgment from Sintong Panjaitan, an aide to Indonesian president Habibie. General Panjaitan, who oversaw the 1991 massacre of 271 East Timorese and their supporters during a memorial service in Dili, was the defendant in a human rights suit brought by CCR.
CCR attorney Michael Ratner, one of the attorneys who won the judgment against Panjaitan, said the State Department should let the Indonesian government know it is unacceptable to let "a mass murderer" continue as a high government official: "One way for the U.S. to show its commitment to enforcing human rights law and the authority of our own courts is by requiring Indonesia to pay this judgment. It is intolerable for U.S. taxpayers to bail out Indonesia while a high government official ignores the rule of U.S. law." Ratner also noted that the appointment of Panjaitan makes its "unlikely that the human rights situation in East Timor will improve or that it will be granted self-determination." According to the Jakarta Post, Panjaitan was appointed as a defense and security aide to Habibie in May.
The mother of one of the victims of the massacre, who's son was a Malaysian citizen named Kamal Badmadhaj, brought the lawsuit charging Panjaitan with responsibility for her son's death. The General was served with the suit in 1992 after he visited Boston. On October 27th, 1994 after a hearing, a federal court judge awarded Helen Todd $14 million for the wrongful death of Badmadhaj. Panjaitan, who fled the U.S. and did not contest the suit, is alleged to have laughed when he heard news of the court's decision, dismissing the verdict as a "joke."
In court testimony, witnesses to the Dili massacre, including U.S. journalist Allan Nairn, who barely escaped with his life, described how the Indonesian military methodically mowed down rows of peaceful mourners who had gathered at a local catholic church. Nairn described the massacre as a "orderly, systematic, killing operation." Panjaitan was in charge of those troops.
Badmadhaj, a student at New South Wales University, had been visiting East Timor as a translator and human rights observer. Helen Todd came to the US to testify at the evidentiary hearing where she tearfully stated: "I'm the only plaintiff because I'm the only one of the 271 families that can bring this suit without endangering my other children." When informed of Panjaitan's appointment she said: "I am disappointed that the new President's reportedly more open stance on East Timor is not expressing itself in action. But I am not surprised. I see no real change yet in the system in relation to East Timor and several members of the new Cabinet are complicit in the Dili massacre and other abuses in East Timor."
Todd's suit, Todd v. Panjaitan, is one of several ground-breaking international human rights cases brought by CCR since 1980. In that year Center lawyers persuaded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit to permit suits seeking damages for acts of torture committed abroad to be adjudicated in U.S. Courts. In Todd Ratner's co-counsel were Beth Stephens and Jennie Green of CCR and the Boston-based firm of Kaplan, O'Sullivan & Friedman.