General ordered to pay out over Timor abuses

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The Independent Online

An Indonesian general whose involvement in "gross human rights violations" in East Timor was first revealed by The Independent has been ordered by a court to pay damages of $66m.

Lt General Johny Lumintang was found guilty by a US federal court of systematic abuse during the 1999 UN-organised independence referendum in which at least 2,000 East Timorese were killed. He was ordered to pay punitive damages of $10m (£6.7m) to six plaintiffs, and lawyers are now investigating whether the general has assets in the US.

In his judgement, Judge Alan Kay wrote: "It has been established ... that Lumintang has responsibility for the actions against plaintiffs and a larger pattern of gross human rights violations.

"[He] – along with other high-ranking members of the Indonesian military – planned, ordered, and instigated acts carried out by subordinates to terrorise and displace the East Timorese population ... and to destroy East Timor's infrastructure following the vote for independence." The ruling said the general was "both directly and indirectly responsible for human rights violations".

The action was brought by the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) who served Mr Lumintang with the writ when he appeared in Washington last year to give a speech to the US-Indonesian society. In 1999, Lumintang, as vice chief of staff, was second in command of the Indonesian army. He is currently serving as secretary general of the Ministry of Defence.

The ETAN spokesman, John Miller, said: "This sends a very strong message to past and future perpetrators of human rights abuses that they will be held accountable."

During the hearing, several plaintiffs travelled to the US to give evidence of torture and abuse at the hands of militia and Indonesian soldiers. One man told how his brother had been killed and his father injured in post-election attacks.

Much of the evidence that enabled the case to be brought was initially revealed by The Independent's Asia correspondent, Richard Lloyd Parry, who uncovered a document found by a local human rights group in the East Timor capital, Dili. It consisted of an order to implement "repressive/coercive measures" and a plan to "move to the rear/evacuate if [independence] is chosen".

A subsequent UN Commission of Inquiry and an Indonesian government investigation found that senior Indonesian officers orchestrated systematic human rights violations after the referendum, in which almost 80 per cent of Timorese voted for independence.