Punitive Damage: A Mother’s Trial
New Zealand 1999, 77 min.
In 1991 a young New Zealander, Kamal Bamadhaj, was gunned down by Indonesian military during the Dilli massacre in East Timor in which 270 people lost their lives. His death set his mother, Helen Todd, on a personal and political campaign which spanned five countries and four years, and which culminated in a landmark legal case against the Indonesian government. Punitive Damage is about a mother’s quest for truth and justice.
Helen’s account of how her son died, and her battle to bring the Indonesian government to justice, take centre stage in the documentary. Her story is a difficult one to tell, yet she comes across just as poised and determined in her cause as her son was in his. She speaks, not only as a mother who has lost her son, but also on behalf of all those Timorese who, through fear of reprisals, cannot speak. Through Helen their stories are also represented. Through the interviews with Kamal’s family members, friends, and through extracts from his diary, a portrait is built up of a young man who was committed to the democratic cause. He was no young idealist, but an activist who ultimately gave his life for something he believed in. A lesson to us all.