On 13 November 1991, Helen Todd a Pakeha New Zealander received a call saying that her son, Kamal, had been shot and killed on a small island the world knew little about - East Timor. Kamal had been on an "illegal" protest march and was killed along with an estimated 271 unarmed East Timorese at the Santa Cruz cemetery.
Punitive Damage followed Helen as she attempted to gain justice for the death of her son, and for the countless lives of those murdered in East Timor while it was under Indonesian military occupation from 1975 to 1999. Aided by the New York law firm the Center for Constitutional Rights Helen was able to sue an Indonesian general when he was sent to Harvard University for "further training". With eyewitness accounts from Timorese exiles, and clandestinely shot footage and photographs, the film provides damning evidence against the Indonesian military and the superpower funding it received. The court case created an important precedent in a growing global trend to bring international human rights violators to trial. Both Kamal's death and Helen's determination to achieve justice helped the Timorese in their struggle for independence, finally gained in 1999, the time of the film's release.
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