On 13 November 1991, Helen Todd received the phone call that every parent dreads. Her 20 year old son, Kamal, had been injured, shot on an island of East Timor. The nightmare of the next few days intensified until finally Todd was informed that Kamal had died of his wounds. She then found herself blocked from travel to East Timor by Indonesian authorities, hindered at every step in claiming his body by an oppressive and secretive regime. In her grief, Helen Todd became determined to avenge her son's death. She eventually found a way to fight the Indonesian government, and those responsible for her son's killing, in a landmark international court case. As Kamal's story unfolds, Punitive Damage becomes not only the tale of a mother's sorrow, but also testimony to the brutal reality of Indonesia's military occupation of East Timor.
Kamal Bamadhaj had travelled to East Timor to assist in a human rights investigation. Three weeks later he was dead, shot at point blank range by Indonesian soldiers. Kamal was one of the 271 unarmed civilians executed by Indonesian troops during the massacre at Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili.
A student of History and Indonesian Politics at the University of New South Wales, Kamal was one of the first foreigners to visit East Timor since the invasion of 1975. Shaken by the atrocities he saw, he became determined to help an indigenous people on the brink of extermination. Punitive Damage recounts his valiant efforts alongside his mother's tragedy and triumph. A deeply moving account and one of the finest documentaries in the MIFF 1999 programme.