South Africa: Khulumani Optimistic Ahead of Apartheid Court Case

Johannesburg — WITH the class action lawsuit brought against companies alleged to have collaborated with the apartheid regime due to resume in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Monday, support group Khulumani said last year had been a significant year for the case.

The last-ditch attempt by six corporations, including Daimler and Ford, to stop the application from continuing, will be heard. If the corporations fail, the matter will proceed to a jury trial.

In April last year, the Southern District Court of New York dismissed some claims brought by Khulumani against corporations that had been identified merely for doing business with SA's apartheid government. The surviving claims are against companies accused of aiding and abetting serious crimes such as torture and extrajudicial killing, committed in violation of international law by the apartheid regime.

Khulumani national director Marjorie Jobson said yesterday the turning point was in April when Southern District of New York Judge Shira Scheindlin found that corporations could be found responsible for aiding and abetting human rights abuses that violated customary international law, through their relationships with rogue governments.

Scheindlin said litigation would contribute to the continuing process of truth recovery about apartheid, its causes and effects, and who might be found to bear responsibility.

The claimants then filed an amended application in May against Daimler, Ford, Fujitsu, General Motors, IBM and Rheinmetall. They sought an order declaring that the companies aided and abetted the commission of apartheid, in violation of international law. They want the court to award the claimants punitive damages arising out of the unlawful behaviour .

Jobson said other positive developments included Justice Minister Jeff Radebe writing a letter to Scheindlin in August supporting the New York court as a forum for the case, and a brief by the US government which told the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in November that the appeal by the defendants, which wanted the case to be stopped, should be dismissed.

Jobson said the court had asked the parties to submit opinions on whether the violations of customary international law for which the Alien Tort Claims Act provided jurisdiction could encompass noncriminal conduct, and on whether customary international law recognised corporate criminal liability.

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