Dr Marjorie Jobson, national director of the Khulumani Support Group. File photo: Bonile Bam.
Dr Marjorie Jobson, national director of the Khulumani Support Group. File photo: Bonile Bam.

Apartheid Lawsuit dismissal a blow

By Zara Nicholson Time of article published Aug 23, 2013

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THE dismissal of the landmark South Africa Apartheid Lawsuit after a 10-year battle has been described as a “massive blow” to victims of apartheid and oppression around the world.

The suit, which sought to hold major multinational corporations liable for profiting from apartheid, was dismissed by a US court this week.

The lawsuit was launched in 2002 by the Khulumani Support Group on behalf of 87 plaintiffs, charging 23 companies with perpetrating human rights violations.

The group represents about 85 000 apartheid victims.

“This is not only a massive blow for the survivors of apartheid but also for the world because the mechanisms to hold corporations accountable for perpetrating human rights are very weak,” Marjorie Jobson, national director of the Khulumani Support Group, told the Cape Times.

“This has very serious implications because US companies are involved in military activity all over the world and many countries were hoping that the Khulumani case would strengthen their chances of taking action against US companies for their involvement in human rights violations.”

Victims who had been tortured or whose relatives had been killed filed the lawsuit, alleging a number of international companies knowingly helped the apartheid government by selling it weapons and armoured vehicles.

An attorney for the claimants, John Ngcebetsha, said many victims had died without receiving a cent.

“Only General Motors made a small contribution which we’ll now use to set up an apartheid reparations and rehabilitation trust fund for the benefit of the claimants,” he said.

Shirley Gunn, board member of Khulumani, said they were “deeply disappointed” by the decision of the court, although it was expected in light of the “Kiobel verdict”.

Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, a former Truth and Reconciliation commissioner, said: “The dismissal of the cases, after so

many years, once again leaves open and unresolved, the unfinished business of the TRC.”

The lawsuit charged companies with aiding and abetting the perpetration of extrajudicial killings, torture, prolonged and arbitrary detention, indiscriminate shooting and rape.

The corporations that stood charged of complicity in the perpetration of these apartheid crimes included Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corp, Daimler AG, International Business Machines Corporation, Barclays Bank, United Bank of Switzerland, Fujitsu and Rheinmetall.

In April 2008, a ruling by District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan narrowed the number of respondents to five companies: Ford Motor Company, IBM, Daimler AG, General Motors and Rheinmetall.

This week the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal, however, dismissed the lawsuit on the basis that US companies may no longer be held accountable for human rights violations that did not take place within the US.

Although no amount was attached to the plaintiffs’ case, they would have been able to claim billions from the companies.

The basis of the dismissal was the argument that “the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) does not reach the extra-territorial conduct in this case”, a judgment of the US Supreme Court of Appeals in the Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum Co case, handed down in April.

This judgment meant US-based companies may no longer be held accountable for human rights violations that did not take place within the US.

The earlier judgment came from the case where petitioner Esther Kiobel represented a group of Nigerians filing class action against the Royal Dutch Petroleum Co under the ATS.

The ATS grants jurisdiction to some federal courts for certain violations of international law.

Petitioners alleged that Royal Dutch aided the Nigerian government in committing various acts of violence against protesters of the oil exploration projects in the Ogoni region.

Jobson said the ruling was not the end for Khulumani as they would now place the spotlight on the government.

“This puts the focus back on our government and we will campaign for them to show us that they have the competence to deliver reparations. This is far too important to let it go.” -Cape Times

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