Apr 09 2009

Daimler, GM may be sued for “aiding apartheid”

Published by at 10:03 pm under Companies,Top Stories

A United States court allowed a group action for damages brought by victims of apartheid against a select group of international companies – among them Daimler, Ford, GM, Barcalys Bank and Rheinmetall – for “supporting the apartheid regime”, the German business daily Handelsblatt reported here today.

Here is the article (translated by me):

German firms face apartheid lawsuits

Daimler and Rheinmetall may be sued for damages by South Africans for “aiding and abetting the apartheid regime” , following a decision by a New York court to allow claims of victims of apartheid. Human rights groups rejoiced, but Daimler rejected the accusations. Other companies in the firing line: several international banks. 

Victims of the apartheid regime in South Africa may proceed with their claims for damages against the German companies Daimler and Rheinmetall Group and three American firms. A New York court accepted a narrowed-down version of the claims lodged seven years ago, reported the Internet expert service Law.com today. The lawyer of the apartheid victims, Michael Hausfeld, spoke in New York of a “big step forward in international human rights”. But, Han Tjan, the American spokesman of Daimler, said the accusations were without foundation. “We are confident that this action will be decided in our favour.” The company has done a huge amount to help Africa.

In South Africa human rights groups celebrated the decision as a trailblazing success. At the same time, they announced they would appeal the exclusion of a number of international banks from the action. The banks are accused of financing the illegal activities of the apartheid regime.

Involved is, the Swiss bank UBS and the British bank Barclays Bank, Marjorie Dobson of the Khulumani Victim Association told the Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa). 

Several thousand victims brought class actions in 2002, claiming the firms supported violence and racial division in the 70s and 80s by cooperating with the apartheid regime. The claims, originally aimed at many more firms, were initially rejected. In 2007 an appeal court in the US ordered a re-examination of the claims. Apart from Daimler in Stuttgart and Rheinmetall in Düsseldorf, the US car manufacturers Ford and GM and technology firms IBM and Fujitsi, are also involved, said Khulumani.

In a 135-page motivation of her ruling, Judge Shira Scheindlin rejected fears reportedly uttered by US government officials the claims might strain relations in South Africa. At the same time, she emphasised that even if the companies supported certain actions of the state, the companies cannot be made responsible for the overall suffering caused by apartheid.

The Frankfurt-based human rights organisation medico demanded that debt made under apartheid be forgiven and the victims be compensated.

A clause in US legislation is the legal base for the claims in New York. According to the clause, non-American citizens may bring claims against companies based in the US, if a link can be proved between the companies’ actions and the damages suffered. The claims must relate to violations of international law, or recognised human rights. 

No responses yet

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply