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The New York Times: Rights Case Against 50 Companies Is Reinstated

Published: October 13, 2007

A divided federal appeals court ruled yesterday that a human rights lawsuit filed against 50 major corporations that did business in South Africa under apartheid should be revived and reconsidered by the lower court that dismissed it.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated the suit, which was filed in 2002 by three separate groups of plaintiffs in eight federal courts across the country. They argued that the corporations, most of which are American, violated international law by aiding and abetting the apartheid system in South Africa.

The plaintiffs sued the corporations — among them Citigroup, General Electric, E. I. DuPont de Nemours, I.B.M., General Motors, Shell Oil and ExxonMobil — under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which was passed in 1789 to protect American ships and diplomats from attack when they were overseas. In 2004, Judge John E. Sprizzo of Federal District Court in Manhattan dismissed the case, saying that his court did not have jurisdiction to consider the suit.

In his ruling to dismiss, Judge Sprizzo wrote that the courts must be “extremely cautious in permitting suits here based upon a corporation’s doing business in countries with less than stellar human rights records.” He warned that such suits could have “significant, if not disastrous, effects” on trade.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court reversed that decision, saying that Judge Sprizzo did have jurisdiction and returning the case for reconsideration.

“The majority allows three class actions on behalf of all persons who lived in South Africa between 1948 and the present and who suffered damages as a result of apartheid to go forward in a United States court against American, Canadian and European corporations that sold goods and materials or made loans to the Union of South Africa during the apartheid era,” one of the appellate judges, Edward R. Korman, wrote. and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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