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Shell defendant in Apartheid lawsuit: accused of “aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime against humanity”

The Times of Zambia: US firms to pay for apartheid

By Francois Rank     

Published:May 14, 2008

‘A catalyst in advancing human rights law’

SA victims can now sue for damages

Millions of South Africans are eligible to join a class-action lawsuit against US-based multinational corporations accused of aiding and abetting the apartheid government.

This follows a ruling by the US Supreme Court on Monday, which upheld a lower court’s decision to allow a civil case to proceed.

The civil case against major multinationals includes a damages claim and two class-action suits under the US Alien Tort Claims Act, an 18th century law that allows foreigners to sue in US courts.

Under US law, South Africans can now join the suit — if judges here define a claimant as any South African who can demonstrate that he was injured by the co-operation of a defendant in the implementation of apartheid.

Three separate groups have brought claims against the US corporations.

The Ntsebeza and Bigwamage groups have brought class-action suits, whereas the Khulumani Support Group for apartheid victims has filed a damages claim on behalf of itself, its 55 000 members and 87 other individuals.

Khulumani described the lawsuit as “the most critical test case globally for creating global standards for ethical corporate behaviour and for promoting a culture of corporate responsibility”.

It said the case had the “potential to alter the relationship between states, individuals and transnational corporations with respect to human rights”.

“ The case has been hailed as a potential catalyst in advancing international human rights law.”

Among the companies that face litigation are IBM, BP, Credit Suisse, Daimler, Deutsche Bank, Exxonmobil , Ford Motor, General Motors and Shell.

Lawyers in South Africa said yesterday that the decision to extend the Alien Tort Claims Act to include corporations accused of “aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime against humanity” was a major triumph.

Advocate Jacob van Garderen, director of Lawyers for Human Rights, said the ruling would bring apartheid victims a step closer to having their claims argued in court.

“The next step is to establish the liability of the multinationals that aided and abetted apartheid by trading with the apartheid government.”

Nicole Fritz, the director of the SA Litigation Centre , said that companies that were not perpetrators of human rights violations but were complicit in such violations through their dealings with oppressive governments were now potentially liable in law for their actions.

The Supreme Court ruling could open the way for similar cases, Fritz added.

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