West Law Report

Victims of apartheid can sue multinationals

Posted in Alien Tort Claims Act, apartheid by mrkooenglish on May 13, 2008

The Times reported today “Thousands of South Africans who suffered under apartheid won the right yesterday to sue a number of companies, including BP, Citigroup and Ford, for allegedly helping to perpetrate human rights abuses.”

What they have to establish:

Lawyers representing the victims within the three class actions will have to establish that the companies knowingly helped the South African government to perpetrate human rights abuses. That could include, for example, proving that a motor company knew that lorries that it sold in South Africa would be used as armoured vehicles to destroy townships. It could also include establishing that a technology company sold computer equipment and software that would be used to operate a racial identification system.

But why can they sue in US?

The lawsuits were filed in 2002 and were thrown out by a federal judge on the ground that the United States’s courts did not have jurisdiction.

This case is the latest test of an 18th-century law, called the Alien Tort Claims Act. It allows foreigners to use the US legal system to right international law violations. The legislation was drawn up to help foreigners seek redress for issues such as piracy, but it has been used increasingly to sue corporations for their alleged involvement in human rights abuses overseas.

Last year, Yahoo! was sued for its decision to give China access to a political dissident’s e-mail account. The online search engine settled.

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