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Trials & Litigation

Apartheid Claims Against U.S. Cos Go Forward, But Narrowed

Posted Apr 9, 2009 6:37 AM CDT
By Molly McDonough

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A long-running case testing whether multinational companies should be held liable for human rights abuses under South Africa's apartheid regime gained momentum Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin of Manhattan allowed some claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act of aiding and abetting the apartheid government to proceed against companies including General Motors, Ford, and IBM, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog and New York Law Journal report.

But the judge significantly narrowed the claims.

In the 135-page ruling, Scheindlin said the alleged acts don't give plaintiffs the right to sue for "breadth of harms" committed under apartheid. She also dismissed claims seeking direct liability for the tort of apartheid.

"Although the establishment of state-sponsored Apartheid and the commission of inhumane acts needed to sustain such a system is indisputably a tort under customary international law," Scheindlin said, "the international legal system has not thus far definitively established liability for non-state actors who follow or even further state-sponsored racial oppression."

The 10 grouped lawsuits against more than 50 U.S. and foreign corporations seek more than $400 billion in damages. The New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has previously ruled that the suit could proceed under the Alien Tort Claims Act.

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