June 27, 2016 (GIN) – Efforts by South African victims of racist apartheid to obtain justice suffered a new defeat in the U.S. Supreme Court this month when the Judges declined to revive a suit against two U.S. companies that, according to the complaint, helped to suppress the Black population.
The judges left in place a 2015 ruling that cleared Ford Motor Co. and IBM Corp. According to the claims raised by the South Africans, Ford was complicit in extrajudicial killing, torture and directing and controlling the sale of specialized vehicles to the South African security forces while IBM created and maintained an identity card system to denationalize the black population.
Several of the plaintiffs were former employees of Ford who were arrested and tortured after Ford released information about protests to the apartheid government.
Over the years, dating back to 2002, complaints against dozens of corporate defendants who collaborated with apartheid were filed by a South African legal team and Harvard law faculty and students. The cases were all dismissed by a district court despite a law that allows non-U.S. citizens to seek damages in American courts for egregious human rights violations committed abroad.
Initially, 23 companies were named in the suit including Citigroup, Exxon Mobil, American Isuzu Motors, General Motors and Barclay’s Bank. They were liable, according to the suit, because the police shot demonstrators “from cars driven by Daimler-Benz engines”, “the regime tracked the whereabouts of African individuals on IBM computers”, and “the military kept its machines in working order with oil supplied by Shell.”
“[A]t the least, defendants benefitted from a system that provided a glut of cheap labor,” the South Africans maintained.
In a friend of the court brief, former U.S. ambassador for war crimes, David J. Scheffer, said: “The United States cannot afford as a nation and world leader to undermine international law by immunizing its nationals who aid and abet atrocity crimes from civil liability for their knowing conduct, absent a specific mandate to do so by Congress,”
Dumisa Buhle Ntsebeza, founder of South African National Association of Democratic Lawyers and president of South Africa’s Black Lawyers Association, represented the victims.