Apartheid: IBM, GM, FORD on the accused bench

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The American justice system Wednesday gave the green light to victims of apartheid to begin legal proceedings against some highly reputed multinational corporations in the United States. The plaintiffs are accusing them of having collaborated with the former racist regime of South Africa. This case could affect relations between America and South Africa.

The American justice system Wednesday authorised prosecution against multinational companies for their complicity in the violation of human rights. This decision comes seven years after a complaint was filed by several groups of victims against companies suspected of aiding the South African apartheid regime.

Several companies, including IBM, Ford and General Motors are among those accused. “(This is) a major step forward in international law,” Hausfield Michel, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers in South Africa told AFP.

Multinationals under fire

It is not yet known how much the victims are seeking in terms of compensation.

They are accusing Ford and General Motors for providing military vehicles used in the repression of black South Africans, while IBM is accused of having provided equipment to monitor dissidents.

Defending their position, the software company has argued that for them it was business as usual. They sold their products to whoever bought them.

This did not stop the federal judge, Shira Scheindlen, from giving the plaintiffs the green light to pursue IBM, Ford and General Motors for “aiding and abetting, arbitrary denationalization and apartheid”.

The German Defense Rheinmetal, and the Japanese computer company Fujitsu are also in the spotlight. Rheinmetal, an arms manufacturer, is accused of aiding and abetting extrajudicial killing and apartheid. Lawsuits against other companies, including British banks Barclays and Swiss UBS, have however been rejected.

Supported by the United States, the business entities concerned have warned that the case could hurt relations between the US and South Africa. Meanwhile, the multinationals have until 2011, the likely year for the trial, to get their defence ready.

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