Thursday, October 7, 2004

Should business pay for apartheid?

Jon Robins has recently written a good piece in The Times outlining the details of Apartheid reparations lawsuits and what separates out the difference cases. He also highlights the support of the Khulumani Victim Support Group case by Archbishop Tutu and a range of others. The article begins by asking "What responsibility does IBM have for South Africans beaten and tortured under apartheid? A connection might not be apparent but Michael Hausfeld, an American lawyer, is arguing that there is one. The computer giant is one of 20 multinationals (including British ones such as Barclays Bank) being sued via the US courts under an arcane 18th-century statute for their role in supporting a racist regime. Last week Hausfeld, who was a leading lawyer in the legal action against the Swiss banks for Holocaust survivors, filed an amicus brief -or legal opinion -in a New York court on behalf of the Khulumani Support Group (the name means "speak out" in Zulu). "The decisions made by this court will shape the future of human rights litigation," he argues. "They will reverberate beyond the courthouse walls to the ears of officials and private (citizens) across the world."

Job Robins goes on to note that "Certainly, the document will be hard to ignore, as much as the South African Government would like to. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, other members of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and dozens of international human rights groups are signatories. The reason for its timing is a ruling by the US Supreme Court (Sosa v Alvarez-Machain) on the Alien Tort Claims Act 1789. That controversial legislation allows companies to be sued in the American courts for human rights breaches committed anywhere in the world". If you would like to read more about this visit The Times site Law Page and link to the story on their home page. You will need to register with them to read it, but registration is free and if you are interested in this case the article is very enlightening.