Apartheid victims turn to US court

A lawyer acting for self-proclaimed victims of apartheid abuses will file papers with a United States court on Tuesday to dismiss a motion before it to throw out their case against a list of multinational companies.

US attorney Michael Hausfeld is representing about 32 000 South Africans affiliated to Jubilee 2000’s apartheid debt and reparations campaign and the Khulumani Support Group.

Hausfeld told reporters in Johannesburg on Monday that his clients’ case has been considerably strengthened by a judgement last week in the US Supreme Court.

“The ruling has opened the door for victims of human rights violations around the world seeking redress under the Alien Tort Claims Act. It has provided a climate of hope for the survivors of gross human rights violations during the apartheid era,” Hausfeld said.

Hausfeld is suing 22 international banks and corporations that supported the pre-1994 political order in violation of international conventions for reparations.

Jubilee South Africa general secretary George Dor said that in light of the outcome of Sosa v Alvarez, the case Hausfeld referred to, Jubilee will be seeking an urgent meeting with Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla to discuss the government’s concerns about its case.

It will also enter into discussions with churches, unions and other civil society organisations to widen support for the Khulumani case.

Dor, as well as MP Giyose, Jubilee South Africa’s chairperson, distanced themselves from what they called “the irresponsible role played in these matters by the US attorney Ed Fagan”.

This included his threats to sue President Thabo Mbeki, former president Nelson Mandela and the South African government as well as efforts to get a US court to dictate changes to South Africa’s education system and supervise its affirmative-action programme.

Hausfeld said these are all valid responses to apartheid, “but are the proper preserve of the South African government, not a US judge”.

Hausfeld’s case was filed in November 2002 before the New York Southern District Court by the Washington-based firm of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld and Toll.

It is based on the Alien Tort Claims Act, which grants US courts jurisdiction over certain violations of international law—no matter where they occur.

Hausfeld at the time called South Africa’s 1948 to 1994 National Party-controlled government an “institutionalised system of racial disenfranchisement”.

He declared that the suit “seeks a measure of justice from those entities which aided or abetted the commission of this atrocity”.

The 22 companies named in the suit include US giants IBM, General Motors, Exxon Mobil, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Caltex Petroleum Corporation, Ford Motor Company and the Fluor Corporation.

The suit charges IBM and Fujitsu ICL with supplying technology for the white supremacist state to create passbooks for the black population that were used to control their movement, employment and residence.

Hausfeld charges financial institutions such as Citicorp with culpability for lending funds used to bolster a racist regime’s security forces. His court papers say that arms manufacturers such as Rheinmetall and oil companies such as Exxon violated internationally agreed embargoes by selling weapons and fuel to South Africa.

The amount of damages being sought is not specified in the court document, but the damage could be “in the billions”, according to Jubilee South Africa.—Sapa