“This is a massive victory for the international human rights movement as a whole,” Charles Abrahams, attorney for one of the claimants, the Khulumani victims’ support group, told a media briefing in Cape Town.
“The lawsuit has the potential to alter the relationship between states, individuals and transnational corporations with respect to human rights,” it said.The claim by Khulumani, one of several non-government organisations that have filed similar suits, targets 23 foreign multinationals which it says aided and abetted gross human rights violations by the apartheid government by equipping and financing its military and security agencies.
The corporations include Barclays, British Petroleum, Credit Suisse, DaimlerChrysler, Deutsche Bank, Shell, Ford, IBM and General Motors.
The companies and the US government had asked the Supreme Court to intervene, arguing that the lawsuit was damaging international relations and punishing the companies using a fuzzy legal concept.
However on Monday, the court upheld an earlier appeals court ruling allowing the lawsuit to proceed in a New York District Court.
Abrahams said that court would reconvene on July 8 to decide on the further conduct of the case.
Khulumani said in its statement that the “reinvigoration” of the case gave the South African government – which opposes the lawsuit – a chance to “clarify its position”
“The South African government must stay out of this lawsuit. That’s our simple demand,” a Khulumani spokesperson, Shirley Gunn, said.
In a separate statement, Jubilee South Africa described the Supreme Court decision as a “further victory on the road to justice” for those who suffered under the apartheid regime.
It said it had previously called for the SA government to stop intervening in the case.
“It is now time to step up the pressure in this regard,” Jubilee said.
“We will support the plaintiffs and all those who suffered at the hands of the apartheid regime in demanding that the government changes course.”
Cosatu Western Cape provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich also welcomed the ruling, saying it was important for the victims of apartheid, who as a result of South Africa’s negotiated settlement, received very little reparations.
It was an “incredible victory” for people across the world who were the victims of the actions of multinationals.
Gunn said 21 Khulumani members would appear in the Cape Town magistrate’s court on Wednesday following their illegal protest at the opening of Parliament in February.
This would be their third court appearance, she said. – Sapa