The multinational companies currently being sued in the United States by the non-profit Khulumani Support Group were not merely doing business in apartheid South Africa, they were knowingly aiding, abetting and in effect sustaining the racist regime. So says US attorney Michael Hausfeld, who lodged the so-called apartheid lawsuit in New York on behalf of some 82 members of the Khulumani group. He was briefing the media in Johannesburg on Monday at the start of a three-day visit to meet with alleged victims.
The group is suing Barclays Bank, British Petroleum, Chevron-Texaco, Citigroup, Commerzbank, Credit Suisse, DaimlerChrysler, Daimler-Benz, Duetsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, Exxonmobil, Fluor, Ford Motor, Fujitsu, General Motors, IBM, Morgan Chase, Rheinmetall, Rio Tinto, Shell, Total and UBS AG.
"They provided oil, arms, technology and ammunition to the apartheid police who used it to commit abuses on the population. That is their crime. "We are not going after cup cake sellers here. If you do business in a repressive country that is not a crime. But if you knowingly aid a government in conducting its repression ... "You can not hide behind the claim 'I was just doing business' just like Nazi's can not hide behind the 'I was just following orders' claim," Hausfeld said.
He said the Khulumani suit sought to focus the principals of Nuremburg and the body of international human rights law that has since been developed. It was being pursued in the US only because that country had the most developed legal precedent with respect to prosecuting rights violations that occur outside its borders. "The US courts can not make a determination against any perpetrator in abstentia. But if a company does business in the US, it subjects itself to US laws, and one of those laws pertains to the right of non-citizens to sue other non-citizens," he said.
Hausfeld claimed the litigation was not a class action suit like that being represented by US lawyer Ed Fagan, which asks for broad social relief and in effect purports to act as a surrogate for the South African government. "We agree with the observation that no country can become a substitute for the South African government. The (African National Congress) has so far not been helpful because they have misunderstood the lawsuit. Once they have understood the suit they will see the distinction.
"Khulumani focuses on the victims and not on the profits made by companies. Its about the rights of victims to seek restitution. I believe the South African government can and should support such claims," Hausfeld said. - Sapa