On Wednesday a Manhattan federal district court ruled that several claims brought under the Alien Tort Statute against multinational companies for aiding and abetting the South African apartheid regime may go forward. The claims allege that the defendants, a group that includes dozens of companies such as General Motors, Ford, and IBM, conducted business with the apartheid regime and thereby helped perpetuate human rights abuses.
This decision represents a significant step forward in litigation that began over five years ago. The claims were originally dismissed at the district court level but some were reinstated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 2007. The recent district court decision narrowed the number of defendants and the claims that may proceed but gave the plaintiffs an opportunity to file amended complaints.
Representatives from GM, Ford and IBM did not comment on the decision. A lawyer for one group of apartheid victims stated that the decision recognizes the “viability and plausibility” of most of the claims while the judge expressed hope that this narrowed case will move more quickly toward resolution.
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