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Second Circuit hears appeal to dismiss apartheid lawsuits against US companies

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] heard arguments on Monday in an appeal by multi-national corporations accused of assisting the South African government during the apartheid-era [JURIST new archive]. The corporations, which include IBM, Ford Motor Co., Daimler and General Motors Corp. [corporate websites], are accused of aiding the human rights abuses committed by the South African government by continuing to do business with the country, despite knowledge that their products were being used to support apartheid. The court will first determine [AFP report] whether it has jurisdiction to hear the appeal. The corporations argue the case should be dismissed because they cannot be held responsible for crimes committed by the South African government. The lawsuit was brought by South African plaintiffs under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) [text].

In April, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) [official website] denied [JURIST report] the corporations' motion to dismiss the case. Despite initial opposition to the complaint over potential harm to relations with the US and foreign investment in the country, the South African government now supports the action. In 2008, the US Supreme Court [official website] affirmed a Second Circuit judgment on the rare grounds that it lacked quorum [JURIST report], thus sending the case back to the SDNY. The Second Circuit's decision allowed the ATCA action to go forward to trial [JURIST report], but had dismissed additional claims filed under the Torture Victims Protection Act [text].

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