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Federal judge permits suits against Chiquita over Colombia violence to continue

A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] on Friday permitted [order, PDF] lawsuits against Chiquita Brand International [corporate website] to move forward. Family members of several thousand victims of paramilitary violence in Colombia filed suit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] in April 2010 against Chiquita Brand International, which has admitted to funding United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) [CDI backgrounder], a right-wing paramilitary group in Colombia. Chiquita admitted to making payments to paramilitaries but argued it was a victim of extortion and was not responsible for any crimes, including torture and murder, committed by the paramilitaries. US District Judge Kenneth Marra denied in part the company's motion to dismiss the cases. Marra granted Chiquita's motion to dismiss with respect to the plaintiffs' Alien Tort Statute (ATS) [28 USC § 1350] and Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA) [materials] claims for terrorism and material support to terrorist organizations; claims for cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; violation of the rights to life, liberty and security of person and peaceful assembly and association; and consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights. The court denied Chiquita's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' ATS and TVPA claims for torture, extrajudicial killing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

In February 2010, a federal judge ruled [JURIST report] that a lawsuit accusing Chiquita of assisting Marxist rebels who killed Colombian missionaries may go forward. The suit was brought [Palm Beach Post report] by family members of five North American missionaries who had worked for the New Tribes Mission (NTM) [mission website] in South America and were killed in separate incidents between 1995 and 1996. Chiquita admitted it had paid AUC for protection of its workers but it argued that it did not condone the killings. In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million [JURIST report] after admitting to making payments of around $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004 to AUC. Following that admission, hundreds of family members of Colombians killed by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] filed lawsuits in the US against Chiquita under the ATS. In January 2010, Chiquita settled [Bloomberg report] a shareholder lawsuit over the illegal payments.

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