After the scandal

The debate over the possibilities and limits of human rights complaints against companies.

On 21 August 2013 the US 2nd Circuit court handed down a ruling with far-reaching consequences in a claim for compensation by South African victims of apartheid against major groups such as General Motors, Daimler AG and Rheinmetall. Filed by the South African human rights organisation Khulumani with medico support, the claim had been in litigation for eleven years in the USA, until finally being dismissed. In medico's view the verdict is a political scandal with broad ramifications. Khulumani and its 60,000 members must now live with the fact that those who profited from apartheid cannot be legally prosecuted. But the significance of the ruling goes far beyond South Africa. As in the case against Shell for aiding human rights violations in Nigeria, the US court has held that the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) cannot be applied to human rights violations outside the USA. This means that one of the few laws which gives victims of corporate injustices an opportunity to sue internationally is largely rendered useless. So how can legal claims against companies for human rights violations be pursued at all? In search of new approaches, medico international organised an expert conference with other NGOs in Berlin on 28 November 2013 to explore the possibilities and limits of human rights claims against companies.

Published: 19. August 2014

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