United States District Judge Shira Scheindlin in New York has ruled that Daimler AG and Rheinmetall AG cannot be held liable for allegedly aiding and abetting the South African government during the apartheid. The companies, along with Ford and IBM, were accused of facilitating race-based crimes by selling vehicles and computers to South African security forces during the apartheid.
Judge Scheindlin, however, ruled that the German companies could not be sued under a 1789 law -- the Alien Tort Statute -- allowing non-US citizens to bring cases in US courts over violations of international law. According to Scheindlin, plaintiffs failed to show that the facts of the case "touch and concern the United States with sufficient force" to justify the law's use.
She, however, did not immediately dismiss related claims against Ford and IBM. The companies had bid for a dismissal after a federal appeals court in August 2013 sent the case back to Scheindlin for a decision, while opining that the claims appeared "plainly barred" by a recent Supreme Court ruling.
Plaintiffs include South Africans and family members who claimed they were victims of race-based crimes, including torture and extrajudicial killings, by South African security during the apartheid, which ended on 1994 when the country conducted its first all-race elections. Both Robert Zimet, a lawyer for Rheinmettal, and Han Tjan, a spokesman for Daimler, welcomed the ruling.
"We are hopeful that this ruling will put a final end to this litigation that went on for over 10 years," Tjan remarked. Scheindlin's order is the latest result of a US Supreme Court decision that limited the ability of human rights plaintiffs to use the Alien Tort Statute to file lawsuits against companies for alleged improper collusion with foreign governments.