SOUTH AFRICA: Apartheid lawsuit back in US court

A lawsuit claiming compensation for victims of apartheid is due back in a New York court today after years of delay.

The Khulumani lawsuit, which targets 23 foreign multinationals for allegedly aiding and abetting the former nationalist government, is expected to hear - for the first time - arguments for and against this claim. The suit is being heard under legislation - the Alien Tort Claims Act - that allows claims against American companies for human rights abuses committed as a result of their presence in a foreign country.

After six years of battling, the plaintiffs must prove whether certain multinationals enabled the apartheid government to commit acts of gross human rights violations. Among the 21 defendants are oil, vehicle and financial companies which continue to operate in South Africa -- the likes of BP, Shell, Chevron Texaco, Barclays, Daimler Chrysler and Rio Tinto. They stand accused of supporting the former regime with arms and ammunition, financing, fuel, transportation and military technology.

A keen supporter of the claim is former Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongongkulu Ndungane - earlier put forward as a mediator between the claimants and the defendants. Ndungane remains optimistic that the matter can be settled outside of court.

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