Tag Archives: gross human rights abuses

General Motors change of guard

20 Aug

Khulumani congratulates Daniel F. Akerson who is to become the Chief Executive of General Motors (GM) on 1st September 2010, and will become Chairman of the Board in 2011. The idea is “to have a smooth, seamless transition” according to the present Chief Executive and Chairman, Mr Edward E. Whitacre Jr.

Mr Daniel F. Akerson (Photo: GM)

Khulumani sincerely hopes that Mr Whitacre will not forget, in the seamless transition to inform Mr Akerson of the South African Apartheid Litigation (formerly Khulumani et al vs Barclays et al).

Mr Edward E Whitacre Jr. (Photo - Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg News)

Please do not forget to tell Mr Akerson of the charge that GM must answer to: that of knowingly aiding and abetting the security forces of the apartheid government in oppressing civilian South Africans by providing vehicles such as Bedford trucks for the security forces to use.

Please do not forget to tell Mr Akerson about some of the victims and survivors of gross human rights violations perpetrated by the security forces of the apartheid regime whose lives are now worse off than before.

We are delighted to hear that GM has made a $1.3 billion profit over the last 6 months – and that GM is no longer bankrupt. We therefore respectfully request that you withdraw from the bankruptcy hearing scheduled for 24 September, 2010.

We would also invite you to consider directly contacting Khulumani’s lawyers, Hausfeld LLP, to discuss the case.

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Broken laws, broken promises, broken lives

1 Aug

The iniquity of the companies that knowingly aided and abetted the security forces of the illegitimate apartheid regime is that not only did they break international sanctions imposed by the United Nations, but their actions have directly and indirectly resulted in a number of people’s lives being almost irreparably damaged. These companies include IBM, Daimler, General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Rheinmetall. Many others were involved – banks, oil companies, mining companies, arms and ammunitions companies, construction companies. Indeed any local or international corporation that allowed itself to be co-opted in one or other way not only in sustaining and maintaining apartheid’s illegitimate legislation, but also those companies that assisted the security forces to oppress the people of South Africa. Some of this oppression was through following the immoral and illegitimate laws of the land at that time. For example: did Daimler pay its workers in South Africa (through Mercedes Benz SA) the equivalent rate that its workers in Germany received? Or was it the opportunity to exploit cheap labour that made SA so attractive to Daimler (and many other companies)?

Many victims and survivors of the myriad deliberately harming and destructive actions of the corporations are today worse off than before liberation. The promise of a ‘better life for all’ has become a ‘better life for all – except for those who had a better life before, and except for those who are not connected’ . . . to elites in the ruling party. The tragedy is that many of the victims and survivors who have been transformed into elites themselves do not care about their comrades who have seen no justice or whose lives are worse off than before: dispossessed, as Prof Ariel Dorfman says, of their futures.

Victims testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission under the impression that, because they had voluntarily given up the right to sue their perpetrators in pursuance of the truth of the past, they would be appropriately recompensed for their suffering and losses. Government broke that promise despite the TRC itself recommending that reparations be paid annually to the victims and survivors for six years. This must have partly been to try and ensure that none of the victims and survivors were worse off afterwards than they were during apartheid. A once-off reparations grant of R30,000 was provided by President Thabo Mbeki and his government.

One of the mothers of a disappeared son bought a second hand car with the money and named the car after her son. But the possibility of a son who may have gone on to study or work and to help support his mother in her old age could never be compensated for by the minimum payment made by government, or the purchase of a car.  The worst broken promise — a betrayal of trust — comes from those in positions of power or wealth who have turned their backs on their comrades.

Broken laws require that the perpetrators are found guilty in a court of law and suitably punished. This includes that those guilty of apartheid crimes, and apartheid was a crime against humanity that cannot prescribe or be allowed to prescribe through glib legal arguments.

Broken promises require that the promise-breakers should make amends for their defaulting. This means that our government must come to the table with the victims and survivors and ensure that the resources made available by donors and foreign governments to the President’s Fund eventually reach those people they were meant for. It is a disgrace that the President, the TRC Unit and the officer in charge of the President’s Fund have not yet published the required regulations for distributing the money in this fund to those it was created for, thirteen years after the first donations were made by the Swiss Government and the Kingdom of Denmark! The Swiss Government stipulated that the funds be distributed as mandated by the TRC. The Danish money was to be spent “solely in accordance with the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Commitee on Reparation and Rehabilitation”. This has clearly not been done.

Broken lives require that the resources for redress of material, emotional, social and community reparations are provided. It requires that every one of us living in South Africa, but especially the elites and the new elites, do what we can to make sure that the forgotten heroes of the struggle who suffered for justice and freedom in our land are enabled to carry on with their lives not worse off than when they joined the struggle.

DRC — a human rights morass

2 Jul

30 June 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of the Independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). An all-day seminar organised by  Congo for Peace was held at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Great Hall. Khulumani Support Group was invited as a representative of victims and survivors of the apartheid government-multinational corporates collusion.

The seminar was attended by some 500 members of the Congolese Diaspora including Congolese students studying at nine South African universities, human rights defenders from the DRC, and the Ambassadors of the DRC and of Belgium.

The struggle of the Congo for independence from a particularly brutal period of colonisation by Belgium was reviewed. During this time more than 10 million Congolese people were killed due to a combination of famine, forced labour and systematic violence. This must surely count as a holocaust — but it has not generally received recognition as such, compared to other holocausts.

The day commenced with a commemoration of the role played by Patrice Lumumba as president of the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) in the negotiations, and his subsequent election as the state’s first President. Lumumba survived only six months in office before being ‘eliminated’ by a firing squad organised by Belgian officers on January 17, 1961. An arms company surely knowingly aided and abetted this assassination.

Patrice Lumumba

Lumumba’s thwarted dream of a peaceful nation in which the needs of the people would be prioritised, was remembered. The seemingly unending conflicts driven by ambition for control of the DRC’s extraordinary mineral wealth undermined this hope and ideal.

The invasion of the country by the armies of Uganda and Rwanda in 1997 to overthrow the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and the subsequent invasion the following year to overthrow Laurent Kabila were seemingly motivated by this desire to access the DRC’s resources. The DRC’s neighbours, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia sent their armies in to defend Kabila. By the time all these armed forces had withdrawn in late 2002, the country was left in shambles, corruption was rife and the illicit trade in conflict minerals was thriving.

Armed rebel groups, supported primarily by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, exploited this chaotic situation. Another approximately 5,4 million people are said to have been killed. The lucrative illicit trade in ‘blood minerals’ includes coltan (columbite-tantalite) used in cell phone technology, diamonds, gold, cassiterite and wolframite. The minerals continue to haemorrhage out of the country — eventually reaching the pockets of multinationals mainly in the UK, the USA and possibly South Africa as well.

While rebel groups exploit the illicit trade in the eastern DRC, multinational corporations are apparently colluding with Congolese political elites to profit from extensive copper, uranium and other minerals’ mining operations in areas such as Katanga Province. Multinationals have even established and equipped their own private armies to provide security for their operations and these paramilitary groups have been involved in perpetuating the violence in the country.

The multinational companies are accused by the people of knowingly committing human rights violations with the support of political elites. Could they one day face similar litigation as the South African apartheid litigation (Khulumani international lawsuit)? Will the global movement for justice and corporate accountability facilitated by changes in international human rights law become strong enough to challenge these essentially criminal activities?

The people of the DRC are increasing their civic presence inside and outside the country. They are demanding that democratic institutions become increasingly responsive to the citizenship’s needs. They are also demanding a military and police force that provides real protection to the people.

The experiences and support of Khulumani, which is taking the struggle for justice for victims forward in the law courts of New York City will hopefully set precedents for multinational corporates’ accountability and liability — for knowingly aiding and abetting gross human rights violations.

Khulumani alongside Congolese civil society is outraged by the murder of respected human rights defender, Mr Floribert Chebeya Bahizire on June 2, 2010. Mr Bahizire was apparently invited to a meeting with the Chief of Police. Some hours later his body was found in his car with the body of his dead driver at another site. Mr Bahizire was director of Voice of the Voiceless, an organisation similar to Khulumani.

Victims everywhere draw strength from the memories of those who have given their lives for a vision of a society that benefits all. We commit to struggling in solidarity to end the impunity of individuals and companies that have violated international human rights norms, and to secure reparations for the damage and destruction they have caused.

This is surely a situation where an initiative of strategic importance requires urgent action involving the international community, local governments and civil society including human rights organisations. A large scale resumption of armed conflict in the African Great Lakes region threatens the stability of the entire sub-region.

To the G8. For the Freedom Charter. From Torture Survivors.

26 Jun

Today, the 26th of June, is a significant one: in Toronto the leaders of the most economically powerful nations in the world meet to decide on their joint policies and practices going forward; here in South Africa we commemorate the 55th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom Charter; and worldwide the day is observed as one to acknowledge the victims of torture — past and ongoing.

These events are all tied together by one common theme: the interaction of the most powerful with those most marginalised. The G8 talks supposedly focus on development and aid for the poorest on the globe – and will probably produce yet another faux commitment which could soon be  forgotten. The Freedom Charter was a brave attempt by oppressed South Africans to imagine the unimaginable 55 years ago — a framework for a just post-apartheid era. Most famously the Freedom Charter proclaims joint ownership of the country by “all those who live in it”. And the International Day focusing on victims of torture – particularly relevant in South Africa with our brutal history – is a small token of recognition by the world of those who have suffered some of the worst practices human beings have inflicted on each other, and in some instances, still do.

What will probably have been missed in the hours of reporting, commemorations and recognitions that take place worldwide today is the place of multinational corporations in these relations between the powerful and the marginalised.

The G8 comprises the largest country economies of the world; yet we rarely recognise that of the 100 largest economies in the world, over half are individual multinational corporations. The vast majority of these economically powerful corporations are housed within G8 countries – their fates are intricately and inextricably linked (as we saw in the bank and auto industry bailouts to save the US economy); what is good for corporations is usually good for the G8, and what this often means is that principles, accountability and regulation is sacrificed on the altar of profit maximisation.While the G8 focuses on the developing world, we call on it to also reflect on the way in which its corporations operate, often exploiting people and countries for their own profit. As with the companies willing to sell equipment to the apartheid security forces.

The Freedom Charter identifies  a number of different areas in which South Africans need(ed) to seek and achieve freedom. One important principle is clearly articulated in the section on the country’s wealth: “All…industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people.” Today, as we commemorate the Freedom Charter, we call for this particular phrase to be acknowledged and implemented as one of the most equitable and just ways for business to function. Indeed all companies – domestic and multinational – must acknowledge that the local citizenship wherever business operations are based, are as important as the shareholders. These citizens are stakeholders – which is in and of itself a form of shareholding. This requires a shift from a simplistic ‘because we pay taxes, we have met our obligations’. For  the ‘wellbeing of the people’ to be addressed, corporations would have to know who the people directly involved and affected are. This would mean a hands on and face to face, humanisation of the corporations’ personae.

Finally on 26 June 2010, Khulumani recognises and acknowledges all its members who have survived torture. We remember that brave activists were handed over to the apartheid security forces through equipment used to track them down which was provided by companies like IBM. We remember that the military vehicles that picked them up, and transported them to detention to be tortured, were sold to the security forces by companies like Ford, Daimler and General Motors. And that the ammunition that was shot at crowds and individuals was provided by companies like Rheinmettal.

So today, on this G8-Freedom Charter-Torture Survivors day, we call on the world to recognise the damage corporations have wreaked in South Africa and globally; and to hold them accountable. It is time to secure what our people called for when they wrote in the Freedom Charter that: “All…industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people.”

Report on East Rand Reparations Workshop

24 Jun

 

The members of Khulumani-Indwe 'Speak Out' on Reparations!

Last week a group of 100 Khulumani members from the rural Eastern Cape village of Indwe travelled across the country to join the Khulumani East Rand Group in a march to highlight the issue of reparations, and to participate in a workshop to flesh out the issues around reparations.

Members of Khulumani-Indwe wear the Red Card Campaign t-shirts on their march.

As Khulumani national contact centre member Freedom Ngubonde writes: “On 12 June 2010 Khulumani-Indwe and Khulumani-East Rand marched along the infamous Khumalo Street in a symbolic re-appropriation of the street where many people were killed and maimed during the violence of the early 1990s. The march proceeded to a nearby stadium where members of Khulumani handed a memorandum to a representative of government. In the memorandum, amongst other things, members called for the boycotting and red-carding of companies that aided and abetted the apartheid regime; they demanded reparations and highlighted the fact that the TRC Unit has completely failed in its mandate of assisting victims and resolving the unfinished business of the TRC.”

Members share ideas for Khulumani's reparations policy.

These two groups went on to convene a “Speak Out” on Reparations which created the space for members to share their ongoing pain and trauma, what kind of reparations would make a positive impact in their lives, and how they can take action themselves to seek out solutions. The next day members of the Khulumani National Contact Centre travelled to Thokoza to meet with these groups and receive a mandate that will inform Khulumani’s evolving reparations policy proposal.

Some of these recommendations included:

– Pressuring government to set up a scheme which will enable victims to access proper health care, especially related to injuries and ongoing trauma from apartheid related abuses.

– Government must build proper houses for victims and survivors, especially where people’s houses were burned down/destroyed during apartheid.

– Commemorations and monuments should be built in places where victims’ live and not only in city centres/urban areas.

– In light of 16 years having passed since the end of apartheid, exhumations processes carried out by the NPA’s Missing Task Team should be speeded up and should be carried out in a respectful manner that respect’s victims’ rights and cultures.

– Reparations should include individual redress, community rehabilitation and funding aimed at supporting livelihood projects.

These critical reparations demands are only some of the broader aims and requests of Khulumani members, and the organisation at-large. Funds from the South African Government’s President’s Fund and/or any funds received from the lawsuit against multinational corporations should be put towards the rehabilitation of survivors lives in full recognition of the extraordinary damage caused by the gross human rights violations of the apartheid regime.

On Aung San Suu Kyi’s Birthday – Remember the Victories of Doe v. Unocal

22 Jun

On Saturday 19 June, the Burmese human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi ‘celebrated’ her 65th birthday, while still under house arrest. The Burmese military junta is easily identifiable as one of the continuing regimes perpetrating extreme human rights abuses, and exercising total control over the people of Burma.

What we hear less about, however, is the role corporations have played within the Burmese repressive state. In March 2005, Unocal a California-based oil company settled out of court with a group of Burmese plaintiffs in a case that sued Unocal for complicity in forced labour, rape and murder. According to the claim (filed in the US under the Alien Tort Statute – the same law being used to pursue the Khulumani litigation) Unocal knowingly hired the Burmese army units that used forced relocations, forced labour, rape, torture and murder to secure the route of an oil pipeline through Burma for the American oil company.

In 1997 the Doe v. Unocal case set a critical precedent for all future cases of corporate accountability when a US Federal District Court concluded that Unocal executives could be held legally responsible for violation of international human rights norms in countries outside the US, and that the US court system has the authority to adjudicate such claims.

According to EarthRights International: “After three years of discovery, the plaintiffs presented evidence demonstrating that, in the Court’s words, “Unocal knew that the military had a record of committing human rights abuses; that the Project hired the military to provide security for the Project, a military that forced villagers to work and entire villages to relocate for the benefit of the Project; that the military, while forcing villagers to work and relocate, committed numerous acts of violence; and that Unocal knew or should have known that the military did commit, was committing and would continue to commit these tortious acts.” The Court also concluded that “the evidence does suggest that Unocal knew that forced labor was being utilized and that [Unocal and Total, a co-venturer in the Yadana project] benefited from the practice” and that “The violence perpetrated against Plaintiffs is well documented in the deposition testimony filed under seal with the Court.”

The case was settled 2 months before the final trial date of June 2005, but the critical victories for corporate accountability had already been won. The Doe v. Unocal case secured, for groups such as Khulumani, that corporations could be held accountable through the US courts for violations that were once considered only the purview of individuals and states. This major victory must be acknowledged in the continuing struggle to establish clear, and strict precedents on what kind of business practices the international community continues to allow; or chooses to put a stop to.

When we think of 65-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi, and the repressive Burmese junta, let us not forget the corporations that associated with the regime, disregarding human beings for their profit bottom line. Let us ask who now provide the weapons and tanks? Who equips the junta to keep one of the world’s great human rights leaders imprisoned? And if we consider holding the leaders of the junta accountable, shouldn’t we also hold their suppliers accountable?

Thank you to the Doe v. Unocal case for breaking ground in the struggle for corporate accountability…Aluta Continua!

The Waving Flag and Freedom

19 Jun

K’naan’s evocative lyrics for Waving Flag start with the phrase: “When I get older, I will be stronger/They’ll call me freedom just like a waving flag.”

Many Khulumani members are much older now, but they’re not stronger –many are quite frail – and they’re not experiencing a waving flag of freedom, but ongoing poverty.

Unlike the sanitised  Coca-Cola/World Cup version of the song, the original lyrics to K’Naan’s song, which is a reflection on his own childhood in war-torn Somalia, go on: “so many wars settling scores/bringing us promises, leaving us poor/i heard them say love is the way/love is the answer that’s what they say/but look how they treat us/make us believers make we/fight their battles then they deceive us . . .”

K’maan’s reflection on the broken promises made to his generation could well be sung about the promises made to Khulumani members – they or their families were part of the freedom struggle against apartheid. Promises were made about reparations and that perpetrators who had not received amnesty would be prosecuted. The reparations were not adequate and not what the TRC recommended. Government broke that promise. Government has taken so long to start prosecutions against the perpetrators, that many of these crimes have now “expired”. Only murder does not expire as a crime. Another broken promise of Government. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should have initiated these prosecutions in consultation with the victims of the crimes immediately after the closure of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). They did not, and now they may have delayed too long.

When K’naan sings that “i heard them say love is the way/love is the answer that’s what they say”, in South Africa what they said was “the TRC is the answer”. But many people couldn’t access the TRC, and those that did, have been profoundly let down – not in the least by it’s inability to ensure government followed up and secured adequate justice, tangible reparations and corporate accountability.

For most Khulumani members, those who went to the TRC and those who didn’t, the waving flag of freedom hasn’t “opened happiness” (as Coca Cola may have you believe) but has been only a small victory in the ongoing, everyday struggles for justice. Aluta continua!

Unfinished business of business

8 Jun

The South African Apartheid Litigation, which includes the Khulumani lawsuit has been dragging on for over eight years now.

It charges that businesses which assisted the apartheid regime to survive way beyond it’s expiry date, to account to victims for the atrocities they suffered. And just like items that have expired, the extension of the apartheid regime stank.

It is often said that the business of business is business. But in this case it is the unfinished business of business that is the business of these businesses.

Come on Daimler, Ford, General Motors, IBM and Rheinmetall — when are you going to complete your unfinished business of apartheid? Why does it have to take a legal process for you guys to do the right thing?– the right business? Real human beings are involved — human beings whose lives have forever been adversely affected by your business with the apartheid security forces. We can introduce you to them.

It’s time to own up and acknowledge that what you did was wrong. And it’s time to talk to the victims and survivors of what you did. Talk to Khulumani. Perhaps you will even be able to get rid of the stink that’s associated with your names.