University of Southern California

“[J]udicial [I]mperialism”? The South African Litigation, The Political Question Doctrine, and Whether the Courts Should Refuse to Yield to Executive Difference in Alien Tort Claims Act Cases


Note by Marissa Renée Geannette
From Volume 82, Number 5 (July, 2009)

For decades, foreign nationals alleging human rights abuses were frustrated by their inability to receive their idea of adequate redress in the courts of their own countries. Beset by ills such as environmental pollution triggered by aerial drug eradication programs, the murder of union leaders by right-wing paramilitary groups allegedly financed by multinational corporations (“MNCs”), and torture and deprivation in countries like South Africa, these plaintiffs were offered a glimmer of hope by a series of rulings in U.S. courts, which had purportedly opened up to them relief through a statute passed by the American Founding Fathers themselves. But that relief has often proven elusive, as courts have hesitated to grant redress for claims brought under what they see as an outdated statute.

Apartheid—a business, economic, and social system synonymous with racism, murder, torture, and repression that has been universally condemned by the United Nations, the United States, and the community of nations—arose in South Africa in 1948. One representative plaintiff provides a searing impression of the countless gross human rights abuses committed by the South African National Party from 1948 to 1993. Thirteen-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot and killed outside his school after peacefully protesting the apartheid regime. Receiving almost no relief from the current South African government, his mother, like so many others, joined the currently ongoing class action In re South African Apartheid Litigation in an effort to see justice brought against the thirty-four U.S. corporations known to have engaged in business with the South African government during this tumultuous time. The plaintiffs represent themselves, their deceased family members, and all victims of the apartheid regime, and they allege that without the support of MNCs such as Citigroup, Inc., JP Morgan Chase, Shell Oil, and Ford Motor Co., “apartheid would not have been possible.”


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