Page last updated at 21:48 GMT, Monday, 11 January 2010

Apartheid lawsuit contested by multi-national companies

IBM corporate headquarters
IBM is among the companies contesting the lawsuit

A US court has heard an appeal by multi-national companies seeking to dismiss a case against them over their role in apartheid-era South Africa.

Companies including Daimler, General Motors and IBM are questioning whether US courts have jurisdiction over events that took place in other countries.

The lawsuit against the firms was filed several years ago by black victims of white minority rule.

Their lawyers have been seeking up to $400bn (£248bn) in compensation.

The plaintiffs bringing the lawsuit argue that the corporations violated human rights by assisting South Africa's former apartheid government.

They have argued that the companies knew the apartheid-era government would use their products.

Last year a US court said the case could go ahead against a limited number of companies under the Alien Tort Claims Act, an old law allowing foreigners to sue in the US courts.

But German automaker Daimler said on Monday the charges were "inadmissible and unfounded."

A spokeswoman for the group was quoted by AFP news agency as saying that "no American party was implicated and nothing took place on American territory", and that the company had operated with the backing of the German government of the time.

South Africa ended its opposition to the case in September, shortly after President Jacob Zuma took office.

The previous president, Thabo Mbeki, had opposed the case on the grounds that it might put off foreign investors.

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