DaimlerChrysler is being accused of having aided human-rights abuses in Argentina in the late 1970s.

A group of Argentine plaintiffs, who suffered during the country's "dirty war" against left-wingers, have sued the car giant in a US court.

According to the complaint, managers at the Buenos Aires Mercedes-Benz plant were complicit in the kidnapping, torture and murder of union members.

The lawsuit follows an internal inquiry which found no evidence of abuses.

Assault on the left

DaimlerChrysler is accused of having used Argentina's turbulent politics to its advantage.

The military regime that ruled the country in 1976-83 unleashed a reign of terror against left-wingers, journalists and intellectuals.

According to the complaint, the firm used the campaign as an excuse to intimidate organised labour at its Buenos Aires plant, allowing Argentine security forces free rein to assault its workers.

DaimlerChrysler commissioned an outside investigation a year ago, headed by Berlin law professor Christian Tomuschat.

The report, which was issued last month, found no evidence of any company involvement with human-rights abuses.

Court of last resort

The lawsuit has been issued under an obscure and complex aspect of US law, the Alien Tort Claims Act.

The act, drafted in 1789, can be interpreted as allowing access to US courts for victims of injustice from around the world.

Several claims under the act are currently in progress, including complaints against oil firms Unocal, ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco.

Last year, a group of garment manufacturers paid $20m to settle a claim under the act, alleging abuse of workers on the Pacific island of Saipan.

So far, however, no case has ever come to court, and many legal experts refuse to believe that the act effectively makes the US a human-rights court for the world.

[Source: BBC Online, London, UK, 15Jan04]

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This document has been published on 21Jan04 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights, in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.