DaimlerChrysler Sued Over Alleged Argentine Abuses


Pablo Bachelet

January 14, 2004

Automaker DaimlerChrysler AG was sued on Wednesday over its alleged role in the disappearance and torture of workers and union leaders at the height of the "Dirty War" in Argentina, nearly three decades ago. The lawsuit, filed by the victims' relatives in federal court in San Francisco, seeks an undisclosed amount for DaimlerChrysler's alleged responsibility in the disappearance and presumed death of nine workers and the torture of eight others who worked at its Mercedes Benz plant in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The plaintiffs say the disappearances "were carried out by state security forces acting under the direction and collaboration" with Mercedes Benz Argentina, according to court documents. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say plant managers gave security forces the names and addresses of union leaders, who were then detained. "They wanted to get rid of the union leaders and branding them as subversives was an effective way to do it," said Mark Chavez, an attorney for the plaintiffs. The automaker, which also faces criminal charges in Argentina in the case, says that the company's board appointed a three-member commission headed by an international jurist to investigate the disappearances. It found no evidence of wrongdoing by Mercedes-Benz management, a company official said. A spokesman for DaimlerChrysler said the company had no immediate comment on the lawsuit. The alleged abuses occurred in 1976-1977. A military junta took power in 1976, and killed an estimated 30,000 people before returning to the barracks in 1983. DaimlerChrysler is the latest big-name corporation taken to court under the 200-year-old Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign nationals to file suits in U.S. courts against U.S. companies that allegedly commit human rights abuses. The Coca Cola Company faces charges of using Colombian paramilitary units to intimidate unions and Unocal was sued over alleged human rights abuses linked to its Myanmar pipeline. The DaimlerChrysler suit was filed by the International Labor Rights Fund, a Washington-based labor advocacy group, Dan Kovalik, a labor rights attorney and the Chavez & Gertler law firm.

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