Colombians lose torture claim suit against Chiquita bananas in US court

US-based company has previously admitted that it paid the AUC, a right-wing paramilitary group accused of killing thousands of Colombians between 1997 and 2003, to protect its own workers

A US court has dismissed a lawsuit brought against the world’s largest banana supplier by 4,000 Colombians, who accused the company of complicity in the torture and murder of their relatives during the country’s civil war.

Chiquita Brands International, which is based in North Carolina, has previously admitted that it paid $1.7m (£1m) to the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, or AUC, a right-wing paramilitary group accused of killing thousands of Colombians between 1997 and 2003. The firm, which formerly operated large plantations in Colombia, claimed it made the payments to prevent threatened violence against its own workers.

But on Thursday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Florida said the plaintiffs could not sue Chiquita for damages under the alien tort statute (ATS), because the relevant conduct had taken place outside the US. “The torture, if the allegations are taken as true, occurred outside the territorial jurisdiction of the US,” wrote Judge David Sentelle.

Judge Sentelle acknowledged that the law as it stands made it difficult to combat human rights abuses, but added: “Noble goals cannot expand the jurisdiction of the court granted by statue.”

READ MORE: Deadly fungus decimates global banana crop
Banana labourers file claims over pesticide exposure

In her dissenting opinion, Judge Beverly Martin reiterated the plaintiffs’ claims that Chiquita executives “participated in a campaign of torture and murder ... from their corporate offices in the territory of the US”. She went on: “By failing to enforce the ATS under these circumstances, I fear we disarm innocents against American corporations that engage in human rights violations abroad.”

The AUC, a coalition of right-wing militias, was formed in Colombia in 1997 to counter the left-wing guerrilla group Farc. Some 50,000 people are thought to have died during the conflict.

Chiquita, which recently agreed a merger with the Irish fruit supplier Fyffes to create the world’s largest banana firm, admits that it made payments to the AUC through its local subsidiary Banadex between 1997 and 2004, when it sold its Colombian holdings. It claims the payments were made to protect its employees from further violence. In 1995, 28 Chiquita workers had been massacred by militia who stopped their company bus.

The company pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the US in 2007 and was fined $25m by the US government. No executives were charged under the deal, which was negotiated by Chiquita’s then-lawyer Eric Holder, who is now the US attorney general.

Soon after the 2007 settlement, however, the relatives of several thousand plantation workers, political activists and others who allegedly died at the hands of the AUC filed lawsuits in US federal courts, claiming that Chiquita had supplied not only money to the militia, but also weapons and transportation, in return for being allowed to operate unmolested in the region.

Chiquita spokesman Ed Loyd said in a statement that the ruling “reinforces what Chiquita has maintained from the beginning ... that Chiquita is not responsible for the tragic violence that has plagued Colombia”. He added: “The responsibility for the violent crimes committed in that country belongs to the perpetrators, not to the innocent people and companies they extorted.”

Paul Wolf, a lawyer who represented many of the Colombian plaintiffs, said the court’s decision was “another tragedy for the victims of the war”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine