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Report Clears DaimlerChrysler of Human Rights Violations

Steffen Leidel
December 9, 2003

A report commissioned by DaimlerChrysler on its actions during the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s cleared the company of any wrongdoing. Former employees are not satisfied.

Daimler hopes the report clears it of its shadowy past.Image: Ap

For the past year, Berlin human rights professor Christian Tomuschat has pored over the activities of Daimler Benz during one of the worst periods of Argentine history, looking for any wrongdoing.

The car company wanted to clear its name of accusations that its Argentine management had helped the military junta which help power in the country from 1976 to 1983 break down resistance from unions. The company could breathe a collective sigh of relief this week after Tomuschat largely cleared DaimlerChrylser of any wrongdoing.

“We couldn’t find anything that threw a bad light on Daimler,” Tomuschat told a press conference upon presenting the report Monday.

Daimler’s employee council, who together with the Association of Critical Shareholders pushed for the investigation, was also largely pleased with a results. Erich Klemm, the council’s president, said that key accusations against Daimler have been cleared away.

He added, however, that “Mercedes Benz did not show a special sensitivity to human rights during the period.”

German journalist Gaby Weber’s lengthy investigation into the company’s past and the testimony of living witnesses were the driving forces pressuring DaimlerChrysler into commissioning the report in 2002. The committee focused largely on the activities of Daimler’s production chief at the time, Juan Tasselkraut.

Daimler "shrugs off" responsibility

Former employee Héctor Ratto, who was kidnapped and tortured by the military junta, claimed Tasselkraut identified union leaders to the military government. At least ten employees were kidnapped by the government in 1976 and disappeared.

Tomuschat’s report cleared Tasselkraut of any wrongdoing and said Ratto’s story did not hold up to closer analysis. Prosecutors in Nuremberg last week called off an investigation after which they planned to charge Tasselkraut with murder and accessory to murder in the deaths of two former employees.

There is no evidence Daimler pursued anti-union policies, according to the report.

“It’s obvious that the company doesn’t want to reveal its past activities,” Ratto told DW-WORLD. “That way it would admit its guilt. It’s about wanting to shrug off any responsibility.”

Rough road ahead for Daimler

DaimlerChrylser didn’t escape completely unscathed. Tomuschat, who served on the U.N. human rights committee and spent two months in Argentina investigating the accusations, criticized the firing of 117 employees without explanation after a three-week long strike during the military junta’s rule and the company’s relationship to the security authorities.

The revelations will most likely serve as fodder for the lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler currently being prepared in the United States on behalf of the survivors of those kidnapped. Lawyers expect to bring it to court early next year.

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