Mercedes Benz in Argentina, Volkswagen in Brazil. Economic players, including multinational automobile companies, were beneficiaries of the military dictatorships in Latin America. A number of cases also point to complicity in the arrest and torture of trade unionists.
In Brazil, the public prosecutor's office has been investigating Volkswagen (VW) since 2015. Trade unionist and torture survivor Lúcio Bellentani, who passed away in June 2019, was in discussions with ECCHR about possible legal steps against VW in Germany.
During the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-1985), Lúcio Bellentani worked for Volkswagen do Brasil, a VW subsidiary, and was active as a trade unionist. In July 1972, secret police arrested him at his workplace – in full view of the VW factory security guards. According to Bellentani, the head of factory security held a weapon to his back. After his arrest, Bellentani spent eight months in detention, where he was tortured, followed by a further ca. 16 months in prison.
In September 2015, Bellentani and other trade unionists filed a complaint against VW do Brasil in São Paolo. The accusation: the company is said to have spied on its workforce and handed over opposition members to be tortured. Since then, the Procuraduria (investigating authority) in São Paolo has been examine whether to initiate proceedings against the automobile company. The out-of-court negotiations with Volkswagen – in consultation with the workers – are slowly proceeding.
In November 2017, Bellentani mandated ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck to investigate possible legal steps in Germany against VW for Brazilian torture survivors. One option would be a civil lawsuit. The aim would be to secure reparations and have a court determine the shared responsibility borne by VW for the torture.
Since its establishment, ECCHR has been investigating corporate collaboration with Latin American military dictatorships, particularly in Argentina, Colombia and Brazil. Through this work we aim to advance criminal proceedings against companies and their managers for aiding and abetting torture, kidnapping and repression.