Swiss reject IBM-Holocaust lawsuit

Supreme court: Much time has passed; Gypsies: Victims won't be silenced.

Switzerland's supreme court has turned down a lawsuit accusing IBM of aiding the Nazi Holocaust because too much time has elapsed, the Gypsy organization that filed the case said Friday. Gypsy International Recognition and Compensation Action said it had been given notice of the decision by the Federal Tribunal in Lausanne that the statute of limitations applied to the case. It said the court's explanation would be made public only when the ruling is released in "some weeks." "This decision puts an end to the legal case GIRCA v. IBM initiated in Geneva, Switzerland, before any study of the merits of the case," the organization said. "However, it will certainly not silence the voices of those victims of criminals against humanity who have decided to sue the companies which provided logistical support for their crimes." IBM spokesman Joe Hanley said in a statement to The Associated Press, "As we have consistently maintained, the case should not go forward. We are gratified that the Swiss federal tribunal agrees." The gypsy organization filed the lawsuit after a 2001 book claimed the IBM's punch-card machines enabled the Nazis to make their killing operations more efficient. The Gypsy group said IBM's Geneva office was the company's hub for trade with the Nazis - something the company has rejected. The New York-based firm also has consistently denied it was in any way responsible for the way its machines were used in the Holocaust. The Gypsies' lawyer Henri-Philippe Sambuc said in a phone interview that he wants to read the Swiss court's decision before recommending how to proceed. "I think, Gypsy organizations will try to adapt their strategy to this decision. A new action in Geneva could be possible - not based on Swiss law, but on foreign law, like Polish law or Romanian law. But that kind of strategy means a thorough investigation and legal homework," he said. The Gypsies' lawyers maintain that the company's Geneva office continued to coordinate Europe-wide trade with the Nazis, acting on clear instructions from IBM's world headquarters in New York. The Gypsy group sued IBM for "moral reparation" and US$20,000 (€16,650) each in damages on behalf of four Gypsies, or Roma, from Germany and France and one Polish-born Swedish Gypsy. All five plaintiffs were orphaned in the Holocaust. The lawsuit was filed after US author Edwin Black - in his book "IBM and the Holocaust" said the punch-card machines were used to codify information about people sent to concentration camps. IBM's German division has paid into Germany's government-industry initiative to compensate people forced to work for the Nazis during the war. In April 2001, a class-action lawsuit against IBM in New York was dropped after lawyers said they feared it would slow down payments from the German Holocaust fund. German companies had sought freedom from legal actions before committing to the fund.