Genocide lawsuit filed in New York

Namibian indigenous groups filed a lawsuit against Germany in a US court, demanding compensation for genocide by German colonial troops in the early 1900s.

09 January 2017 | Local News

Leaders of the OvaHerero and Nama traditional authorities filed a lawsuit against Germany in the United States last week, demanding their direct inclusion in ongoing joint negotiations for genocide compensation and reparations instead of the two governments leading the talks.

The complainants filed the federal class action lawsuit at a Manhattan Federal Court in New York on Thursday demanding that the lawful representatives of the OvaHerero and Nama people are given a central role in negotiations “in order to assure that their minority, indigenous and human rights are properly protected.”

The complainants further ask that the court grant the request in order to ensure that the “claims against Germany relating to the 1904-1908 Genocide not be compromised or settled without their participation or permission.”

OvaHerero paramount chief Vekuii Rukoro and Chief David Frederick, Chairman of the Nama Traditional Authorities Association are listed as the primary complainants, against the Federal Republic of Germany.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Nama and OvaHerero people of Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, the United States and elsewhere, a statement issued last week noted.

The lawsuit was made necessary as a result of “having repeatedly petitioned the German government to include them in the ongoing discussions, without success,” the statement explained.

The complainants sued under the Alien Tort Statue, a 1789 United States law that is often invoked in human rights cases and lawyers representing the complainants at McCallion & Associates, LLP, said the particular law leaves the door open for US courts to assert jurisdiction in genocide cases.

The suit chiefly asks that the court demand and restrain Germany from continuing to exclude the complainants from participation in discussions and negotiations regarding the Herero and Nama genocide.

Filed court papers show that the lawsuit is centred on the actions of Germans in Namibia between 1885 and 1908, during which the complainants say more than 100 000 died as a result of German policies and actions, and led to the colonial authorities seizing over 130 000 square kilometres of land without consent.

“The OvaHerero and Nama indigenous people were robbed, during the German colonial occupation period, of virtually all of the rich grazing lands that provided the economic basis for their communities and cultural heritage.”

As a result, the groups were “condemned for generations to perpetual and institutionalised poverty”, a statement issued by the legal representatives from McCallion & Associates, LLP, stated.

Uprisings against German colonial policies and authority eventually led to thousands more casualties, based on the sanctioning of policies aimed at annihilating the OvaHerero and Nama, including the creation of numerous concentration camps and forced labour around the country, the court summary states.

Nevertheless, after “decades of denying that the near destruction and eradication” of the two groups took place, Germany has “refused to include representatives of the OvaHerero and Nama peoples” in the joint-negotiations which began last year.

In July 2016, the Namibian Sun reported that OvaHerero and Nama leaders said government's role in the reparation talks should be restricted to mediator, but that the affected communities should have direct representation during the talks.

In the court documents, the complainants argue that a resolution to the negotiations cannot take place effectively if the relevant people affected by the events are excluded.

Reports published last month in an international newspaper noted that Germany was negotiating according to strict guidelines and that personal reparations would not be considered. Instead, German negotiations had reportedly proposed various funding projects, a proposal that has been slammed by representatives in the OvaHerero and Nama groups who questioned whether such aid would reach the relevant people.

Last week, Namibia's special envoy on German reparations, Zed Ngavirue, told Namibian Sun that he was not aware of such guidelines and that a final agreement would depend on both Namibia and Germany agreeing to the terms of the final agreement.



JANA-MARI SMTIH